I Saw the TV Glow 

I Saw the TV Glow
I Saw the TV Glow
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If you’re not aware of Jane Schoenbrun, do yourself a favor and get acquainted — I Saw the TV Glow is an A24 release that will surely become iconic. And for good reason: Just take one look at the promo image (above) that’s been circulating and try not to conjure “Poltergeist” vibes with a breathy “they’re heeeeere.” It’s a fitting strategy for this kind of retro horror-thriller about the “glow” of pop culture thrills sucking up kids, especially aimless boys and girls amid suburban decay during those formative years when they have nothing better to do. Alongside our own self-discovery growing pains around identity, sexuality and beyond, television can be both affirming and destructive in countless ways.

Does life imitate art or vice versa here? Questions are left unanswered, and Reddit will continue to short-circuit about it forever, but these types of reactions from the outside world were inevitable and make “I Saw the TV Glow” all the more fun as an exciting addition to queer cinema, indie horror movies and psychological thrillers.

Going back a couple years, Schoenbrun’s debut feature “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” (currently streaming on Max) might serve as good warm-up watches before hitting theaters for “I Saw the TV Glow,” opening this weekend. But no biggie if you can’t swing both — going into this Justice Smith vehicle cold may even deliver a more satisfying payoff. Who knows though; you only live once…

Then again, what if we’re watching two different realities overlap in this movie? Sometimes we’re just so wrapped up in how powerful some TV content can be that it blurs lines between real life and fiction beyond that whole “TV glow,” ya know?

Similarly blurred lines happened in “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair,” but no spoilers here for either of Schoenbrun’s stunning achievements. “I Saw the TV Glow” (the more you say the title out loud, the cooler it sounds) is a must-see for indie fans, ’90s TV lovers and queer cinema enthusiasts alike. It begins with young Owen (played by Ian Foreman from “Let the Right One In”) connecting with classmate Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine — who does not stop being excellent even when the story jumps ahead several years and Justice Smith takes over as high school Owen).

But instead of a ’90s show that millennials grew up watching, The Pink Opaque is a made-up program where young girls work together to defeat a villain named Mr. Melancholy. Owen and Maddy watch it together but then — as is sometimes just what happens with childhood friendships — they grow older and drift apart.

You might start feeling heartache just reading these words, thinking about kids you once befriended but failed to keep in touch with due to the trials and tribulations of everyday school life. One poignant moment they share, perhaps their last, is sitting on the bleachers. She asks if Owen likes girls, to which he shyly replies, “I like…TV shows…” It’s a telling moment of the complexities of figuring out our identity during the tough days of puberty, pending adulthood, and more. It’s also a lamentation for how we’ve turned television into babysitters and have identities constructed by entertainment.

It doesn’t help Owen’s livelihood that Maddy quite literally disappears from his day-to-day seemingly out of nowhere. But when our friends vanish that doesn’t mean our growth is stunted. Owen grows older — yes still living with his parents (the reliably sublime Danielle Deadwyler and terrifying Fred Durst) — starts working at a movie theater with eye-roll employees like Dave (I Think You Should Leave standout Conner O’Malley) but something’s off. Flashbacks reveal watching TV with Maddy was Owen’s more transformative period and no surprise it turns out filmmaker Schoenbrun had their own transition in mind when building I Saw the TV Glow.

It’s not exactly a spoiler to know Maddy and Owen’s time together doesn’t exactly end once she disappears. A hauntingly beautiful yet unnerving third act sets up perplexing questions about the supernatural world alongside our own; or rather, what we believed about said world from those mysterious Buffy the Vampire Hunter-esque TV shows growing up. You might even catch The Adventures of Pete & Pete vibes while watching bits of “The Pink Opaque,” which Schoenbrun confirmed to us was an inspiration in our recent interview with them.

To spoil grown-up Owen’s outrageous spiritual and psychological journey late in the film would be cruel. It’s almost Kubrickian and will be talked about for weeks to come. Smith gives a commanding, heartfelt performance much more superior than the throwaway roles he’s had in years past (like those Jurassic World sequels, for instance). The eloquent narration he delivers in I Saw the TV Glow — sometimes right on-camera and looking right at us (perhaps paying homage to true ’90s TV fashion) — is also impactful throughout the film and not overdone.

The final absurdist sequence might be perceived as overkill and alienate even the most diehard of film buffs; along with certain other sequences that drag a bit too long — watch out for the unnerving bar scene that could have been tightened by at least 5 minutes, though seeing Phoebe Bridgers perform in the background certainly helps.

Still, I Saw the TV Glow proves Schoenbrun is a rising tour de force on the indie film scene. Don’t be surprised if a spiritual follow-up hits the masses a couple years from now to complete a sort of trilogy of hard-hitting, contemplative features about Gen Z by the innovative writer-director. In the meantime, from A24, I Saw The TV Glow is now playing in select theaters. It will have a much wider release on May 17th.

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