A film review by Craig J. Koban January 22, 2022

SEE FOR ME jjj

2022, Unrated, 92 mins.

Skyler Davenport as Sophie  /  Jessica Parker Kennedy as Kelly  /  Laura Vandervoort as Debra  /  Pascal Langdale as Ernie  /  George Tchortov as Otis  /  Joe Pingue as Dave

Directed by Randall Okita  /  Written by Adam Yorke and Tommy Gushue

The doldrums of the January movie release season usually has me in a fairly depressive state, which is why I found the new small scale home invasion thriller SEE FOR ME to be such a wonderful surprise.  

This Canadian made nerve-wracker delves into a sub genre that's been done and done to relative death over the years, but what makes this one so wholly unique is its ingenuous take on the underlining material and premise.  The basic tenants of these types of films are simple: A vulnerable person - left all alone - is forced to defend him/herself against a group of thieves breaking into their home.  SEE FOR ME shakes that up by making the victim blind and also not the squeakiest of clean protagonists either.  Home invasion thrillers generate terror when the dweller seems incapable of fighting back, but when the same dweller has one of her most vital senses removed it amps up the tension to level 11. 

Directed with a swiftly assured hand by Randall Okita, SEE FOR ME almost works as a twisted mirror reflection of DON'T BREATHE, another macabre home invasion thriller in its own right involving a group of would-be thieves that break into the home of a blind person, albeit a blind sociopathic military veteran that has the abilities to fend off these perpetrators.  In SEE FOR ME the "victim" in question is far less capable of fending for herself.  Downhill skier Sophie Scott (played in a thanklessly good performance by newcomer Skyler Davenport, who's actually blind in real life, more on that in a bit) was once a hopeful Olympian, that is until she developed a degenerative eye disease that tragically caused her to lose her vision and crushed her athletic dreams.  Even though she has caring and nurturing friends that try to convince her to train and participate for the Paralympic Games, she steadfastly refuses out of pride.  Realizing that she still needs to make some form of ends meet, Sophie takes odd house-sitting jobs, with her latest being one for a wealthy client in Debra (Laura Vandervoort), who wants her to look after her up-state New York home and cat while she's away on vacation.   

Now, I know what you must be thinking: How does a blind person look after a pet and a strange dwelling all by herself?  SEE FOR ME gets quite clever in showing how equally clever Sophie is at using technology to guide her through just about every obstacle that's thrown in her way.  Using her voice activated smart phone for everyday tasks makes her life simpler, especially when it comes time to Face Timing friends so they can help guide her through the complex maze of hallways, rooms, and stairs that make up this home (also, she utilizes a truly nifty tracking collar attached to Debra's cat that allows her to monitor its movements on her phone as well).  Things get dicey, though, when she accidentally gets locked out of the home and is stranded in the cold.  At the advice of her mother, Sophie downloads a new app called "See For Me" that places her in video conference mode with a seeing-abled agent to help her through anything.  The first agent she gets is Kelly (Jessica Parker Kennedy), a former army veteran, and with some ingenuity on her part Sophie is able to get back in.   

 

 

Unfortunately for her, that's not the end of her troubles that evening.  Three men end up breaking into the house, which prompts her to calling 911 to report it while in hiding.  Realizing that she will not get immediate help from the authorities, Sophie reaches back out to Kelly via the app to help her access the dangers and make it out of the home alive.  It becomes clear that these invaders have smashed their way in to get the millions of dollars that Debra has stashed away in a hidden safe, which will require time and considerable energy to break into.  Sophie is caught by the men, and when they realize that she has called for help they reach out to their boss, who believes that a blind girl will hardly be able to rat them out to anyone for identification purposes.  Complicating things for everyone is the fact that the 911 operator is sending an officer down to check in with Sophie, which triggers panic in the thieves.  Unexpectedly, Sophie offers a surprise counter proposal to them.   

