Most things in our lives, on our planet, in our universe, rely on complex structures to maintain their integrity. This is true of everything, from our weighty concepts of society and philosophy down to the cellular makeup of our bodies. The same holds true of art and storytelling; words, images, and relationships all working in tireless unison to hold aloft an idea...
...But there also exists a tipping point. A point at which the complexity of the structure outstrips the coherence of the story and thus the integrity begins to waver. It’s at this tipping point that director Adam Randall lays the foundation for I See You.
The film opens with a glassy, sawing pulse of a score from William Arcane set over a summer aerial shot so rich you could almost feel the warmth of the air. A young boy cuts through the woods on his bicycle and as quickly as he enters the film he is gone, missing, only the bicycle left behind to suggest he was ever even there to begin with. The case falls into the lap of Detective Greg Harper (Jon Tenney), a man embroiled in familial chaos in the wake of his wife Jackie’s (Helen Hunt) affair. Their son Connor (Judah Lewis) begins acting out in school and at home, lashing out at Jackie.
Noting the similarity to another case involving several murdered boys, Greg enlists the assistance of Detective Spitzky (Gregory Alan Williams), the cop responsible for capturing the perpetrator. The pair begin to pick their way through the evidence as time continues to slip through their fingers. Meanwhile a bleedingly repentant Jackie struggles to sift through the shards of her family life and piece them back together in the face of near-total stonewalling from Greg and Connor. Her attempts are further hampered by a set of increasingly bizarre happenings around the house that begin to fray the thinning fabric of her emotions.
It would be safe to say that up until this point in the film it feels like we are watching, in fact, two separate films. One, a slow burning police drama and two, a haunted house movie projected through the lens of a disintegrating family dynamic. It’s also at this point that a third, wildly different film emerges. But to say any more would be to rob you of what Randall and friends have working for them in I See You. Suffice it to say that misdirection is used to dizzying effect. You’d be pressed to furnish a recent example of equal or greater use in misdirection, save for, perhaps, Rian Johnson’s raucous holiday whodunnit Knives Out.
However, it is the misdirection and dissonant stories that form this tipping point and thus act as both its greatest strength and greatest weakness. Some level of cohesion is lost in the balancing act and veins of story that could have been rich and full are left malnourished. Moments of overlap that deft scripting could concinnate languish in clunky dialogue if not outright silence. And of course, all of this does no favors for the actors, especially Helen Hunt, whose multi-award-winning chops beg more of a script than is offered here.
Pivoting back toward strength, all of the aforementioned elements work to ensure that few would anticipate the conclusion Randall and writer Devon Graye have crafted for us. And frankly there’s a lot that can be forgiven when the final frames have flickered out across the screen. It’s a frat-house cocktail of a film, splendid individual pieces whose flavors clash when mixed but not in an entirely unsatisfying way and ultimately you get the buzz you came for so, cheers! Twists are played fast and close to the chest and are, on the whole, fairly solid.
One of I See You’s M.V.P.s is, without a doubt, composer William Arcane. The throbbing, steely pulse he creates leadens moments of suspense and renders them unbearable and chill-inducing. Another is Owen Teague playing Alec, a character of some import in the back half of the film. Teague recently played the vile Patrick Hockstetter in Andy Muschietti’s two-part adaptation of Stephen King’s IT, and was also announced to be playing the equally unsavory Harold Lauder in the upcoming CBS series The Stand, another King outing. Seeing him have the freedom and screen time to chew a bit more scenery makes it clear why he’s seeing an uptick in casting.
Overall the film succeeds far more than it fails and in doing so offsets that over-complication and course corrects at that good old tipping point. It utilizes the best of the genres it inhabits and rises above its own missteps. Difficult to categorize, easy to spoil, and impossible to predict, I See You pulls the pan out of the oven just in time to save dinner. Go ahead and fix yourself a plate.
I See You is now lurking on VOD from Saban Films.
By Paul Bauer