Considering it’s only the second feature from director Adam Randall (iBoy), I See You is as ambitious and complex as many of the films I’ve seen lately from more seasoned filmmakers, even if it does falter here and there. The movie opens with the disappearance of a 12-year-old boy, riding his bike through the woods alone, when he is seemingly snatched off his bike and lifted into the air by an unseen force, immediately alerting us that something is desperately wrong in this community. It turns out that the boy is similar to unsolved cases that made the town especially paranoid 10 years earlier, putting even more pressure on lead investigator, detective Greg Harper (Jon Tenney). Unfortunately, Harper also recently had is life turned upside town when he discovered his therapist wife Jackie (Helen Hunt) had an affair with a local man, who fell a bit too hard for her; their teen son Connor (Judah Lewis) is caught in their emotional upheaval and resents his mother tremendously.
In the midst of all of this, small, strange things begin happening in their house. Photos disappear out of frames; at one point, Greg gets stuck in a closet being helped by someone that he can’t see and can’t be his wife or son. And every so often, even we catch a glimpse of something moving around their home—is it the kidnapper, is it something supernatural, or is it something one could never even conceive of because it’s too bizarre?
At about the halfway point in the film, director Randall and writer Devon Graye do something bold and interesting, especially for a film that seems so simple up to this point. They essentially rewind the film—or more specifically the time period—and begin a new movie with two new characters, an amateur doc filmmaker named Mindy (Libe Barer) and her boyfriend Alec (Owen Teague), whose lives occasionally intersect with the Harpers, only now we see things from their perspective and suddenly many of the film’s mysteries start making sense. But even as the world we’ve been watching starts seeming more in focus, the tension begins to mount as we think we see the destination ahead.
It probably isn’t safe to say too much more about the story after this point, but I will add that the surprises and revelations don’t stop with the young couple’s story. In fact, when their timeline catches up to where we left things with the Harpers, things get even more outlandish, perhaps bordering on ridiculous. Even still, I See You takes chances that I wish more films of this budget and style would take. It never lets you quite settle into what you think it is or isn’t going to be, and that’s a disarming but positive trait. Films shouldn’t be predictable or get too comfortable in their storytelling. They should maybe stay on this side of believability if that’s something they’re striving for, but even that isn’t a necessity.
Hunt and Tenney do solid work here, and the younger actors hold their own, with only Lewis playing the wounded teen role with a bit too much earnestness. But I’m especially interested to see where Randall takes us next. He displays a great deal of skill and even risk in his storytelling, and I hope he doesn’t abandon that moving forward. But the subtext about a family falling apart in the midst of a chilling investigation about other families being torn apart by disappearance, and likely murder, is quite poignant. This is a small, under-the-radar work that is worth your time if you need to escape the awards contenders currently occupying most screens right now.
The film opens today for a weeklong run at Facets Cinémathèque.
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