As mentioned, SEE FOR ME is not the first home invasion thriller involving a blind person taking on a group of criminals, but where it sets itself off apart from DON'T BREATHE is in its many tweaks and twists that it makes to spice up the premise, which has the positive side effect of subverting audience expectations for the overarching story trajectory.  This becomes a rare kind of thriller that makes you radically re-think the basic concepts of victims and their pursuers, not to mention the different levels of intense jeopardy that this unique victim finds herself in.  It's traumatizing to defend a home from unknown, dangerous assailants, but it's a whole other dread inducing ordeal to do so as a blind person.  That's what amps up the Hitchcockian levels of suspense in SEE FOR ME.  The film becomes an uncommonly scary genre exercise because (a) Sophie - under any normal circumstances - is in a highly vulnerable state to defend herself against multiple thugs and (b) she can't simply see herself out of this nightmarish jam.  And SEE FOR ME becomes especially crafty for how it develops Sophie's impromptu relationship with Kelly, who ends up serving as her eyes via her smart phone to help her get out of this terrible pickle of a situation. 

Another thing that SEE FOR ME does atypically well is in how it frames the character of Sophie throughout.  She's not just presented as a scream queen victim here at all.  If anything, she's introduced early in the film as a hard nosed, tough talking, deeply cynical, and sometimes toxically anti-social person that has become so bitter by the cruel twist of fate that life has dealt her that she basically pushes away help when presented.  She's then forced to accept the help of Kelly when her life is on the line, which in turn forces her to change her tune when it comes to re-learning to rely on the able bodied.  But then the makers here toss in added moral complexity to the mix by having Sophie make some quick witted decisions that (without spoiling anything) calls into question whether or not we can even simply label her as a victim anymore.  This all creates an even thornier, yet compelling dynamic between her, Kelly, and the crooks that I frankly was not expecting at all going into the middle sections of the film.  Sophie is clearly the one on the obvious defensive here, but she's tenacious, intelligent, and is willing to quickly adapt to any dire challenge thrown at her, even if it means eroding our identification of her as a heroine that we should be rooting for.  In many respects, SEE FOR ME is a hell of a lot smarter than a handful of recent thrillers that I've seen, and I like it when films deceptively throw curveballs at me.   

Okita directs the film with maximum economy and swiftness.  At around 90 minutes, most of the unnecessary fat has been trimmed out here and the story momentum is kept at a generous pace throughout.  He also knows how to use the geography of the home itself (and Sophie's unfamiliarity with it) to drum of the anxiety inducing paranoia. On a level of pure visceral atmosphere, SEE FOR ME is efficient at showing just how hopelessly isolated Sophie is here from everyone else and safety.  That brings us to Davenport herself, making her film debut, and what a debut it is.  I really could have seen the temptation for filmmakers to hire a better know and sighted actress for this role, so kudos to Okita and company for sticking to their creative guns and using a visual impaired actor to play a visually impaired character.  And Davenport has a really tricky job of here of walking the slippery slope of making her character  completely dislikeable (she's not a likeable person through much of this film), but she also has to relay that, yes, this is a highly defenseless woman being placed in a panic-inducing situation that deserves our empathy.  Davenport's performance is layered and complex: She's supposed to be our emotional entry point into this film, but she's deeply flawed and troubled all the same.  I appreciated how SEE FOR ME doesn't hold our hands with this character.    

However, I could have done without the ultra tidy ending here, which seems to conflict with the nature of the film building up to it.  The final scene here feels kind of forced and rushed.  Yet, make no mistake, though: SEE FOR ME is a far better offering than we have any business of expecting in the usual wasteland of disposable and forgettable January releases, and one that's unnervingly chilling in all the right places alongside being perversely smart when compared to with its dime-a-dozen premise.  Plus, any film that champions for more inclusiveness and participation for impaired actors in the industry is something to be absolutely respected.  These are casting barriers that need to be broken by more mainstream films as well, so kudos to SEE FOR ME for leading the progressive charge.  That, and it's a pretty damn solid genre offering in its own right that should be actively sought out. 

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