I SEE YOU (2019)
Directed by Adam Randall
Written by Devon Graye
Starring Helen Hunt, Jon Tenney, Judah Lewis, Owen Teague, Libe Barer, Gregory Alan Williams, Allison Gabriel King, Erika Alexander, Jennifer Grace, Adam Kern, Riley Caya, Sam Trammell, Nicole Forester, John Newberg, Teri Clark, Jeremy Gladen, Wyatt McClure, Brooks Roseberry, Cherie McClain, A.J. Ransom
I SEE YOU is the definition of a mixed bag movie. The film tells a story from one perspective, then switches gears and tells it again from a second one, making it sort of two films in one with answers to questions in the first half popping up in the second. The film itself is a decent thriller with plenty of twists, but for me, I felt the first half was much more effective than the last.
A small town in Ohio has been quiet since a child killer was caught years ago, but when a new child goes missing, fears that a copycat killer is on the loose emerge. Meanwhile, a local family is in crisis. Jackie Harper (Helen Hunt) has been unfaithful to her husband, police inspector Greg Harper (Jon Tenney) and their son Connor (THE BABYSITTER’s Judah Lewis) is caught in the middle. Meanwhile, strange things begin happening in their house and all things point to something paranormal going on. This may or may not be the case, but many questions, truths, lies, and answers will be muttered before this twisty whodunnit is done.
First the good. The first half of I SEE YOU is textbook tension. Not only does the film set up a missing kid scenario and a town with a violent past, but it also sets up the troubled family bits well too. So much setup occurs in the first half of this film, it feels almost impossible for the film to tie up all of these plot threads in an hour and a half. The film does this and takes the second half of the movie showing us somewhat satisfying answers to most of the questions from the first half. Still, I feel the first forty-five minutes (give or take) is the strongest as it builds a taut mood and dark tone very well. Adding to the tone and mood is some extremely effective music which consists of what sounds like whale sounds mixed with reversed orchestral music. This bizarre sound mix from sound editor Demetri Evdoxiadis and his crew adds depths of weirdness to an already uneasy situation. Honestly, this is one of the most unique sounding films I’ve heard as it immediately makes this seemingly normal world in small town Ohio feel alien and dangerous.
The setup tension between Hunt and Tenney’s characters is done well. Sure it’s cliché to have a couple struggle with infidelity, but somehow, the two actors make it work with scenes of the two avoiding one another while keeping the marriage going for their son. It is in these moments that the film feels like HEREDITARY as there is a focus on an intimate family drama amongst a larger dilemma of the missing kids in the town. Of course the film has to tie everything together and that’s where this film feels like it starts to lose steam. I don’t want to reveal the twists and turns in the second half of the film, but I will say that the answers aren’t as interesting as what is hinted at in the first half of the film. Maybe it’s the unknown that is much more intriguing, but once the truth starts to reveal itself, the less interested I was in the way this one turned out.
I’ll try to be as vague as possible here so as not to ruin the film, but the resolution of I SEE YOU felt morally and tonally skewed. While multiple villains are revealed, it feels like some of the bad guys end up getting off lighter than others even though bad deeds are done by many. The film also fails to come to any kind of resolution between Hunt’s Jackie and Tenney’s Greg with Hunt being missing for the latter half of the film. It feels like there should have been a scene where the two are able to face these problems that plagued them in the first half, but because of the structure of the film, the two hardly share a scene for the latter half of the film. For so much of the first half dedicated to the troubles between this couple, it’s practically forgotten by the end of the film in favor of getting to the bottom of the child abductions.
Finally, I don’t want to be mean, but someone has to say it. Hollywood is a truly horrifying place. The prominence of plastic surgery and what actors do to themselves in order to seem young is scarier than the most terrifying of horror films. Helen Hunt may very well still be able to act decently, but unfortunately, it’s difficult to know given the amount of botox that seems to have paralyzed her face into a singular expression with her mouth slightly agape and eyebrows permanently skewed into angry eyes. I wanted to look past it. I tried really hard. But I couldn’t help but be distracted by how much work the actress has had done to herself and how sad it is that some people just refuse to age gracefully. It distracted me every time the actress was on screen.
I SEE YOU is not a fantastic film. It plays around with tone and genre before deciding which one it decides to fall into. The film builds tension well, even though the latter portion offered lackluster answers to interesting riddles. The cast does a good job all around in delivering a drama with teeth. I still feel like the script needed one more pass in order to clarify some motivations, offer satisfying answers, and come up with resolutions to the many problems poised. Still, I SEE YOU delivers many thrills and chills with its core, subject matter, and twists. I’m going to mildly recommend this one because its strengths have an inch or two above its weaknesses.