I See You (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★
Right away images are off-putting. There is a certain flatness in the way it is shot. We would be standing in the kitchen, for example, and it feels like we are in a clinic or hospital waiting room. It isn’t because a room is a part of a posh and well-decorated home. It is more like something is inherently wrong in the way the picture is, at least initially, shot like a drama but it is supposed to be mystery-thriller in its core. Possibly horror. Note the harsh lighting. Inexplicable things are occurring in the home of Detective Greg Harper (Jon Tenney), lead investigator in charge of the case involving a nine- and ten-year-old boy having vanished. Like photographs and kitchen utensils going missing. Blankets being pulled down the bed as family members sleep.
“I See You,” written by Devon Graye and directed by Adam Randall, is a sinister thriller. And a confident one, too. It wants you to know that there is something wrong, something off. It dares you to think and find out what it is. Filled with red herrings, it is easy to fall into a trap. Although I did guess one (and a half) of its twists—which I will not reveal—about an hour in, this did not take away my overall enjoyment and appreciation of what is exercised. It is apparent that the writer and director are fond of Hitchcock’s ability to play the audience like a piano.
The wife of the detective, Jackie, is played by Helen Hunt. She plays a key role in the film not in terms of plot—even though she’s in front of the camera as long as any of her cast mates—but in pulling in the human drama. Jackie has had an affair with a former high school classmate (sweetheart?) and her son, Connor (Judah Lewis), and husband are so angry, they won’t even look at her in the eye. Hunt plays the character like a wounded bird. She knows what she did is wrong and wishes to make amends. And so the usual questions that come up in a typical broken marriage drama plague us. But the movie is more intelligent than to engage in such avenue. Just when we think we are about to get an answer, another strange event occurs in the house. The television turning on suddenly. A missing mug appearing in the most unlikely place.
Meanwhile, it appears the case surrounding the missing boys may have something to do with a copycat killer. Greg’s partner, Detective Spitzky (Gregory Alan Williams), recognizes the green pocket knives left at the scene of the crime. Years ago, you see, he had put away a man, still in prison, who was not only a known pedophile, he had the former missing boys’ clothes and other items in his possession during his arrest. It seemed like an open and shut case.
I wished the screenplay had delved further into Detectives Harper and Spitzky’s partnership. They are shown working together but not how well. I wished to observe the side of Greg we do not get to see at home. A case can be made that despite the nature of the crime he’s working on currently, it is actually worse being at home from his perspective. He sleeps on the couch. He looks as though he’s in pain every time he is required to exchange words with his wife.
The other half of the picture is off-limits because to reveal little is to reveal plenty. Let’s just say that the plot folds into itself. It is done with humor, it takes risks, it delivers suspense, and even a pinch of horror elements. The twist will impress, perhaps even surprise. (It’s certainly creepy.) But I am more delighted in how the sudden left turn is implemented to connect every seemingly contrasting strand—occasionally in a clever manner. I will not be surprised if, over time, the work achieves a cult following.