by Anton Bitel
There is a loose subgenre of home invasion films in which the victims become trapped as much by their disability as by their domestic location – until they find eventual empowerment precisely in their disempowerment. In Walter Grauman’s A Lady In A Cage (1964), Olivia Havilland’s protagonist is rendered helpless both by a broken hip and the stalled cage elevator in which she has become stuck. In Adam Schindler’s Intruders (aka Shut In, 2015), severe agoraphobia keeps the heroine from escaping her thieving persecutors. In Mike Flanagan’s Hush (2016), the protagonist is deaf-mute. Far and away the most common disability in this kind of film, however, is blindness, a condition which places the characters at a disadvantage not only with regard to home invaders, but also, inevitably, to viewers. For here we can see what they cannot, introducing a real tension to all the hide-and-seek business. This scenario plays out – with variations – in films like Terence Young’s Wait Until Dark (1967), Marcel Walz’s Blind (2019) and Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe (2016) – and now in Randall Okita’s See For Me, which alludes directly (albeit inversely) to Alvarez’s film by having one character repeatedly remind another – and the panicking audience – to “breathe”.
Sophie Scott (Skyler Davenport) was a teen skier whose future as a champion took a rapid downhill turn as she went blind, so that now she merely listens bitterly to ski events on television in her mother’s home where she is still living as a young adult. That necessary dependency is what Sophie particularly resents about her condition – and so when she gets a professional gig cat-sitting in the huge remote house of recently divorced Debra (Laura Vandervoort) in upstate New York, Sophie insists on taking a cab there by herself rather than being driven by her mother, refuses the cabbie’s help with her luggage once they have arrived, and even insists that she will figure out the lay of the house for herself rather then be shown around by Debra. This fierce sense of independence is also why Sophie has so far failed to take the plunge into Paralympic events, which would require her to be guided by her skiing friend Cam (Keaton Kaplan). The truth, though, is that Sophie does need assistance – and no sooner has Debra left than Sophie calls Cam to help orient her around the house, even as his very name reflects the medium – her smartphone’s camera – through which he sees for her. In a later emergency when Cam is unavailable, Sophie reluctantly resorts to the See For Me phone app recommended by her mother, and quickly learns that Iraq War veteran and FPS gamer Kelly (Jessica Parker Kennedy), located far away in Florida, makes for a resourceful remote guide. So impressed is Sophie that she uncharacteristically saves Kelly’s name in her phone as a priority helper. It is an important step towards acknowledging her own limits and finding others on whom she can lean.
“I’m helping a stubborn blind girl break into a house that might not be hers,” Kelly declares during her first phone session with Sophie who, smoking in front of the house in wintry conditions, has accidentally locked herself out. While Sophie is rightfully there looking after Debra’s cat, in a way she is a house-breaker – for she has made a habit, on these house-sitting gigs, of stealing valuable items to selling on, knowing full well that no one will ever suspect the “little blind girl”. This ensures that Adam Yorke and Tommy Gushue’s screenplay never resorts to placing Sophie’s disability on a saintly pedestal – and it also means that this compromised character will find her moral allegiances divided when men actually do break into the house that she is minding, to look, as she has already done, for hidden treasure. Accordingly, the ensuing cat and mouse (some involving a literal cat) comes with an element of unpredictability, as Sophie, while trying to survive the night without bing able to see her adversaries, must choose whether to protect Debra’s property, or to help plunder it. Kelly, herself conflicted by a shadowy past, serves here not just as Sophie’s seeing eye, but as the voice of her conscience while our hesitant heroine contemplates racing down an invisible path towards complicity and criminality.
So while See For Me is certainly a home invasion thriller whose twists and turns keep blindsiding the viewer, it also tracks the psychological journey of a young woman learning to overcome her trust issues and to make the most of whatever she has to hand – with a little help from her friends. Without spoiling, it ends very much where it began – on the edge, looking down a slippery slope – and any promise of personal (and collective) triumph is slyly undermined by a certain cynicism.
See For Me is playing as part of the BFI London Film Festival
Buy tickets now!