“I See You” (2019) Movie Review

See this spellbinding enigma! I See You is a beautifully and cleverly crafted horror-adjacent psychological thriller that combines the horror of a People Under the Stairs urban legend with the police procedural stylings of SE7EN and Along Came a Spider with Lynchian influences. An official selection at last year’s South By Southwest Film Festival, this movie is now included with Amazon Prime and available on other streaming services. Even since movie theatres had to close in the wake of COVID-19, I have been struggling to identify films to watch for purposes of a formal review. While selecting rewatches and select new watches for pure entertaining and passing the time has also been a struggle, I meet with a paralyzing indecisive quandary when browsing VOD selections for a film to review. Perhaps I am in the minority on this, but I depend on theatrical releases for structural, filter, and priority purposes. But after not releasing a new article last week, I knew that I needed to watch and review something. At the recommendation of a friend of my sister’s, I checked out I See You, and I am glad that I did! Starting out in a very Lynchian fashion with sweeping birds eye view camera shots over a sleepy, yet affluent hamlet, the seemingly supernatural tedious first act gives way to terrifying reality told through an enigmatic nonlinear narrative device in the second and third acts. To get into plot specifics would deprive you of the thrill of a first-time watch, but don’t believe everything you think you see in the film. Playing around with points of view, trauma, and the breakdown of a family, this film delivers the twists and turns you desire from a psychological thriller while concurrently delivering a depiction of what happens when trauma festers in the mind and soul without a constructive way of resolving it. In retrospect, some of the logic of the plot doesn’t quite make sense, and there are some elements that you simply have to chalk up to the suspension of disbelief. But the rollercoaster of a showdown finishes in a brilliant crescendo that feels like something that Wes Craven and David Lynch would have written together.

Strange occurrences plague Greg (Jon Tenney), a small town detective, and his family as he investigates the disappearance of a young boy whom appears to be the victim of a copycat serial killer. With the specter of a man sent to prison that may have been innocent, Greg is also dealing with the recent affair of his wife Jackie (Helen Hunt) and the unbridled anger exhibited by his son Connor (Judah Lewis) over his mother’s affair.

The nonlinear plot of I See You employs Hitchcockian misdirection with subjective vantage points and audience expectations versus reality. Quite the brilliant combination for a psychological thriller. After the diegetic catalyst of a young boy being violently ripped from his bicycle–literally thrown into the air–sets the melancholy, ominous tone for the movie, the first and second acts of the film tell the same story, but from two different perspectives. The malevolent force witnessed in the opening scene seems to follow audiences to the unnerving confines of the Harper house that is spatially large, but an ominous presence takes the palatial house and makes it feel like a prison. In retrospect, the breadcrumbs are all too obvious; however, many of these conspicuous clues go unregistered by the audience because of the more exciting prospect of a supernatural force at work. I appreciate how the main action and subplot compliment the themes of reconnecting with estranged family members, guilt, resentment, and trauma. Moreover, the search for the missing boy parallels Jackie’s search for her estranged son whilst dealing with her ideal family image hiding dark secrets.

During the first act, we receive a great deal of exposition; fortunately, the subplot backstory of Jackie’s transgression (which we learn is a recent affair for which she is genuinely remorseful) is delivered primarily through dramatic character reaction and supplemented with dialogue. While the familial drama provides a tantalizing subplot, it’s the search for the missing boy believed to be the victim of a sadistic pedophillial copy cat serial killer that is the main action plot of the film. And the backstory for the action plot is creatively delivered through the police procedural headed by Greg. We learn everything that we need to know in order to understand the plot in the first few scenes. While some of what we learn is intentionally designed to misdirect our attention–think of it as a magician focusing our attention on his right hand while it’s the left hand that is creating the magic–it is still valuable information that will all come together in the end. After the big reveal in the epilogue, everything that unfolded throughout the movie becomes even more sinister.

