Yes, I know. It’s been a busy weekend for movies and there are a lot of new releases I was hoping to cover right now. Alas, my number finally came up and I recently tested positive for COVID. Luckily, I’m up five vaccine shots — and the last one was a bivalent booster — which has reduced my particular case of the most infectious plague in recorded history down to a particularly bad head cold.
Even so, I’m spending the next few days back in lockdown, perusing the streaming services to find any available 2022 films that I haven’t gotten around to. And when it comes to overlooked cinematic gems, where better to start than with Hulu?
See For Me comes to us from writers Adam Yorke and Tommy Gushue, alongside Randall Okita, all of whom more or less make their feature debuts here. This is also the feature debut of star Skyler Davenport, a blind agender actor with an impressive career in voice-over work. Davenport plays Sophie Scott, a professional skier who lost her career after an unfortunate genetic disorder rendered her blind. Nowadays, she makes a living through acts of petty theft by way of legitimate housesitting and petsitting jobs.
Sophie primarily gets around by way of her smartphone, particularly with the help of video chatting with her friend Cam (Keaton Kaplan), using her phone’s camera to serve as a seeing-eye partner. Trouble is, Cam is too skittish to keep helping Sophie rob people, and Sophie is too proud to let Cam train her for the Paralympics. In point of fact, Sophie is proud to a fault, turning down every offer for help and insistent on doing everything herself, even in spite of her disability.
The plot begins as Sophie is called to a remote mansion up in the snowy mountains for a catsitting job. She and Cam steal a bottle of wine before they have a falling-out. Enter “See For Me”, a smartphone app that remotely connects Sophie to a seeing-eye aid who can help her the way Cam previously did. By good fortune, she’s set up with Kelly (Jessica Parker Kennedy), a competitive gamer with a checkered past.
Trouble is, the house is targeted by a trio of armed robbers (Ernie, Otis, and Dave; respectively played by Pascal Langdale, George Tchortov, and Joe Pingue) who are somehow able to step right into the house and disarm the security system. (Not that the security system was much of any good in the first place, because it bears repeating that the mansion is so isolated.) Hilarity ensues.
In summary, the premise is a 21st-century spin on “Wait Until Dark”. But while that protagonist was a perfectly innocent blind housewife with the advantage of knowing every inch of her own home, our girl Sophie is a bitter jaded thief stuck in an isolated mansion she has no knowledge of or emotional investment in. So there’s an element of “bad versus evil” at play here, adding a twisted kind of morality that lends itself to all sorts of underhanded twists and turns in the plot.
Another important factor is Sophie’s dependence on her cell phone. If her connection goes out or her battery runs dead, she can’t get in touch with Kelly and she’s helpless. (Or is she?) Moreover, Sophie doesn’t even have the advantage of working in cover of darkness, because Kelly needs light to see just like our robbers do. And again, Sophie is a blind young woman outnumbered three-to-one by professional criminals.
She does, however, have two advantages. First, Sophie is surprisingly good at thinking on her feet. She’s demonstrably smarter and cooler under pressure than her antagonists (with a notable exception I’ll discuss later). The second advantage is by far the bigger one: Synergy with her partner.
In very short order, Dave is shown to be squeamish at the thought of involvement with anything more violent than safecracking, Otis is the mercenary whose first answer to anything is violence, and Ernie is the poor middle-manager trying to reconcile egos and keep everything on track. The three of them are consistently undercut by their clashes of personality, and they repeatedly fail to keep in effective contact. By comparison, Sophie and Kelly — two total strangers keeping in contact from several states away, remember — work surprisingly well together.
In many ways and on many levels, this is a movie about cooperation. It’s about knowing when and how to ask for help and when to go it alone. It’s a theme that lends itself beautifully to a suspense thriller, and also as a cinematic portrayal of life as a blind person. The film is really quite fascinating as a portrait of how the visually impaired use old-fashioned techniques (the use of safety pins on clothing at the start of the film) and modern technology (smartphones, voice recognition software, etc.) to navigate the world.
Ultimately, Sophie is shown to be a person capable of remarkable things on her own, even if she needs help every now and then. Just like anyone else. The application is different, but the basic principle is the same.
All kudos are due to Davenport for turning in such a dynamic starring performance, and I applaud the filmmakers for going the extra mile and hiring an actual blind actor. Jessica Parker Kennedy effortlessly sells her character and her interplay with Davenport. Joe Pingue does well as the only hapless thief with anywhere near three dimensions, and Kim Coates makes for a fantastic hate sink when he finally shows up as the criminal mastermind behind all of this.
There are, however, a few nitpicks. Easily the biggest one concerns Sophie’s deeply regrettable hesitance to kill. Sophie has every reason to defend herself, Kelly is literally screaming in her ear to take the shot, yet Sophie takes a practical eternity to put the (other) thieves down when it could save her life. It’s pure bullshit that does nothing but extend the runtime.
Oh, and wasn’t there supposed to be a cat in there somewhere? Yeah, Sophie was brought in to mind the resident cat and immediately takes the step of putting a tracking collar on him. This is pretty much immediately forgotten and the cat is never seen or heard from in the entire back half of the movie. You’d think the cat would play a bigger role than that.
The camerawork is okay. I particularly love the portrayal of Sophie’s dependence on her sense of touch, and I appreciate how the filmmakers found a way to shoot in no-light conditions without resorting to night vision. Even so, this premise needed a sense of claustrophobia that the film sorely lacks. I know the movie takes place in a huge house, but the house should’ve been smaller or at least shot to look smaller.
Overall, See for Me is perfectly fine. It’s thoughtful, it’s intelligent, the blind protagonist played by a blind actor is a novel gimmick elegantly utilized, and the brisk 92-minute runtime flies right by. It sucks that so much of the supporting cast is sadly unmemorable, but Skyler Davenport is more than compelling enough to make up the difference.
It’s not exactly the next Don’t Breathe — not by a long shot — but it’s still worth a look if you’re signed onto Hulu and you’ve slept on it so far.