Randall Okita’s twisty, atmospheric home invasion thriller makes ample use of its concept, and defies expectations for both good and ill.
This review is part of our coverage of the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.
Home invasion thrillers are a dime a dozen — hell, the concept of a blind woman using her wiles to defending herself against invaders through her disability is an idea already trod in the Audrey Hepburn classic Wait Until Dark. But Randall Okita‘s See For Me brings in some welcome twists and a hefty dose of atmosphere, even as it starts to crumble under the weight of all its expectation-defying.
In the opening minutes, Okita introduces us to Sophie (Skyler Davenport), who, through a few carefully-placed background shots and a very helpful bit of expository television, we learn is a former champion skier who implicitly had to give up the game after going blind. Embittered by the experience and insistent on her own independence (“I’ve got it,” she consistently says to people who offer to help her), Sophie takes odd jobs just to make ends meet — chief among them housesitting for rich clientele. Her latest job takes her to a palatial modernist mansion in the middle of the forest, which becomes the stage for a cat-and-mouse game when three robbers break into the home, not realizing anyone is there.
The major twist, of course, is that Sophie has something Hepburn would have killed to have in her pocket: her smartphone. More specifically, an app called “See For Me”, where freelancers can sign on and describe a blind person’s surroundings to them via their camera. Luckily for Sophie, the helper on the other line is Kelly (Jessica Parker Kennedy), a hard-nosed Army vet and l33t gamer all too happy to help her get a leg up on the bad guys.
Even though we’re rooting for her to win the day, she may not be all that much more virtuous than her adversaries.
That’s not the only twist in See For Me‘s intriguing fabric: Rather than the wilting flower ingenue protagonist, Davenport (themselves a functionally-blind actor) lets Sophie’s bitterness at her situation lead her to impulsive or even morally ambiguous choices. Sometimes she’s a target, sometimes she might even be a reluctant accomplice to the trio of thieves holed up in the house. Screenwriters Adam Yorke and Tommy Gushue find new ways to twist the knife every half-act or so, even if the final stretch gets to be one twist too many and ties up everything in too neat a bow. (Still, Kim Coates takes to a late-film cameo with relish.)
Okita’s direction is assured, taking to the snow-covered landscapes and ominously minimalist mansion with a Hitchcockian sense of suspense. Wide shots tease Sophie’s position to the bad guys through the house’s floor-to-ceiling windows, all but daring you to shout at the screen to “turn around!” The middle act even allows Kelly to use the app to play out her first-person shooter fantasies for real, Okita leaning into the phone screen as an erstwhile HUD, floating gun in front of frame and all. He finds plenty of opportunities for intriguing angles and setups, making See For Me a visual treat if nothing else.
As home invasion thrillers go, See For Me doesn’t reinvent the wheel apart from a few novel twists on the Wait Until Dark formula. But it’s got the fundamentals right, chiefly through Okita’s direction and Davenport’s expressive, complicated performance. Not only is it refreshing to see a Blind protagonist in a film like these, it’s nice to see one with such intriguing moral complications. Even though we’re rooting for her to win the day, she may not be all that much more virtuous than her adversaries.