The marriage between thrillers and individuals with disability has been a rocky union at best. Like a couple unwilling to concede that their relationship is toxic, cinema has had a hard time divorcing itself from the unhealthy stereotypes it has perpetuated. This is especially true when it comes to those who are visually impaired. For decades, film has used the lack of sight as an excuse to turn men into lethal weapons, thanks to their heightened senses, and women into damsels in need of saving. While the latter was cemented by ’90s thrillers such as Blink and Jennifer 8, Randall Okita’s latest feature, See For Me, attempts to put a modern spin on the helpless-blind-woman-being-terrorized trope.
Okita makes it clear from that start that the film’s protagonist, Sophie (Skyler Davenport), is not a victim. In fact, she is determined to prove at every opportunity, even if it means breaking the law, that she is capable of fending for herself. Once considered one of the top ten alpine skiers under 18, a horrible accident on the slopes has left her visually impaired. Refusing to return to the slopes, despite those around her encouraging her to train for the Paralympics, she takes jobs pet-sitting for wealthy homeowners, like the recently divorced Debra (Laura Vandervoort), while they are on vacation. Staying in their lavish homes, the defiant Sophie makes extra money on the side by stealing rare bottles of wine from her clients and reselling them.
As Sophie glibly remarks to her friend and reluctant accomplice Cam (Keaton Kaplan), being visually impaired “always saves me.” No one would ever suspect a blind girl to commit a crime.
While she may justify her actions as payback for all the times her clients have displayed pity towards her, See For Me uses its protagonist’s moral complexity to take the film in a few interesting directions. Staying at Debra’s remote upstate New York mansion, Sophie is awoken by the sounds of intruders entering the home. Frustrated that the police are too far away, she turns to the “See For Me” phone app which pairs visually impaired individuals with seeing operators. Connecting with operator Kelly (Jessica Parker Kennedy), an army vet who plays first-person shooter games between calls, Sophie’s must use her cunning and Kelly’s eyes if she has any hopes of surviving.
Rather than simply constructing a tale about Sophie’s attempts to flee her unknown assailants, See For Me flirts with whether her questionable morals will get the better of her. As the situation unfolds, she must ask herself if the contents in the hidden safe the intruders are after is worth taking a risk that could cost her life?
Okita has shown in his previous feature The Lockpicker and his numerous award-winning shorts including as The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer that he is more than capable of telling riveting stories with complex characters. He takes his time establishing both Sophie’s motives and how she uses technology, like video-calls with Cam, to initially navigate around her client’s homes.
The first half of See For Me is a thrilling exercise in how to build and sustain tension through one’s environment. Using the angles of the house to his benefit, Okita creates some of the film’s best edge-of-your-seat moments by showing just how close Sophie comes to crossing paths with one of the intruders as she searches for a way out. His patient camera work frequently reveals the various dangers that are literally lurking around the corner and the way he plays with shadows and lighting are superb.
Unfortunately, Okita’s strong direction and the crisp cinematography work by Jordan Oram and Jackson Parrell, which makes the expansive mansion feel eerie and claustrophobic, are not enough to free the film from the crippling weight of its script’s conventional trappings. The few unique ideas that the script raises are never given room to truly flourish.
Sophie makes several questionable choices, both morally and legally, which are not explored in any depth. The same goes for the bond between Sophie and Kelly. While one does not expect a John McClane/Sgt. Al Powell bromance à la Die Hard, though the framework is there, delving into the women’s unique dynamics would have made some of the decisions Kelly forces Sophie to make more gripping. Instead, the script frequently opts to take the easy way out at every turn in the latter half, via the standard tropes of the home invasion genre.
Even when playing within the confines of the genre, See For Me gets distracted by its curious desire to become a live-action video game. At one point the audience literally observes the action play out on Kelly’s screen like fans at an eSports tournament.
While the first-person shooter aesthetic may provide a few cheap thrills for some, there are so many other aspects of See For Me that were ripe for the picking, but were left dangling on the tree of unfulfilled promise. The casting of Davenport, an actress who is visually impaired, is an inspired choice and she and Kennedy are strong in the film. However, considering the level of talent involved, including the always great Kim Coates in a villainous turn, See For Me’s script ultimately lacks the vision to truly deliver on the potential it initially shows.
See For Me arrives on VOD/Digital on January 11.