By SHAWN MACOMBER
Starring Bella Thorne, Richard Harmon and Dermot Mulroney
Directed by Scott Speer
Written by Jason Fuchs
“Adapt or perish has been the inexorable law of life through all…intensifying fluctuations,” H.G. Wells wrote in his final book MIND AT THE END OF ITS TETHER. The new teen-centric ghost flick I STILL SEE YOU certainly tests that maxim, wasting no time plunging us into a world in which the fantastical and extreme have become commonplace in extraordinarily short order.
Ten years have passed since a clandestine government experiment gone wrong unleashed a bizarro energy wave that not only wiped out millions of lives in the blink of eye, but simultaneously made hordes of “spectral remnants”—the cool kids simply say “rems”—visible to the living. By the time we are introduced to the very Bella Swan-esque Goth-lite adolescent outsider Veronica Calder (Bella Thorne), she and all her friends have fully adapted to eating breakfast with dead fathers at the table, biking to school past dead-leaf-blowing neighbors and running at the sound of the homeroom bell past the ghosts of class-cutters past. In school, authority figures take great pains to instill in the students that while, yes, “I see dead people” may have been cause for creep in a more benighted time, today the savvy and modern understand that it’s nbd—something akin to encountering one of those dead-rock-star holograms.
Indeed, for Veronica this intermingling with the netherworld does take a back seat to the struggle to successfully navigate the high-school hierarchy, her relationship with her one remaining parental unit, unrequited crushes and a not insignificant case of social anxiety. Yet the aforementioned fluctuations nonetheless must intensify—that is the law of life.
A new ghost (Thomas Elms) begins to appear to Veronica—young, male, musclebound, movie-star handsome and clad only in ultra-tight briefs (because target audience). He warns her, in a roundabout way she can only eventually infer by enlisting the services of a cute classmate/paranormal-investigator-in-training (Richard Harmon), that she may be the future victim of a serial killer who may or may not be alive. Meanwhile, the interest of a hip, perhaps-too-friendly teacher—Oh snap! What’s up Dermot Mulroney?!—in her various plights slowly takes on more sinister dimensions. The quest to save herself from this threat will soon lead Veronica and pal deep into ghost ground zero, where she just might solve several murders, place humanity on a trajectory to (literally) regain its soul and lock down a nontraditionally attractive date for prom.
As should be clear by now, those who cannot countenance pop-teen adventure/romance in their spooky entertainment would be well-advised to skip I STILL SEE YOU. For those willing to engage the film on its own terms, however, there is plenty here to recommend. First and foremost, director Scott Speer and screenwriter Jason Fuchs, adapting the YA novel BREAK MY HEART 1,000 TIMES by Daniel Waters (not the HEATHERS scripter), deliver some imaginative, gorgeously rendered world-building. This vision of the afterlife crashing into everyday life is an intriguing canvas on which the film does not cut any emotional or visual corners. Many of the ghost encounters are surprisingly affecting, and the film features at least three major surrealistic setpieces that are impressive in scope and immersive—providing you can suspend disbelief, as well as any aversion to CGI. The pace is brisk, and the plotting—again, considering the prospective audience—carries an overt, hand-holding vibe. I STILL SEE YOU is not big on subtext. Like, at all.
That’s either your jam or it’s not. Hardcore horrorheads won’t squeeze much more than a hate-watch out of this, but those who don’t mind a little frothy youth drama in their supernatural—think THE SIXTH SENSE and the train-station dream sequence from EXORCIST III by way of TWILIGHT and a particularly angst-heavy MY SO-CALLED LIFE episode—will find I STILL SEE YOU a breezy, fun jaunt into a smartly conceived alternate reality.