Even the most idyllic, seemingly safest of neighborhoods have dark secrets lurking just beneath the surface. In a quaint small town filled with upper class residents, their perfect lives are thrown for a loop thanks to a string of missing boys. The pressures of finding those boys before their time runs out would be enough for any lead investigator, but Greg Harper’s stresses are compounded by his fractured home life. When strange occurrences begin to plague the household, Greg’s son is put in serious danger and true evil is exposed.
After a dreamlike opening sequence that sees a 12-year-old boy peddling his bike on a wooded trail, only to be launched backward into the air by an unseen foe, the film cuts to the Harpers. Their large seaside home paints a picture of comfortable upper class, but the atmosphere within the luxurious walls is filled with anger. Jackie Harper (Helen Hunt) is trying to pick up the broken pieces of her family after an extra-marital affair, but her teen son Connor (Judah Lewis) still seethes with rage toward her. As does her husband, Greg, who sleeps on the couch and can barely hold his contempt any time he speaks with her. But the arrival of Jackie’s former lover marks an escalation of violence that brings with it a seismic shift in the story.
Just as the story lays out all of its cards on the table, it circles back to the beginning and starts the events anew from a new perspective. In theory, it’s a brilliant move that re-contextualizes everything that came before, shifting our allegiances and understanding. However, director Adam Randall opts to replay every single story beat again, never bothering to trust the audience to recall moments that happened 20 minutes prior. The replay is necessary for certain scenes crucial to the overall plot, but watching how and where the umpteenth item from the Harper household has moved – which has no vital bearing on the overall plot – becomes quite frustrating. Trimming some of the fat from this second run through of I See You would’ve made for a much less tedious viewing experience.
A sophomoric effort by Randall, and a first-time screenwriting credit for Devon Graye, I See You is a very ambitious effort that draws obvious influence from Jordan Peele’s Get Out. The overarching theme of the seedy evil that hides within upper class suburbia takes the film to some interesting places. Randall doesn’t just attempt to pull the rug out from under the audience once, but twice, with a few smaller ripples along the way.
It’s always nice to see Helen Hunt in a film, and as the struggling wife looking to make amends with her family, she imbues Jackie with a lot of depth that isn’t really there on the page. That she’s all but relegated to plot point once the film shifts gears is a disappointment. Luckily Owen Teague picks up some of the slack left by her absence in the latter half of the film. His take on Alec, an observer of the Harper family, manages to toe the line between empathy and ominous. But again, being forced to watch the same movie, beat for beat, takes away from fleshing out any of these characters and their motivations.
Overall, I See You is a frustrating experience. It’s a great concept that’s well produced and is anchored by a talented cast. The big picture narrative is also thrilling and teases so much potential. But because the story’s unique structure is given so much time and attention, everything else is diminished in the process. Replaying the events of the first half from a different perspective is a good idea that deepens the mystery, but the execution of it means revisiting every single moment that came before; it isn’t necessary and deflates all momentum.
There’s a good movie here, nestled inside one that needed a bit more finesse.