It’s probably a warning sign when a director’s strongest feature is a Step Up movie.
It’s probably a warning sign when a director’s strongest feature is a Step Up movie, but such is the case with journeyman Scott Speer. The San Diego native graduated from Paris Hilton and Ashley Tisdale videos to make the fairly vibrant Step Up Revolution, but his reviews have just gotten worse with the romance Midnight Sun and the social media fantasy Status Update. The busy director clocks his third feature of 2018 with the supernatural thriller I Still See You, and like Status Update, it takes a promising tween-TV premise and doesn’t do much with it.
In a post-apocalyptic world on the outskirts of Chicago, Roni (Bella Thorne) navigates that most terrifying of situations: high school. She lost her father 10 years ago in an event that left much of the world in ruins and turned downtown Chicago into a “No-go zone.” What makes this world moderately intriguing is that it’s rife with ghosts—not just the spirits of those who perished in the recent tragedy, but other souls that may have been awakened by the mass trauma. When a particularly aggressive ghost (or “rem”–short for remnant–as they are called) starts to haunt Roni, she gets help from her nerdy friend Kirk (Richard Harmon) and her teacher Mr. Bittner (Dermot Mulroney) to get to the bottom of things. Is the rem trying to attack Roni—or warn her?
It’s hard to care, and much of that is thanks to Thorne’s living dead performance, so full of tweeny goth angst that she can barely be bothered to emote. And there’s plenty to get emotional about on top of the ordinary crises of adolescence. These teens are forced to keep their game face on while the spirits of their departed loved ones appear to them at regular intervals. Roni’s mother may have survived, but the specter of her father shows up like clockwork at the dinner table, reading the newspaper for a brief, precious and creepy interval every day.
Jason Fuchs adapted Daniel Waters’ novel Break My Heart One Thousand Times for the screenplay, and the movie is nearly as maudlin as that title suggests. While many high school misfits may entertain such notions of socially awkward specialness, Roni and Kirk have more than their usual share of demons to fight, and they don’t even have the benefit of vampirism or lycanthropy.
Leave it to the adults to ground things, to a point. Mulroney is credible enough as a teacher whose class curriculum doubles as plot exposition, helpfully instructing his class in the rules of their ghostly invasion. But such information would seem to be common knowledge in the community, which makes you wonder why the professor isn’t, you know, teaching.
Speer made a better movie about teenage outcasts with Status Update, and if that high school plot had made full use of its competitive dance-off potential and embraced its inner Step Up Revolution, it might actually have been a good movie. But there’s no lost potential to mourn in I Still See You, a mildly spooky tween movie that couldn’t.