“I See You” is a thriller of urban legend topicality and Hitchcockian plot twists. Well-acted, cleverly-plotted and directed with extra attention being paid to tone, menace and hiding its secrets, the best word I can think of to describe it is so archaic as to risk an “OK, Boomer,” from the inexperienced and unread who use that put-down.
It’s a corker.
Oscar-winner Helen Hunt stars as a small-town therapist and marriage counseler, married to a cop (Jon Tenney of “Scandal” and the most recent “True Detective”), mother to an enraged teen (Judah Lewis).
Why is Connor so mad? Mother Jackie Harper has cheated. Greg, the dad, is sleeping on the couch. And nothing Jackie does to begin the process of patching this up is working, especially with the kid.
“You ruined our family, and you should f—–g PAY for it!”
But this marital melodrama isn’t what “I See You” is about. It’s background, a major setting, a “Psycho” sidetrack for the coastal town’s bigger problem.
Young boys are disappearing. We’ve seen one ride his bike into the forest, and SNATCHED from it by an unseen force. The community is organizing mass searches.
The cops are leaning on Greg’s partner, Spitzky (Gregory Alan Williams) to provide clues. The modus operandi of the disappearances matches a case he handled 15 years before.
And strange things are happening in the Harper house — weird noises, doors slamming shut behind the inhabitants, coffee mugs and silverware turning up in odd places, hamster escapes.
We sense the evil, and perhaps the next target. Or perhaps the target’s the perpetrator. That’s when a seemingly random death complicates matters, a body must be buried and this tale takes a turn toward the bizarre. Twist upon twist turns in on itself.
No spoilers here, save for this one word, not nearly as current as it once was — “phrogging.”
The frog that best applies here is the one, out of hundreds of misfiring indie thrillers one reviews in a given year, that a critic kisses and is shocked to see turn into a prince.
“I See You” was directed by Adam Randall, whose only prior feature film credit was “iBoy,” and he cooks up a polished picture of ominous aeriel shots, creepy extreme close-ups and actors giving utterly convincing renditions of confusion, guilt, pain and panic. Little that we see is alarming. The overcast skies, fracturing family and “zing” sound effects when a knife shows up just contribute to the dread that the film feeds on.
Hunt anchors a fine cast, which includes Libe Barer and Owen Teague in the latter acts. But first-time screenwriter Devon Graye is the break-out star, here. He’s an actor, perhaps best-known for playing the young serial killer of serial killers “Dexter” in episodes of that series. Here, he sets us up for one movie, and abruptly shifts into “What were we REALLY seeing/hearing back there?” mode.
That sudden change in point of view is handled just gracefully enough to not take us out of the movie. And as it sets up the twists folding into twists that follow, he shows real skill at weaving in disparate storylines and manipulating the arc of characters.
In other words, SOMEbody was paying attention to those “Dexter,” “C.S.I.,” “American Horror Story” and “The Mentalist” scripts he’s been reading and acting-out for a dozen years.
Taut, smart and satisfying, “I See You” is the sleeper of the month, and should put Graye on the radar as a screenwriter to watch. And it should remind Hollywood that if smart cookie Helen Hunt sees something in it, this is a project worth filming.
MPAA Rating: R, for violence and language
Cast: Helen Hunt, Jon Tenney, Judah Lewis, Libe Barer, Owen Teague and Gregory Alan Williams
Credits: Directed by Adam Randall, script by Devon Graye. A Saban release.
Running time: 1:38