MOVIES

A Teen Horror Masterpiece Where The Channel Changes You

To set proper expectations: “I Saw the TV Glow” isn’t the sort of horror movie that will continually thrill you or startle you with fright. I describe it as a “horror-drama” because it’s at least as much about exploring the realistic friendship between shy sheltered Owen (played by Ian Foreman in 7th grade and Justice Smith from 9th grade through to middle age) and deadpan goth Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) as it is about the disturbing events that might or might not be happening in their lives and on TV in “The Pink Opaque.” Jane Schoenbrun’s previous film, “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair,” pleased critics but divided audiences who went in expecting straightforward creepypasta horror and got a weird slow-burn psychological tragedy about a creepypasta fangirl. “I Saw the TV Glow” is less slow and a big step up from its predecessor in terms of filmmaking, but its similar offbeat genre profile may prove similarly divisive.

Creepypasta remains one of Schoenbrun’s influences. The kids’ show gone wrong premise calls to mind Kris Straub’s “Candle Cove” story (which was adapted into the first season of SyFy’s “Channel Zero”), but this is neither an adaptation nor a rip-off. Multiple original twists open up divergent perspectives on the true nature of “The Pink Opaque” — one angle is hilarious, another is chilling. You feel the emotional impacts of these twists regardless of what you choose to believe is the truth, a question that remains up in the air due to the inherent unreliability of the film’s viewpoint character.

Owen can’t be trusted to provide an objective viewpoint because he can’t even define his own truth. Raised by an overprotective ailing mother (Danielle Deadwyler) and a father who embodies toxic masculinity (Fred Durst from Limp Bizkit!), Owen is a passive figure who narrates his life to the audience as if he were in a TV show but can scarcely vocalize the real issues that trouble him. Maddy exudes confidence Owen lacks but shares the same sense of depression and alienation. Romance is off the table — Maddy’s the rare out-and-proud lesbian at Void High, while Owen can’t say if he likes boys or girls but definitely “likes TV shows” — yet their connection parallels the psychic bond between “The Pink Opaque” heroines Isabel (Helena Howard) and Tara (Lindsey Jordan). But when things go south on both TV and in real life, how deep do those parallels run? 

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