I SEE YOU / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: ADAM RANDALL / SCREENPLAY: DEVON GRAYE / STARRING: HELEN HUNT, JON TENNEY, LIBE BARER, OWEN TEAGUE / RELEASE: DECEMBER 6TH (US), TBC (UK)
New thriller I See You is an ill-balanced mixture of three familiar tropes from the contemporary cinematic crime playbook: the deadly consequences of the collapse of trust inside a family unit; the hunt for a serial assailant who begins a new spree of attacks; and the terror of home invasion. Only the last of these themes is handled with any degree of accomplishment.
The Harper family is in meltdown, following the discovery that professional counsellor Jackie (Hunt) has been having an affair with an old school friend. Her husband Greg (Tenney), a detective with local law enforcement, is unable to forgive her; and their truculent teenage son Connor (Judah Lewis) seethes with resentment at his mother’s betrayal. Meanwhile, a spate of new child abductions leaves Greg’s partner Spitzky (Gregory Alan Williams) in the throes of self-doubt. He’s now unsure if he helped to convict the wrong suspect during an identical earlier case in the same area.
The problem is that the film makes almost no effort to establish the characters of the family, or to ground the backstory of the serial abductor. Family members shout at each other, and storm out of arguments, but not in a way that would encourage the audience to believe that these relationships are real, or to have any empathy with the state of dysfunction this trio are now stuck in. Hunt is a talented and versatile actor, but there’s precious little for her to do here, other than to look pained at the reactions of the angry and frustrated men in her life. The audience learns that Jackie is a counsellor only because Greg reminds her that she is. But the lives of all three are left just as sketchy. In a similar reversal of the ‘show, don’t tell’ cinematic mantra, all the viewer discovers about the earlier crime wave and conviction comes through a garbled verbal info dump from Spitzky (though that’s no fault of Williams).
It’s difficult to care about either the fate of the family, or the question mark over the guilt of an unseen individual sent to jail on the basis of undisclosed evidence. What salvages the movie’s plot is the film’s third element and, in particular, the way that it is seeded into the timeline of events. Without giving away too much, the arrival of unexpected visitors at one residence leads to a series of disturbing developments. The film’s most effective conceit is to reveal only gradually how the actions of these hidden squatters fit into the film’s wider narrative. Events are replayed from a different character’s point of view, their presence as an unseen voyeur only brought to light in these re-runs. This paves the way for some deftly delivered shocks, twists, and unexpected revelations.
As alienated and mischievous teens Mindy and Alec, both of whom are joyfully up to no good, Libe Barer and Owen Teague make good play of what are easily the best drawn and most charismatic characters in the film. Their complex and strained personal dynamic is certainly more interesting than the domestic travails of the Harpers. The realisation of these intruders’ actions, and the back-and-forth timeline, provides the film’s most creepy and unsettling moments. The final showdown replays many crime film drama favourites, whilst straining at the limits of credibility more forcefully than the script has earned the right to. The wrap-up is, though, nowhere near as disconcerting as the psychological mind games and near-misses of the home invasion that have preceded it.