Producer: Matt Waldeck   Director: Adam Randall   Screenplay: Devon Graye   Cast: Helen Hunt, John Tenney, Judah Lewis, Owen Teague, Libe Barer, Greg Alan Williams, Erika Alexander, Allison King, Sam Trammell, Adam Kern, Riley Caya and Brooks Roseberry   Distributor:  Saban Films

Grade:  B

“I See You” is a trick, but a pretty good one.  After toying with us for forty minutes by presenting a combination of haunted house horror movie, dysfunctional family drama and child abduction thriller, it doubles back in its second forty to explain what we’ve seen from a different perspective.  The wrap-up may be a mite too clever for its own good, but you have to admire the chutzpah involved.

The film begins with an almost idyllic summer scene in a small Ohio town, ending with a boy named Justin (Riley Cava) riding off on his bicycle.  As he speeds through a forest path, however, he is literally swept off his bike as if lifted by some unnatural power, and disappears.  The police soon are on the scene, led by veteran officer Spitzky (Gregory Alan Williams) and his partner Greg Harper (Jon Tenney).  Justin’s the second child to go missing in the past days, and a knife Spitzky finds near his abandoned bike reminds him of a similar spate of child abductions years ago.

Greg, however, is not at his best.  His wife Jackie (Helen Hunt) has recently been discovered having an affair, and though she insists that it’s over, he still hasn’t gotten over the revelation.  Their son Connor (Judah Lewis) is even angrier, blaming Jackie for destroying their family.  When odd noises and disturbing events—some involving Todd (Sam Trammell), the man Jackie’s been involved with, another a repairman (Adam Kern) and finally one threatening Connor—occur, the narrative seems to be suggesting either a home invasion, insanity in the family, or supernatural intervention, perhaps a manifestation of the threesome’s turmoil.

Then the clock is abruptly turned back, and two new characters are introduced—Mindy (Libe Barer), a flighty teen, and her apparent boyfriend Alec (Owen Teague).  The style of the picture changes too, sometimes reverting to the equivalent of found-footage cinema.  It would be unfair to reveal what this means for the plot, but it adds a new dimension to the story that’s been told so far, and following the trajectory of the added characters dovetails with the events we’re already seen, deepening their import.

As it enters the final fifteen minutes or so, “I See You” attempts to tie together all the plot threads from both of its earlier sections.  The effort isn’t entirely successful—a few coincidences strain credulity past the breaking point, and the connection of what’s happened to the child abduction scenario is forced. 

Still, overall this is an engaging puzzle, and you have to congratulate Devon Graye for fashioning the pieces so nicely and Adam Randall for fitting them together as smoothly as he does.  Randall’s assisted by a good cast.  Latecomers Teague and Barer make the strongest impressions, but Tenney seethes convincingly.  Oddly Hunt, while top-billed, is rather one-note, caught up in apologetic, weepy gloom, and Lewis is similarly given to adolescent angst and anger.  Philipp Blaubach should be singled out for cinematography—including some soaring helicopter shots—that’s creepy and evocative, and Jeffrey Castelluccio for editing that keeps the plot’s intricacies clear as the puzzle pieces fall into place.  The growling score by William Arcane contributes to the unsettling atmosphere.

As far as cinematic conundrums go, “Knives Out” will get more attention than this little low-budget entry, but “I See You” deserves a look too.