'I See You': Film Review | Edinburgh 2019
Helen Hunt plays the unfaithful wife of Jon Tenney's troubled cop in director Adam Randall's puzzle-driven thriller about murder, abduction and family breakdown.
A twist-heavy crime thriller spiced with horror and noir elements, I See You is such a finely crafted exercise in slow-burn suspense that its loopy plot contortions only seem absurd in retrospect. Headlined by Helen Hunt and Jon Tenney (True Detective), British director Adam Randall's Ohio-shot third feature made its European debut in Edinburgh last month following its world premiere at SXSW in March. With a glossy look that belies its modest budget and slender 20-day shoot, this elevated genre exercise should enjoy healthy festival interest and decent commercial prospects. Saban has signed U.S. theatrical rights, though no release date has yet been fixed.
I See You opens in vaguely David Lynchian territory as airborne cameras swoop over a small Midwestern town, the air thick with dreamy menace. After a 10-year-old boy disappears on a routine cycle ride through the woods, veteran detective Greg Harper (Tenney) senses some disturbing echoes of similar abductions in the town 15 years before. But the perpetrator in that case was caught and jailed, which suggests either a terrible miscarriage of justice has occurred or a creepy copycat is at work.
On returning to his luxurious lakeside home, Greg has more emotional trauma to deal with in the shape of his guilt-wracked wife, Jackie (Hunt), who is working hard to repair their broken marriage after having an affair. The pair's angry high-schooler son, Connor (Judah Lewis), is resolutely siding with his father in this domestic turf war, creating a poisonous mood at home. In addition, their cavernous house appears to be haunted by strange noises and prowling phantoms, about which Randall keeps us guessing for the first hour. Are these disturbances some kind of supernatural visitation, somebody close to the family playing a sinister prank or even one of Greg's criminal foes seeking vengeance?
I See You performs an audacious narrative flip midway through, looping back to unlock its opening puzzle by revisiting key events from fresh angles. Without resorting to spoilers, the Harper family problems are further complicated by previously unseen characters, a home-invasion subplot and found-footage elements. Actor turned first-time screenwriter Devon Graye's tricksy script keeps audiences on their toes with all this multi-viewpoint misdirection, so much so that most will be caught off-guard by further major reveals. A final shock twist pushes dramatic logic to snapping point, but it does at least wrap up the story on a satisfying crescendo of gothic horror.
A seam of melancholy runs through I See You — agonizing marriage breakdowns, happy families built on dark secrets, desperate mothers searching for lost children — which grounds the film in a richer emotional truth than more conventional genre movies. Hunt's nervy performance as the outwardly unsympathetic Jackie, struggling to remain a dutiful wife and loving mother in the face of bitter recriminations and sinister revelations, is finely rendered.
Randall and his cinematographer Philipp Blaubach do excellent work at building atmosphere with slow, low-prowling cameras and soaring aerial shots, lending their modest indie production the kind of visual pizzazz more akin to bigger-budget studio thrillers. The nonspecific but characterful Ohio setting also brings a pleasing texture of its own, amplifying the Lynchian sense that malign forces lurk even in this sleepy corner of well-heeled heartland suburbia.
Production companies: Bankside Films, Zodiac Pictures
Cast: Helen Hunt, Jon Tenney, Judah Lewis, Owen Teague, Libe Barer, Greg Alan Williams, Erika Alexander, Allison King
Director: Adam Randall
Screenwriter: Devon Graye
Producer: Matt Waldeck
Cinematographer: Philipp Blaubach
Production designer: Carmen Navis
Editor: Jeffrey Castelluccio
Music: William Arcane
Casting director: Nancy Nayor
Venue: Edinburgh International Film Festival