Over all, you’ll find strong performances by the three lead cast. The top-billed Helen Hunt, while starting out as the central character, quickly becomes a chief supporting character to Tenney and Lewis. However, she delivers the strongest performance out of the three. Not that the other two do not command the screen, Lewis is able to showcase his acting chops that provide evidence that he is shaping up to be a diverse actor capable of the young adult comedy of The Babysitter and the shocking anger of his character in this film. Screenwriter Devon Graye and director Adam Randall demonstrate an outstanding comprehension of story craft that simultaneously embraces horror/thriller tropes and subverting the genre expectations. Creatively expressing the story for the screen is the stylistic cinematography that effortlessly switches modes from subjective to objective without disorienting the audience. The editor takes a page out of the David Fincher color pallet and technique to showcase the neo-noir tone of the film. Editing is one of the most undervalued technical elements in a film–undervalued by the general public–because the best editing is the kind that doesn’t become a spectacle but supports the narrative by communicating the plot and emotion of the story. Communicating the unsettling tone and shocking moments in the film is first-time composer William Arcane. From the writing to acting to the technical elements, this film provides a highly entertaining, and at times terrifying, story!

I See You may not be for everyone, but the intended audience will definitely enjoy it! The types of people that will enjoy this most are those whom already enjoy the non-supernatural Lynch, Craven, Hitchcock, and Craven movies. With the nonlinear storytelling, there was such a possibility of failing in the execution, but director Randall crafts an excellent thriller that will have you wanting to rewatch it to see all the clues you missed before. Even though it is definitely rewatchable once, I do not feel that it is the kind of movie that will be continually rewatchable through the years. However, it is certainly a solid selection for your enjoyment, especially if psychological thrillers are your thing.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“Sonic the Hedgehog” movie mini review

Formulaic and forgettable. SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog is the latest video game movie (VGM) adaptation to race into theatres. After the #FilmTwitter campaign last year to redesign the Sonic character, Sonic emerges an excellent animated design that feels like an extension of his video game self. Unfortunately, this outcry from the public to redesign the nightmarish version that we saw last year caused Sonic’s animation/effects studio to go bankrupt. But hey, the public got a much better Sonic, so I guess it was worth it…right??? That is certainly debatable. I hope that every one of those artists and technicians were able to find jobs with other animation/effects studios. While I feel that this is simply another moderately funny paint-by-the-numbers VGM, after speaking with those that have kids in their lives, apparently it hits the target audience very well. In fact, Reel Spoilers‘s host Kevin R Brackett‘s son Ryan exclaimed, “this is the best thing ever.” While I did not find anything particularly memorable in the movie, it is clear to me that I perhaps did not approach the movie with the eyes and desires of a child. However, I did play SEGA and Sonic growing up, so I do fall within the group that should appreciate the nostalgia of Sonic the Hedgehog. Whereas I was not engaged by Jim Carrey’s Robotnik, others seem to find his performance hilariously entertaining. It was fun to see such a comedic icon on the screen again, but the performance didn’t do much for me. Kevin and his son both thought Carrey’s Robotnik was fantastic! And I know they have a solid taste in movies, so there must be something in this movie that I clearly missed. Maybe I went into the auditorium with the wrong mindset, so please take that into consideration when deciding whether or not to see this movie. Regardless if you have kids, nieces, nephews, or not, I definitely recommend NOT seeing this movie alone. I think this is one of those movies that is best experienced with a friend.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“Terminator: Dark Fate” action movie review

Linda Hamilton is back! And that’s all you really need to know about Terminator: Dark Fate. Her return highlights what was missing in the sequels that followed the critically acclaimed and immensely popular Terminator 2: Judgement Day that inspired the former attraction T2-3D at Universal Studios Florida. While this action movie clearly seeks to impress you with its phenomenal visual effects, it also goes back to the gritty character driven plot that made the first two Terminator movies works incredibly well and give them that punch that we expect out of these movies. With the return of Hamilton’s Sarah Connor and Arnold, in the role that made him a household name, this movie uses nostalgia–not as a way to live in the past and look back at the good ol’ days–but to move forward. No mistaking it, this movie is filled with adrenaline pumping action from start to finish; but the plot is very much grounded in what made the first two so successful: the characters. Despite having so many futuristic elements, Dark Fate’s storytelling is grounded in a science-fiction that never feels completely out of this world. One might even say that the plot is very much grounded in a plausible reality. When this franchise faced eternal damnation in its own judgement day after several flops, Sarah Connor returns to save the franchise from its own extinction. With Cameron providing a vision for this installment, it is the perfect blend of tentpole plot devices and progressive storytelling. Terminator: Dark Fate erases the previous three movies to fit in nicely after T2:3D.

