Sound designer-turned-director Graham Reznick ventures into the genre woods and twists out something unique
Is there any horror movie trope more tired than the urbanite who finds himself or herself lost in the woods and subject to attack from deranged rednecks or paranormal forces? It's the story of movies as different as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Blair Witch Project. As long as the United States remains polarized between blue and red states, the trope will more than likely retain its attraction to filmmakers. It even resonates in Europe; the French movie Them offered feral Eastern European children as the ultimate horror.
The directorial debut of sound designer Graham Reznick, I Can See You, takes its characters out to the woods for the scare of their lives, but it isn't overly concerned with subtext. It offers nightmarish frissons rather than social commentary. Reznick draws on the non-narrative avant-garde for inspiration; ultimately, his movie has as much in common with David Lynch's weirdest moments or Stan Brakhage as The Blair Witch Project.
I Can See You begins with a clip from an informercial for a cleaning product, showcasing the oily Mickey Hauser (Larry Fessenden). From there, it goes on to show Ben (Ben Dickinson), an ad agency photographer struggling to complete a portrait of his father. Ben decides to shave off his beard, leaving only a mustache. His co-workers seem fascinated with his facial hair, leaping at the opportunity to touch it. They head to the woods for a relaxing, low-key weekend that will help them design a campaign. Dissatisfied with stock photos, Ben, Doug (Duncan Skiles), and Kimble (Christopher Ford) look for inspiration from actual trees. Ben meets neo-hippie Summer Day (Heather Robb) and sleeps with her. However, she and Doug head off into the wilderness the next day, leaving Ben and Kimble worried about their whereabouts.
Reznick's background in sound design is evident throughout, and his movie relies heavily on a score by the Genetic Assassins. It leans toward dark ambient drones, recalling doom metal band Sunn O))). Often, the music is so loud that it threatens to drown out dialogue. At other times, it's indistinguishable from sound effects. Reznick also uses deliberately grating sounds, such as a car alarm that won't stop.
Reznick's editing is also noteworthy. Long before anything out of the ordinary happens, he creates an uneasy mood. At one point, he cuts between images of a forest--the character's' eventual destination--and a discussion at the ad agency. Time seems particularly fluid in the movie, as past, present, future, and conditional all take place at once. Ben and Summer's sex scene is depicted through double exposures. It's hard to tell exactly what's going on, especially since their moans and groans are less audible than the score.
While the entire movie isn't shot from Ben's perspective, several key moments are. When he takes off his glasses, the image suddenly turns fuzzy. The movie's final reel depicts the point of view of a man whose brain has gone haywire. And while it is relatively light on violence, it's significant that one of its few gross-out moments involves eyeball gouging. Luis Buñuel's "Un Chien Andalou" used a razor slicing an eye to suggest the director's revolutionary anti-narrative agenda; I Can See You does much the same with its images of vision in peril.
The movie's pacing, though, is likely to piss off horror fanboys expecting a more conventional movie. An hour passes before anything particularly ominous or uncanny happens, and it saves its scares for the final reel. However, it uses its time to develop real, interesting characters rather than horror's typical cardboard cut-outs. Because so much of the movie is built around Ben's perspective, his anxieties become the viewer's--and there's something thrilling about the hallucinations that take place. They may lead him to dangerous actions, but they bring the movie into extremely exciting territory.
This DVD also includes the 3-D short "The Viewer," which is no mere throwaway. It's shot entirely from the perspective of one character, an accused killer facing telepathic interrogation. The short takes you through his memories as the interrogation proceeds. Like I Can See You, it evokes genre clichés in order to subvert them, and the end result brings to mind Chris Marker or Alain Resnais.
It's impossible to know what direction Reznick will go from here, but he's made a horror film that succeeds on its own terms, rather than looking like a bid to direct a Saw sequel. I Can See You is a true adventure: Reznick has gone into the wilderness and come back with an extremely promising feature debut.