See for Me's Screen Life Innovation Elevates Tried-and-True Home Invasion Thrills

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<i>See for Me</i>'s Screen Life Innovation Elevates Tried-and-True Home Invasion Thrills

Randall Okita’s See for Me unites “screen life” horrors made popular in films like Unfriended or The Den with disability representation. Like Mike Flanagan’s Hush, which stages a home invasion with a deaf lead character, Okita envisions a break-in where the current resident lives with blindness. Therein lies the narrative’s intrigue and tension: How can someone who cannot see defend themselves from armed criminals? Screenwriters Adam Yorke and Tommy Gushue accept the challenge of drawing audiences into an audacious survival scenario and sustain dramatic tension, which is a testament to both performances and storytelling as aided by technological advances.

Visually impaired actor Skyler Davenport brings authenticity to the role of Sophie, a former top skiing prospect who’s now lost her vision. Sophie’s hired by wealthy divorcée Debra (Laura Vandervoort) to catsit in snowy New York State isolation. All goes easy until nightfall when three robbers break into Debra’s estate to snatch a few million dollars from her hidden safe. Sophie awakens and phones 9-1-1, but needs immediate help. Out of desperation, she connects with Kelly (Jessica Parker Kennedy), a responder for the app See for Me, which connects sightless users to video messenger aids.

In contrast to Don’t Breathe and Don’t Breathe 2—where Stephen Lang plays a blind militant tactician—Sophie relies on Kelly, coincidentally an infantry engineer punished with desk duty. Sophie will die without Kelly’s guidance, which helps develop their frantic chemistry as Kelly essentially plays a virtual reality escape experience, except someone’s actual life is at stake. Commands like “9 o’clock” or “split the difference” accompany the visual of Sophie aiming a handgun, her iPhone positioned behind the hammer so Kelly can aim. These are the highlights of See for Me since Okita does not waste the alarming nature of Sophie’s predicament, but empowers Sophie through her eventual acceptance of help without feeling helpless.

Davenport’s performance is crucial, considering the overall message of how accepting support isn’t a failure. Sophie must stop pushing others away—protective mothers, encouraging Paralympics ski buddy Cam (Keaton Kaplan)—if she’s to defeat the three hired threats drilling into Debra’s vault. Sophie’s reluctance to seem lesser in the eyes of others is a painful stubbornness that Davenport owns as they stagger down staircases or lock themself outside in frigid weather. That’s what makes Sophie so interesting as she barters with the smash-and-grab trio (Pascal Langdale, Joe Pingue, George Tchortov) or dissuades police check-ins (Emily Piggford), or even lashes back at Kelly’s helpful intentions. There’s a central journey of discovery in addition to Sophie’s life-or-death standoff. Davenport’s history as a voice actor translates into sometimes-wobbly on-camera tendencies, but Sophie’s turmoil still grounds See for Me as something more than throwaway thrills.

That’s not to say action beats and housebound horrors don’t fundamentally excite. Kim Coates’ telephonic voice commands ski-mask thugs in all black who hide around corners, Jordan Oram and Jackson Parrell’s cinematography positioning the brutes in background shadows like 2009’s famously shocking The Strangers—all made even more harrowing because of Sophie’s reliance on sonic waves. The problem becomes how handily the scenario unfolds, whether that be Sophie’s blindfolded first-person shooting or alterations to strategic planning (spoilers I can’t discuss). Everything happens without much consideration of doubt, flowing swiftly but executing too cleanly given the depravity in motion. It’s missing a third gear to elevate the ordeal into an unpredictable nightmare.

Luckily, See for Me avoids forgettable “generic” labels because of its app-based, videogame-inspired twistiness. Okita doesn’t need Jason Statham leading his cutthroat crew because this is Davenport’s story to tell: An athlete robbed of blustery mountaintop winds, a person who couldn’t look past new challenges as limitations, and those who conflate vulnerability with helplessness. See for Me positions itself as an unfair tale of “easy target versus evil men,” but highlights its strongest material when valuing people beyond their disabilities.

Director: Randall Okita
Writer: Adam Yorke, Tommy Gushue
Starring: Skyler Davenport, Kim Coates, Jessica Parker Kennedy
Release Date: January 7, 2022

Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread to the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.