Director: Scott Speer
Writer: Jason Fuchs
Producer: Paul Brooks, Scott Niemeyer, Leon Clarance
Stars: Bella Thorne, Richard Harmon, Amy Price-Francis, Hugh Dillon, Shaun Benson, Dave Brown, Thomas Elms, Louis Herthum, Dermot Mulroney
In a world haunted by ghosts of a major catastrophe’s victims, a teenage girl struggles to solve a murder mystery.
Ten years ago, a catastrophic explosion at a Chicago laboratory released a devastating shockwave that took countless lives. The dead became non-sentient specters who now harmlessly haunt the planet. Essentially indistinguishable from humans, the phantoms manifest briefly each day to repeat mostly mundane actions from their previous lives, like visual memories stuck in a broken record hiccup. “I Still See You” dubs these spirits “remnants” because, like a zombie flick/series insistent on inventing an alternate word for zombie, it wouldn’t be fashionable to simply refer to them as ghosts.
As supernatural sci-fi backdrops with provocative potential go, that’s an undeniably ripe one. Director Scott Speer’s movie doesn’t dig deep enough into this setup to pique interest in picking up “Break My Heart 1,000 Times,” which is the Daniel Waters novel upon which Jason Fuchs bases his script. But “I Still See You” does establish an icily intriguing world that would be interesting to visit again in the form of further films exploring this fiction.
For the time being, viewers have to settle for a mild mystery narrowed on a pouty teen protagonist. At home, Ronnie (Bella Thorne) glowers at her mother for avoiding acknowledgment of her dead father’s daily appearance at their breakfast table. At school, Ronnie eyes new student Kirk (Richard Harmon), a dreamy drifter stereotype stuffed into a troubled teen boy shell.
Ronnie and Kirk take a class on remnants taught by Mr. Bittner (Dermot Mulroney), an impossibly handsome high school teacher who lives in an impossibly impressive home where no one thinks it odd for him to hold off-campus office hours. What Ronnie learns about the ethereal beings in no way prepares her for an encounter with Brian, a remnant either warning or threatening the young woman by writing the word “run” on Ronnie’s steamy bathroom mirror. Bittner assures Ronnie that remnants are incapable of communicating. Only Kirk believes Ronnie’s claim of being in danger. Their investigation into Brian’s identity puts Kirk and Ronnie on a path toward discovering the secret truth behind the disaster that reshaped the globe.
One of these days, Bella Thorne might have something to do in one of her tame thrillers aside from prettily puffing through the motions, lest she be condemned to serve a perpetual penance in DTV Hell for the crime of too often exhibiting a hollow personality onscreen. That day is not today. “I Still See You” continues in the tradition of movies like “Keep Watching” (review here) by employing Thorne to largely skate by on allure alone.
The film also cheaply cashes in on Thorne’s eye-catching appeal by undressing her for two separate shower scenes and needlessly stripping Thorne to her underwear for another sequence. She may even be wearing the same panties and tank top from when “Amityville: The Awakening” (review here) previously pulled the same exploitive trick. Are these really still reasons people put money into these movies?
“I Still See You” doesn’t do anything to chum the plot’s water with red herrings. This means if you want to have any invested involvement whatsoever in the whodunit angle, pay absolutely no attention to the one and only obvious suspect. Just put that person out of your mind and ignorantly play along.
In fact, the more pauses made to ponder copious questions, the more the fluctuating mythology falls apart like a Kleenex in hot water. Exactly how selective was the shockwave when it stretched worldwide while somehow zigzagging like a Lee Harvey Oswald bullet? Why on Earth would Kirk go to a particular location in the last act when Ronnie’s house makes infinitely more sense? Don’t forget that shockwave victims exclusively became remnants, are not self-aware, and only repeat certain actions daily, er, except for the ones who aren’t shockwave victims, most certainly exhibit complex thought, and inexplicably interact with the physical world when narratively convenient. Poke softly enough and holes become so big, it’s impossible to locate their circular edges.
“I Still See You” would work better as a made-for-Syfy midweek movie. It certainly takes itself more seriously than its Saturday matinee silliness deserves. And it somewhat sleepily operates at a ‘5’ in terms of intensity while out-of-control music hilariously hits closer to an ‘8’ or a ‘9.’
Even with its mood meter pinging far further toward ‘darkly dour’ than ‘popcorn fun,’ enjoyment can still be mined from the movie. Granted, the ending becomes particularly dim and the overall experience might evaporate entirely when you let out a yawn during end credits.
But the film is produced well for what it is and performances are fine for the most part. For the smoothest possible ride, shut the blinds on the story’s shortcomings, brace yourself for low voltage energy, and get on board with acceptably average entertainment. “I Still See You” may not be above mediocrity, though it is better than more middling movies in similar cinematic categories.
Review Score: 50