In Mexico City, a newly modified liquid Terminator — the Rev-9 model — arrives from the future to kill a young factory worker named Dani Ramos. Also sent back in time is Grace, a hybrid cyborg human who must protect Ramos from the seemingly indestructible robotic assassin. But the two women soon find some much-needed help from a pair of unexpected allies — seasoned warrior Sarah Connor and the T-800 Terminator. (IMDb)

It should come of no surprise that the number one reason to watch this movie is for the bold, bad ass return of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor! Her mantra may as well be “have bazooka, will travel.” Even though we witnessed the moment she stepped out of the SUV and onto the highway in the trailer, that moment still packs a punch when you watch it in the movie. Although it’s Davis character of Grace that is sent from the future to protect Dani, it really is Hamilton whom saves this movie and the franchise. Both Davis and Hamilton complement one another very well, each adding that special something that this franchise desperately needed. And that something is great, memorable characters. Not only do we have our two intimidating protectors, we also have a new “Sarah/John Connor” character in Natalia Reyes that will steel your heart. Even though Reyes’ Dani is our central character, it is Hamilton and Davis that have the lion’s share of the screentime. And it’s a good thing to, because it is their chemistry that holds this movie together and grounds it in that same abrasive banter that makes the first two movies so endearing. And yes, Connor has some great one-liners, including the franchise’s best-known line “I’ll be back.” Her entrance will undoubtedly evoke uncontrollable cheering throughout the audience for both her character and the actor herself.

The first two movies had extremely well-developed and executed plots, and then the plots and characters went off the rails. Thankfully, under the guidance of Cameron (whom has a co-writer credit), the plot of Dark Fate goes back to its roots of spending a sufficient amount of time setting up the story that is about to unfold. One of the magical parts of screenwriting is the ability to get away with just about anything–and it be believable–if you set it up early enough in the story. From the moment the movie opens, the central conflict in the plot is already being setup for major deliveries later on in the story. Not only do we hop in the wayback machine to a late 90s Sarah and John Connor, we witness that preventing judgment day did not completely protect the Connors from tragedy. Judgment day appears to be “starting all over” to quote the former T2-3D attraction. Although the overall goal of the plot is to stop Judgment Day from happening in the future, there is a secondary goal for both Connor and Grace. That is to protect Grace because she is the key to stopping the malevolent AI in the future. Not because she is a “Mother Mary” figure (much like Sarah was in the original) whom will give birth to the one who would save the world from the machines, but because Dani is to give birth to her own sense of agency that will cause her to become the leader of the resistance.

The strongest kind of conflict, in a plot, is derived from character relationships. Well developed and setup character conflict provides a near endless supply of drama that will carry the action and subtext of the movie. And the conflict meter reads off the charts between Connor and a particular T-800 (played by the definitive Terminator Schwarzenegger) because of a tragedy that befell Connor in the late 90s. Before you think that this T-800 is still hunting down Terminators from the future, this one can tell you any and everything you need to know about drapery. He’s gone and bought the metaphoric house with a picket fence, got married, and has a kid. Even though he’s demonstrably turned from his CyberDyne ways, Connor has a longtime grudge against this model, and she isn’t afraid to show it–and loudly. While Connor wants to kill him, Dani concludes that she cannot save the world without his help. Watching Connor and Carl (Arnold’s T-800) passionately bicker and verbally fight sounds like it may be there simply for the sake of nostalgia, but it lays the groundwork for how they will be forced to work together during the second and third acts of the movie. It may be grounded in T-1 and T-2, but this conflict moves the story forward. In a sense, these two characters provide the perfect balance between human and machine that was largely missing from the three movies that followed Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

If you’re a fan of the first two Terminators and the former attraction at Universal Studios Florida, then this movie is for you. Yes, it’s also for general audiences, but it’d specifically made for the longtime fans of the franchise that was, up to this point, doomed for extinction. Its got it all: action, a thrilling plot, endearing characters, beautiful visuals, and a memorable score (duh duh duh, duh-duh, duh duh duh, duh-duh). But more than for any other reason, you want to watch this movie to see our combat boot wearing, rock launcher carrying, no nonsense Sarah Connor as can only be played by Linda Hamilton.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“Pet Sematary” (2019) horror film review

