Yesterday evening -or at least, at some point prior to this post going live- I watched a movie called I See You.
This was largely spurred on by the fact that I’ve spent too many nights watching let’s plays of horror games on YouTube over the last six years, and as such I’ve been completely desensitized to them. I decided that to slake my thirst for terror, I’d need to turn to professionally produced content, and so Netflix. I clicked on the first movie that seemed even vaguely interesting, and so I See You.
A 95-ish-minute-long film released in 2019, I See You is not a movie that I had so much as heard the title of previous to the evening in question. But, it was described as a dramatic film wherein a detective is investigating murders and spooky things begin happening, so I was like, yeah, okay, I can dig on this. Little did I know!
As I sit here typing, and pondering what I am about to type, my mind is weirdly overcome by the thought of how my ex-wife’s eyes would have lit up at that plot summary.
I am a sad fellow. But pay that no heed. This is a movie review!
I See You follows the story of a small, dysfunctional suburban family. The husband, a cop on the trail of a child abductor. The wife, a therapist (I think?) who has recently cheated on her spouse. The son, trying to cope with the breakdown of his parents’ marriage. We learn these details pretty much right out of the gate, and that’s basically all that that they are for the entire duration of the film.
I may have made a poor selection.
As the plot summary suggests, the first half of the film loosely follows the husband’s efforts in trying to locate the abductor of children. But mostly it focuses on the whole marriage breakdown part and how it’s affecting the interactions of the three family members. It doesn’t spend a lot of time developing the story or characters, but rather how weird things start happening around their house. I can’t say for sure, because I wasn’t taking notes like a real film cricket, but I would guesstimate that it was around the 20-minute mark that I realized that the “supernatural” part of the movie was actually just a squatter living inside the family’s house undetected.
And that’s when I started thinking to myself “Cut your losses, man. Do something more entertaining!” But I didn’t. Despite the fact that I’ve seen this plot four or five or six times now and never has it been interesting in the least. Like, I’m not against tropes or anything, but I’ve never seen a movie about someone living in the walls that I actually enjoyed. Spoilers for the end of this review, I guess.
Looking back, it seems that I at least tolerated The Boy? Until I re-read that review just now, I can only remember scorn for it, so… Draw your own conclusions. Lake Mungo is good, though. I would recommend that movie any day of the week.
Alas, I See You is still the movie that I’m supposed to be writing about. And we’ll scooch ahead to the second act now, which is when le twist happens. As it turns out, my hunch was correct and the spooky things were simply because an intruder was living in the house unbeknownst to the main family. Two intruders, in fact, to make it doubly spicy!
So what ends up happening is that a young (presumably homeless) woman has been living in other people’s houses instead of buying her own like a respectable citizen. As this film taught me, it’s a phenomenon called “phrogging” and it seems to be an actually real thing that people do. Huh. For her stay in this particular house, however, she brought along a cameraman/friend to document her adventures in B&E. For… YouTube, I guess? It isn’t made clear why they’re filming it, but regardless of the context, it’s an intensely stupid idea. Seems like you’d want to create as little evidence of what you’re doing as possible… The girl even says that at one point.
The second twist ends up being that the cameraman ends up being just a little bit of a sociopath, deciding that the whole thing will be completely pointless if he doesn’t take the opportunity to terrorize his host family. Which he does. And so basically the entire second act of the movie is just us seeing all the rational explanations for all the weird phenomena that the family had experienced in the first act.
And that’s the worst part about I See You: it’s really just half a movie. The writer was like” I have a great idea, but it’s not very long, so let’s film it from two different points of view!” and that’s what ended up happening. Unique, I suppose, but I feel like spending 45 minutes explaining what happened during the previous 45 minutes is time that could have been better spent on, oh, I don’t know, developing an actual plot or characters? Pulling back the curtain in the most elaborate way possible didn’t feel like the best use of my time, or like it respected my ability to draw conclusions based on context clues. Make special note of that second part, because it happens again at the end!
Despite the fact that none of the characters got enough screen time to be developed beyond like their occupation and one personality trait, I did find myself feeling a little for the girl phrogger. And while it may be because she’s an especially pretty (despite being homeless???) young woman and I’m a sad, lonely, old man, I think that… no, that has to be it. She had no character arc, nothing to actually make her sympathetic. It could also be me desperately reaching for something nice to say about a movie where every character was a one-dimensional cutout that existed simply to push the plot along. It did seem to me like all the actors were putting in a decent amount of effort, at least.
The ending brings about yet another twist. I won’t spoil it, lest you feel the need to watch this movie for yourself. To put it in broad terms, things go a bit flop-floppy. If you’ve studied writing even just a little bit, you won’t be surprised because… well, let’s put it this way: mysteries are rarely satisfying when the bad guy ends up being some random person out of nowhere. Obviously I wasn’t really taken aback at how things played out, but there was at least one element that I wasn’t expecting. So I guess that’s a win? I See You needs wins where it can get them.
Now, as I mentioned before, the ending, the very ending, is an excruciatingly long scene that drives home a plot point that I feel like any moderately intelligent human being would have put together on their own. But alas! We get minutes –minutes!– that are dedicated solely to undermining the average moviegoer’s ability to put two and two together. (Though I guess they had to pay off Chekhov’s Yoshi Pez Dispenser somehow.) I’m normally the kind of guy who will go to bat for fiction being reasonably clear in both the story and message that it’s trying to sell, but I feel like this one really went over the top. So incensed by this sequence was I, that I immediately booted up my computer to write this review instead of just turning off the TV and going to sleep after a boring movie. Make sure you go back and read that last sentence with George Costanza frustration. That’s the very specific vibe I want to sell here.
Don’t even get me started on how the resolution to the serial killer subplot happened. Because I don’t know. It didn’t make any sense. It just happened because movie needs happy end. Happy-ish end. Not completely nihilistic end.
The most hilarious part of it all is that I See You has a 75% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I know that I tend to be kind of an against-the-grain kind of guy, especially when it comes to film, but people generally liked this movie? Really? I think that the only thing it really has going for it is that the cast was good. The general plot wasn’t necessarily bad, it was just too bare-bones because it had to be told twice. For 90 of the 95-minute runtime, all I could think about was how bored I was and wishing something exciting or scary would happen. Maybe it’s because I saw the home invasion schtick a mile away? I don’t know. I just didn’t really like it. Both critics and general audiences seem to disagree with me, and while I absolutely encourage you to form your own opinions, I would say that this one is best skipped.
To bookend this review, my ex-wife definitely would have liked this one. Maybe even loved it. I can’t say for sure. Movies about “phrogging” weren’t a thing until after we’d split up.