As part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2019
After a 10-year-old boy goes missing in circumstances suspiciously similar to a series of abductions that took place 15 years previous, a small suburban town has its middle-class milieu thrown into disarray. Things only get more chaotic and confusing when the house of the lead detective becomes the backdrop for a series of strange and inexplicable goings-on. Is it a poltergeist with less than friendly intentions? Has the original culprit, long since locked behind bars, been wrongly imprisoned? Or is there a copycat killer on the loose?
I See You teases out all of these possibilities during an opening 30 minutes that’s stuffed full of the usual tropes of such haunted house horrors and home invasion thrillers. However, things take a decided shift in perspective and impetus halfway through, when the genre norms are spun on their head and the audience is presented with an altogether fresh outlook on what has occurred until now. If the first half is concerned with working out what the hell is going on, the second half busies itself with unravelling why in heaven these bizarre incidents are taking place.
In this sense, it’s difficult to cram the film into a certain pigeonhole without clipping its wings or reveal too much more of the plot without giving the game away. What sets it apart from its competition is probably not the narrative itself, which when viewed from afar doesn’t really represent anything new, but rather the manner in which it is presented to us. By offering up the duality of the first and second halves, Randall achieves a fresh take on the subject, borrowing liberally from Messers Haneke and Peele en route. It’s a gamble which largely pays off, and for the most part, the repetition of scenes is handled skilfully enough that they don’t become boring or, well, repetitive.
Where I See You falls down slightly is in its characterisation. The cast acquit themselves well enough, especially given the brisk shooting schedule of just 21 days, but none of the characters really forge a bond with the audience enough to make us care what happens to them. In maintaining an element of suspicion on everyone, debutant screenwriter Devon Graye has neglected to encourage us to root for anyone, and although this is alleviated to some extent by the emergence of the charismatic Libe Barer in the second half of the film, it’s never assuaged completely.
Given this lack of likeability, we’re left with an end product that will intrigue more than it emotes. Still, it’s an enjoying cipher of a film that will keep you perched near the edge of your seat for its duration. Just don’t go in expecting a straight-up horror that will terrify or a traditional thriller that will titillate, but rather a puzzling conglomerate of the two, and you won’t be disappointed.