“Sometimes dead is better.” Unless you’re back from the dead with a vengeance! Brace yourself for the spine-chilling, immensely terrifying 2019 adaptation of the best-selling novel Pet Sematary by the legendary Stephen King. Whereas many remakes/reboots of earlier horror films often suffer, this one emerges from the soured soil as a force to be reckoned with. Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer deliver a heartpounding rollercoaster of a nightmarish experience as Pet Sematary opens everywhere this weekend. Instead of a direct from page to screen adaptation, much like the fantastic 1989 original version (and yes, it still holds up), this version takes some creative liberties; however, the soul of the novel and even the 1989 version is clearly there. This creative latitude enabled the film to deliver new, surprising scares that are sure to frighten you. If you haven’t seen the extended trailers–DON’T–cannot say that enough. It’s best to go into this film with only the name and the initial teaser trailer in your mind. Not a spoiler, because it’s well known this this horror film and novel deals with loss, grief, and the uncanny (i.e. the return of the repressed), so the challenge of this adaptation was to force the conflict to derive from those issues and inspire the hellish events for which the story is well known. 2019’s Pet Sematary delivers in spades–quite literally. You will feel the ominous sense of dread from the moment the Creeds move into their new house and that feeling will stay with you as you are buried in a nightmare. This plot is solid.

I joined the popular podcast Mike Mike and Oscar to discuss this film, so click below to listen to the show. You are also invited to continue reading my written review.

Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his wife, Rachel, relocate from Boston to rural Maine with their two young children. The couple soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near their new home. When tragedy strikes, Louis turns to his neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), setting off a perilous chain reaction that unleashes an unspeakable evil with horrific consequences (IMDb summary). Sometimes dead is better

Let’s address the white ‘el’ephant in the room first. And I don’t mean the major plot twist changed from the novel and 1989 film that we saw in the trailer (c’mon, this is a well-known story and trailer at this point)–I mean the dialogue. Is the dialogue horribly bad? No. But it’s definitely the weak element in the script. Fortunately, this movie makes up for that with incredible windup, excellent deliveries, and the fact it is nightmarishly creepy. The pacing and tone are excellently crafted, and the visuals are fantastic. Never one does this film attempt to prove that it’s better than the original; in fact, it takes what many of us love about the original and use those moments as expertly designed fake-outs and false setups that are followed with something new and fun. So, it acknowledges the original without remaking it. Furthermore, it integrates many elements from the novel and original into the plot seamlessly. Achieving an overwhelming sense of dread from the very beginning of a horror film is quite difficult. That sense of unease is a combination of the atmosphere, setting, and ominous visual elements. Not five minutes into this movie, you are feeling that sense that something is definitely not right about this place. Yes, this is in part because many of us know what is to come; but even for new folks, the evil of this place can be felt all over your body. One of the creepiest scenes features the warped mirror image of an earlier cheerful moment, but it has been affected by the sour soil of the ancient burial ground.

While there isn’t much time to develop these characters, the writers were challenged with developing them enough for the story, and it works pretty well. The script isn’t quite as well-written as IT, but the margin of difference is not tremendously wide wither. As much of a fan of the original version as I am, there are areas that this version got better. For instance, the Zelda subplot–much more organically integrated into the main plot of Pet Sematary and even drives the main plot forward by revealing aspects to Rachel’s character. Two things for sure, these are two bad parents and Jud is an irresponsible neighbor. We don’t spend much time in the campus hospital where Luis Creed works, but we still get the big event of the passing of Pascow. Pascow’s character, whereas his harbinger of death or Jacob Marley (as so eloquently put by Mike Mike and Oscar) character isn’t as integral to the plot of this version, he looks more terrifying and doesn’t take a turn for the humorous. Of all the characters, I was most curious about John Lithgow’s performance as Jud. I was cautiously optimistic because Lithgow often has a way of delivering memorable performances, no matter how minor the role. His expression of Jud differs from that of Fred Gwynne’s but he still stays true to the character of Jud. And there are even moments that he channels Gwynne’s interpretation of the infamous neighbor. Just wish he had a Maine accent since he is still a local boy in this village (which is very close to Derry, according to a road sign). One of the best scenes in the movie take place as Lousi and Jud sit around a campfire, drinking, smoking and having an ill–fated heart-to-heart.

