Sometimes, there is no worse feeling than feeling like you need help…
…We as humans don’t like to admit it when we’re struggling, beat down, or in need of a helping hand. We're kind of assholes that way. Most of us are stubbornly independent to our own detriment, which is why it’s important to recognize that “help” doesn’t itself mean that we’re incapable. That’s just one of many dilemmas which face our heroine in director Randall Okita’s (The Lockpicker) sophomore feature, See for Me, which just premiered at Tribeca.
Written by Adam Yorke and Tommy Gushue, See for Me follows Sophie (Skyler Davenport, herself visually impaired), a blind ex-skier who now pet sits for rich people and steals the occasional, won’t be missed item to make a little extra money. Eat the rich, am I right? Hired to take care of a cat in a sprawling mansion in the mountains, Sophie is ready for a weekend on her own, just the way she likes it…until a group of thieves break in, eyes set on the contents of a safe. Now, it’s up to Sophie, with the assistance of an app called See for Me, and her assister on the other end, Kelly (Jessica Parker Kennedy) to get her through the night alive.
Putting a blind person at the center of a home invasion film is not a new thing—the Audrey Hepburn film Wait Until Dark did it masterfully—but what sets apart See for Me from other home invasion flicks is Sophie herself. We learn early on that she’s an all too casual thief, convinced that being blind always keeps her out of trouble with others, with everyone around her consistently proving her point. She’s also an incredibly thorny character that asks the audience for a whole lot of understanding. A once proud skier, the word “help” is one Sophie would like to abolish from the dictionary, and we see her snap with “I got it” again and again as her mother, friend/coach Cam (Keaton Kaplan) and even the mansion’s owner, Debra (Laura Vandervoort) try to assist her. She’s not at all your traditional “likeable” hero, but that’s what makes her so fascinating, because hey, even if you don’t like her, we get it. No one wants to be babied, especially over something that’s not in their control. And Davenport is brilliant in her performance, able to keep us invested in spite of Sophie's prickly personality.
Sophie’s own unique challenges create a ton of suspense on their own, but where See for Me really succeeds is in throwing the audience for a loop again and again as we unpack the morality—or lack thereof—within the characters, especially Sophie. Some viewers may get lost in the darkness of the soul which is explored in See for Me, and I wouldn’t blame them, but for others, it’s a refreshing twist on a sub-genre which so often clearly draws a clear line between good and bad. Here, that line is blurred, and Sophie as well as the villains she faces all tip-toe around it in unexpected ways that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.
Because of the above, to say that See for Me is a frustrating experience at times would be an understatement. This film will make you want to pull your hair out and go all Red Forman, screaming “dumbass!” Horror fans are used to characters making bad choices, but Sophie’s entire life philosophy seems to be bad choices. Thankfully, we have Kelly to keep us grounded, with a sweet performance from Kennedy that gives us someone with some sense to grasp onto. Kelly is the ultimate gamer badass, who uses her skills to guide Sophie through danger in what is ostensibly the “escort mission” brought to agonizing reality. If you’ve ever had to guide an NPC (non-playable character) through a difficult game level, then you know Kelly’s pain. Sophie consistently ignores her, runs into danger, or holds her phone at bad angles, creating a disorienting vomit-struggle for both Kelly and the viewer.
Sophie is all of your worst nightmares with NPCs rolled into one, insufferable “player”.
The irony of the premise, between Sophie’s moral questionability and Kelly’s guidance, is that what should be a pulse-pounding, cat and mouse thrill ride loses steam occasionally, with both interfering with the terror of the situation. Other home invasion flicks which see a person with disabilities forced to reckon with intruders who mistake them for a weakness, often have that person on their own, which ratchets up the suspense considerably. The danger for Sophie though consistently wavers in ways that don’t always work. Nail-biting wide shots putting an in-hiding Sophie in the same space as the villains and a focus on sound do a ton of heavy-lifting to help alleviate that, though.
Despite characters that push more than they pull and nauseating action sequences that will likely disengage some, See for Me is a clever thriller that gets the nerves rattling and throws the viewer enough unforeseen turns to keep our hearts pounding, even if it does induce terrible flashbacks of guiding Natalya through the “Control” level in N64’s Goldeneye, or something along those lines. But hey, at least this film is proof that video game skills are good for something!
By Matt Konopka