I Saw the TV Glow (2024) Review

I Saw the TV Glow (2024)
Director: Jane Schoenbrun
Screenwriter: Jane Schoenbrun
Starring: Justice Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Ian Foreman, Helena Howard, Lindsey Jordan, Danielle Deadwyler, Fred Durst

Do you like girls?
I don’t know.
I- I- I think that, I like TV shows.

Psychological thriller, coming-of-age story, spacey sci-fi – all categories that general audiences will try to fit I Saw the TV Glow into. In truth, the film embodies elements of these genres while also defying them. Through what many will consider a convoluted plot line overflowing with time jumps and interdimensional travel, director Jane Schoenbrun forces audiences to question their own perception of reality. On the surface, I Saw the TV Glow boasts a distinctive visual and sonic aesthetic that shuts down any notion of “less is more” in contemporary independent filmmaking. The film plays with visuals that evoke the look of 90s tube televisions, alternating between this compressed, distorted aesthetic to symbolize the seepage of TV fiction into reality. Fans of ‘Twin Peaks’ will resonate with the film’s Lynchian style of world building, where environments, artifacts, and inanimate features transcend their roles to become essential characters. From the bright white glow of a 90s television set to a haunting depiction of a suburban ice cream truck engulfed in neon smoke, the film allows us to enter what can only be described as an alluringly nostalgic nightmare.

We first meet the film’s protagonist, Owen (Justice Smith), with their eyes glued to the TV – an awkward child who yearns for the seemingly unattainable utopias on the other side of the screen. It is through this screen that Owen first discovers ‘The Pink Opaque’, a popular children’s television show similar to ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘. Due to their parents’ strict (and rather ridiculous) rules around bedtime, Owen finds themself unable to watch the show when it airs. By chance or fate, Owen discovers a sense of companionship through his new friend Maddie, whose tumultuous home life provides the freedom to explore everything ‘The Pink Opaque’ has to offer. As Owen and Maddie deal with the harsh realities of their lives, their perceptions of what is real and what is fantasy begin to fuse, setting the tone for the film’s jarring pacing and often leaving you to question whether or not to believe what is unfolding on screen.

One thing that is for certain, although seldom addressed outright, is the emergence of Owen’s transgender identity throughout their life. As with many queer youth, Owen finds solace in the fantasy that comes along with immersing oneself in fictional worlds, almost as if they feel more comfortable existing in an episode of ‘The Pink Opaque’ than in their own body. The bottling up of these feelings, to the point of mere combustion, drives the film to its rather heartbreaking yet equivocal ending.

To contextualize I Saw the TV Glow in contemporary filmmaking may prove a challenge, but it certainly lends itself as a natural follow-up to Schoenbrun’s directorial debut We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, an equally queer story that is similarly immersed in the digital world but doesn’t match the distinct identity and emotional resonance of its successor. The film’s horror elements walk a fine line, presenting an almost quirky mix of the childlike wonder reminiscent of the villains in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995), all the while maintaining an overarching atmosphere of dread and suspense comparable to queer horror cinema such as Stranger by the Lake and Climax. While it may not have a long run at the box office, the film is bound to carve out a special place in the hearts of the queer cinema community, particularly among the vibrant community of trans cinephiles and horror fanatics.

A story that favors metaphor and surrealism over narrative, I Saw the TV Glow is the type of movie that demands a rewatch. It is clear that Schoenbrun had no intention of ensuring their viewers felt satisfied when watching the credits roll, a sentiment that is present throughout the sporadically paced and often ambiguous script. Like rediscovering a beloved childhood show, rewatching I Saw the TV Glow invites the possibility of uncovering new insights and subtle nuances that enrich the viewing experience.

Score: 20/24

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Written by Jake Fittipaldi

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