Graham Reznick describes his feature directorial debut as an abstract horror film, which is fair assessment, since the editing style and loose imagery are sometimes disjointed, and the film’s tone diverges from a drama about three young ad men venturing into the forest for inspiration on a new household cleaner campaign to a thriller, potential ghost story, and outright surrealism.
Reznick’s background includes illustration, sound design, music, and a keen interest in the abstract and the surreal, and I Can See You was conceived as a low budget opportunity to exploit those disciplines (with half of the score composed by Jeff Grace), but the project would’ve worked better in a more condensed form, like a 30-45 mins. short, because several montages tend to give the film an uneven, drifting tempo.
The dialogue banter between the three leading characters (played by the Reznick’s colleagues, who themselves are commercial directors making their feature debuts as thespians) isn’t interesting and borders on the banal; the dialogue is semi-improvised, with too much allowance on a natural style instead of staying with a more restrictive and dramatically progressive style.
The performances also vary in quality, and of the three novices, Ben Dickinson as Richards is the most believable (perhaps because he’s the most restrained character, and due to Dickinson having a passing resemblance to Apartment Zero’s creepy Hart Bochner).
Once a pair of characters disappear in the woods, the film shifts into thriller mode and heads towards a finale lacking any definitive statement: Is the forest haunted? Was Richards hallucinating? Was the entire trip a nightmare playing from an ill mind?
Things become wholly Lynchian when the chief element from the old ad campaign - the pitchman (Larry Fessenden), seen in a recurring commercial - suddenly appears before Richards, giving him murky instructions and theories of perception before there’s a campfire slaughter, culminating in the removal of a hunting knife that lay buried in a colleague’s brain.
It’s a great surreal shock, but it doesn’t really work in spite of Reznick dropping aural clues and motifs throughout the film of mounting weirdness. There’s also a motif of an overall sense of weakening focus: characters unable to refine the conceptual elements of their campaign, troubled professional and personal relationships, and Richards’ poor vision without glasses.
The knife Richards removes from a colleague’s brain figuratively punches a hole through what’s been the film’s ‘rational’ reality, and takes Richards on a weird trip where all kinds of LSD-styled imagery strobes and pours across the screen. The deleted scenes gallery offers a few clues – namely a campfire tale of ghosts and the forest spiritually responsible for causing a high volume of suicides – and there’s an alternate ending involving a mutated Richards breaking in on a rival ad pitch to the client, but the sense is that Reznick had a concept that was given the chance as a feature, but with no concrete script in place, rewrites and deletions meant an incomplete vision. It’s all well and creepy, but it ultimately doesn’t satisfy, except for the brilliantly trippy montage that evokes Richards’ explosive mental disintegration.
More satisfying, in terms of a unified story, is The Viewer, a short film included on Kino’s DVD, and originally concocted by Reznick as a special addition to the premiere of his feature debut. Collaborating again with cinematographer Gordon Arkenberg, Reznick devised the film as a 3D project using a hand-made rig and two Panasonic HD cameras instead of a single-lens 3D camera.
Story-wise, it’s told from the POV of an interviewed murder suspect, with an interrogator going through increasingly invasive levels of brain scanning to extract the memories the subject’s unwilling to share. Once past Level 5, the neurological damage becomes permanent, and the details of the victim and the killing become more precise, even though there’s a blurring of identities, with the interrogator and murder victim rotating places in the memory flashes and final interrogation scenes.
Technically, the 3D effects work, and the optional DVD commentary track provides a decent breakdown of the film’s production, how the effects were devised, differences with a single-lens 3D camera, and some of the themes and visual metaphors similar to I Can See You.
I Can See You also includes an optional commentary with the director, 1st assistant director, and three male leads, but it’s largely a waste of time. Maybe it’s due to the beer being consumed and spilled or the absence of a moderator, but the track consists of five guys talking about everything except the interesting bits: the project’s genesis, scripting, editing, scoring, audio montages, and finale. There’s material on casting and the location being used for Ti West’s Trigger Man (which Reznick also sound designed), but there’s little of interest in the feature-length track.
The I Can See You making-of featurette was filmed by executive producer / actor Larry Fessenden, and it’s a standard (and overlong) montage of idle chatter vignettes. There’s not much of interest: the opening has some rehearsal footage; most of the footage in the mid-section shows cast and crew filming in a forest; and the last third has bits from the Lynchian musical sequence that’s part of the trippy finale.
A trailer makes it obvious the film was a tough sell for the filmmakers, since at best it can be characterized as an ‘abstract’ thriller. Reznick’s feature debut is definitely worth a peek, but it’s got its share of pacing flaws and story issues – problems that also affected Ti West’s Trigger Man as well.
An interview with composer Jeff Grace is also available.
© 2011 Mark R. Hasan