Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on October 25, 2009
“So much about this movie and its characters should be annoying, but the sensory disorientation climaxes in a freakout that wipes all troubles away, as well as anything else in your head.” (The Village Voice)
“…without a doubt one of the most intriguing and well-crafted low-budget horror films in recent memory.” (Fangoria)
“It’s akin to an acid trip, actually. Take a hit right as the movie starts up, and chances are as soon as the acid kicks in, the movie starts twisting at the same time.” (DreadCentral.com)
“I Can See You heralds a splendid new filmmaker with one eye on genre mechanics, one eye on avant-garde conceits and a third eye for transcendental weirdness.” (The New York Times)
This Friday, October 30th, the International Film Series in Boulder presents the Colorado premiere of Graham Reznick’s debut feature I Can See You, a self-described “psychedelic campfire tale.” I was drawn to this film due to Larry Fessenden’s participation (he’s one of the good guys out there who really cares about the horror genre) and by The Village Voice review by Nicolas Rapold that starts out this way: “Ultimately opting for Brakhage over butchery, this surprising horror debut hits us where it hurts by turning vision itself into a mind-frying source of anxiety.”
The film opens with a vintage tv-clip for a cleaning product called ClarActix that is being hawked by a product spokesperson (Fessenden) who eagerly shows you how quickly it cuts through grime on glass, thus allowing you to see through it clearly. But that was then, and this once popular cleaning product now needs a makeover, which is where Richards (Ben Dickinson), Doug (Duncan Skiles) and Kimble (Christopher D. Ford) come in. These three young NYC ad-men have a shot at snagging the account, so they start fussing over how best to articulate “clarity” and “vision.”
Doug is clearly used to pushing people around and talks Richards, Kimble, and Kimble’s girlfriend Sonia (Olivia Villanti) into going on a camping trip to find images and inspiration for their ad campaign. Doug is the kind of annoying douche-bag you immediately hope becomes the first person to get throttled in the woods. But this is not that kind of cookie-cutter horror film at all. In fact, the film’s focus is steadily on Richards.
As night falls other people join their campfire, including a hippie-chick by the name of Summer Day that Richards gets lucky with. But Richards is haunted by an unfinished painting back home that still lacks a face. His camera is taking distorted images that don’t gel with what he thought was there. And when he goes for a swim with Summer Rain and he takes off his glasses he’s clearly unnerved by an out-of-focus world. And then things get weird and, in the words of the director, “his mind malfunctions. He doesn’t know how to cope with something outside of his safe, easy existence, and we experience his world shattering breakdown along with him.”
So what does this have to do with Stan Brakhage?
Stan Brakhage, the visionary and experimental filmmaker who made Boulder his home for many years before cancer took him in 2003, was both a friend and teacher to me. And, in a way, he did make some horror films – with almost 400 films to his credit, how could he not? The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes (1971), his half-hour cinematic record of procedural autopsies in a Pittsburgh morgue, could be considered one example. But as a visual poet whose work was always incredibly personal, Brakhage had many other films that were steeped in genuine every-day horrors; the horror of facing an eye operation, the horror of divorce, the horror of existence, the list goes on.
In my book, I Can See You doesn’t come anywhere close to capturing the true essence of Brakhage, whose mostly non-narrative and hand-crafted work was in the thrall of the pure celluloid experience, but I do understand why the comparison was made. I Can See You feels like a personal film on many levels. The three featured ad-men are ad-men in real life (working for Waverly Films, which specializes in commercials, music videos, and even YouTube clips). And, for what it’s worth, Brakhage did work on commercials early in his career, including the famous slow-motion shot of a bottle of Downy fabric softener falling into billowing white towels.
During the first hour Reznick allows himself various visual digressions that steer away from the narrative and allow the camera to soak in details of place and time. These moments reminded me more of the work of Terrence Malick than of Brakhage, but Brakhage did love Malick’s work for that same reason. Brakhage was probably mainly evoked due to an explosion of surreal craziness toward the end of I Can See You, it’s a sequence I wished had been stretched even further as it provides such a nice and unexpected payoff. But, really, the main filmmaker being referenced here is David Lynch, especially when the red curtain falls – not to mention the subjective fractured psyche on display that might remind some of Lost Highway.
In a time when easy access to digital equipment has enabled, to use R.H. Smith’s words from his 10/23 post here on the Movie Morlock’s page, “a slew of indie turds,” here is a film that I feel separates itself from the pack in many ways. Is it perfect? No. I found the soundtrack obtrusive and the pacing does require some patience. It’s also more of a head-trip than a scary flick – and why not have both? (Here I can’t help but think of, say, Carnival of Souls or Let’s Scare Jessica to Death). But I feel such comparisons are unfair to Reznick. He has created here something unusual and fresh. And even if I Can See You was shot on High Def, which I find so crisp in detail and unforgiving and even at odds with certain light exposures at times, by gum, that’s kinda appropriate for a film that’s obsessed with clarity and vision.
To see the trailer:
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