Contemporary remakes of earlier horror films often rely upon CGI versus practical effects. Cast that worry away because other than a few moments of CG, there are lots of fantastic practical effects from set design to the kills. There is such a high level of authenticity in everything the camera allows us to see, and even those moments that lie just off screen. Yes, there is still the inescapable supernatural factor in this story, but everything else is pretty well grounded in reality. From the parents building a fence to the proximity of the ancient burial ground, everything works to craft an authentic setting and characters. And yes, your Achilles tendon will still hurt in that famous kill. The directors truly seem to take into account that you cannot replace the way real light bounces off real objects and into the camera lens. Out two houses, the characters, and Church the cat exist in the time and space of each and every scene. With the exception a couple scenes that were not necessary or drawn out too far, they all work quite well to setup the following scene and point to the end of the film. There are moments that will cause you to look under beds, under stairs, and even analyze your pet more when you get home. For young audience members, watching this story for the first time, I imagine that they will be terrified just like I was when I saw the 89 one as a kid.

While I’ve read reviews claiming that this is the best Stephen Kind page to screen adaptation, I feel that other films have been more effective. Off the top of my head, I’d say that Misery is a better film both in terms of its cinematic critical value and faithfulness to the novel. Not to mention the Oscar-winning performance by Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes! No mistaking it, 2019’s Pet Sematary is a good horror movie and one that has a moderate level of rewatchability. Highly recommend for horror fans!

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“Instant Family” brief movie review

Surprisingly good! You’ll want to adopt this movie into your heart. Have you ever seen a trailer for a new theatrical release and just assumed it was another generic Hallmark or Lifetime movie making its debut on the big screen? That is precisely what I thought of Mark Wahlberg’s Instant Family. In fact, the only reason I watched it last night was because there wasn’t anything else (and I didn’t want to see the neutered Deadpool cash grab). But, I am glad that I decided to watch it! Not for reasons that it’s a “great film,” but because it was a heartwarming, inspirational story told effectively! There is a refreshing unapologetic approach to familial conflict that holds nothing back. It’s a no-holds-barred dramedy that addresses the mountains and valleys of fostering/adoption, specifically sibling fostering/adoption. If I was to liken this movie to one that we are largely familiar with, I would compare it to Parenthood, but one that is for the 21st century and concerns itself with the foster system. The movie, through the trailers, sets itself up to be an over-the-top comedy, but it was far from being a farce or slapstick comedy. When Instant Family comes from the same director of Daddy’s Home and Daddy’s Home 2, you already have preconceived notions of what the experience of this movie is going to be. Fortunately for audiences, this movie is far from the former two. And why is that? The short answer is that there is a sort of flawed humanity underscoring everything. No pretense about any of the characters. If you’re looking for authenticity, a realness about true-to-life characters, situations, and conflict, then you will definitely want to catch Instant Family.

When Pete and Ellie decide to start a family, they stumble into the world of foster care adoption. They hope to take in one small child, but when they meet three siblings, including a rebellious 15-year-old girl, they find themselves speeding from zero to three kids overnight. Now, Pete and Ellie must try to learn the ropes of instant parenthood in the hope of becoming a family. (IMDb)

While there is a lot of satire in the movie, there is never a moment that you lose your empathy for Pete and Ellie. They come from families that could very well be your own, with all the jabs, competition, and patronization that comes along with them. Even the adoption center and fair scenes, there are elements of the conversations and experiences that may be exaggerated for comedic purposes, but they are all still very much grounded in reality. Pete and Ellie are extremely eager to do a good job, and even employ some of the same approaches they use for flipping houses, but in stead use them to flip people. Some of the irreverent jokes are hilarious! There is one about rebranding foster children as rescue children like the pound for animals was rebranded rescue. The movie also takes audiences behind the faces at the adoption center to reveal the tragic, hard lives that the children and teens come from. Truly highlights the importance of looking at becoming a foster or adoptive family in order to give a child a nice home. Beyond the social commentary on the adoption and foster system, there is also a lesson to be learned that can apply to any number of areas of our lives. Such as knowing precisely why you want to do something, not just the fact you feel it’s what is supposed to be done. The movie will hit you with thought-provoking moments that will force you to face what you think of foster kids and the foster system. I also appreciate the movie for depicting difference kinds of parents–quite the modern bunch! So much diversity is represented, and each prospective parent(s) is inspired by ones encountered by the writer-director Sean Anders’ own journey as he and his wife adopted three siblings.

This is a shorter review because I am getting busy with the end of the semester, but I wanted to provide some brief thoughts on it anyhow. After this week, I’ll be back to my regular article entries.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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