Not to be confused with Sylvester Stallone’s early 2000’s effort, Eye See You, I See You is a little indie supernatural thriller that floated under the radar. Saban Films debuted I See You at the South By Southwest film festival last year. By the end of 2019, I See You quietly made its way to VOD platforms. Neither director Adam Randall nor writer Devon Graye have extensive filmographies. To date, Randall’s most notable work was British techno-thriller, iBoy. Though eagle-eyed fans will recognize some faces, Helen Hunt is the movie’s only stand-out star. And Hunt isn’t synonymous with horror. But critics have quietly praised the supernatural thriller.
In a small town, a 10-year-old boy goes missing while riding his bike in the woods. Lead detective Greg Harper uncovers clues that connect the case to a series of past child abductions that led to a conviction. But family struggles further complicate Harper’s investigation. His relationship with his wife, Jackie, is strained by her recent affair. And Greg’s teen son, Connor, wants nothing to do with his mother. Soon strange things begin happening in the Harper household. Harper’s missing child investigation and family drama quickly threaten to collide with one another.
I See You a Smart, Refreshing Take on Supernatural Horror
For its initial 30 to 45 minutes, I See You feels like just another supernatural thriller. Straight out of the gate, Randall’s filming of 10-year-old Justin Whitter’s abduction is ambiguous, teasing other-worldly evils. But you’re never shown much. From that point onward, a series of strange incidents plague the Harper family. Household items go missing. The television seemingly turns on by itself. Watch enough horror movies and none of these things feels out of place for the subgenre. Netflix probably has several similar movie streaming right now from Delirium to Malevolent. I See You is just another ‘haunting’ story … until it isn’t. Once Jackie’s ex-lover turns up, screenwriter Devon Graye abruptly shifts course. At this point, Graye exploits all your expectations and I See You becomes a refreshingly clever story.
None of these story curveballs feels forced or out-of-place. That is, I See You sets up its surprises with meticulous story-telling.
In its second half, I See You becomes a clever psychological thriller that boasts more than one twist. Randall and Graye pull a few different story-telling tricks out of their bag. Earlier events shift to other characters’ perspectives, casting a new light on the story and completely changing what movie you thought you were watching. And as I See You slowly brings the seemingly unrelated threads of the missing children and Harper family drama together, Randall and Graye drop another surprise. Even in the thriller closing moments, one last twist reveals itself. None of these story curveballs feels forced or out-of-place. That is, I See You sets up its surprises with meticulous story-telling. Moreover, Randall and Graye avoid lazy expository dialogue, trusting the audience to piece things together.
Eerily Quiet Approach to the Subject Matter
Even if I See You had adopted a more conventional story, Randall impresses with his grasp of building and maintaining an eerie atmosphere. Outside of a couple of effective jump scares, I See You is more concerned with tone. It’s a quiet movie with Randall showing remarkable restraint is how he sets up his scares. And those scares are more rooted in psychology – playing on anxiety and ambiguity – rather than visceral jump-out-of-your seat thrills. In addition to the movie’s quietly unsettling mood, Randall does a good job of marrying Graye’s story to the movie’s visuals, editing, and pacing. Shadowy figures slowly come into perspective in screen corners. The few moments of violence are sudden and shocking. In one scene, Randall even uses a quick message exchange on a computer screen to create that tight feeling in your stomach. I See You isn’t a terrifying experience, but it’s often unsettling.
I See You Gets Strong Performances From Good Cast
Aside from Helen Hunt, I See You features several ‘Hey, I know that person’ actors. To date, audiences best know Hunt from her hit series Mad About You. But as the unfaithful wife struggling to rebuild her family, Hunt turns in a restrained, powerful performance. Though I See You sidelines her for most of its second half, Hunt impresses with her emotional range and control. She creates a sympathetic character out of someone that would have been very easy to dislike. The young cast members include The Babysitter’s Judah Lewis, Owen Teague (It), and Libe Barber (Sneaky Pete). Both Teague and Barber steal the movie’s second half. In particular, Teague’s emotionally-charged performance greatly assists Graye’s story – he keeps audiences off balance to the very end.
I See You a Hidden Gem for Genre Fans
With its smart storytelling and eerie atmosphere, I See You may be 2020’s first pleasant surprise. No, it’s not a perfect movie. Jon Tenney feels miscast in his role. Though he’s not bad, Tenney doesn’t bring the intensity the movie’s climax needed. Things ends on a clever final reveal but it still feels a little emotionally muted. And Sam Trammell continues to find himself wasted in small roles since True Blood ended its run. Otherwise I See You impresses and is likely that movie that will linger with you after the credits have rolled. This is a hidden gem for genre fans.