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The Eastern Echo Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Print Archive
The Eastern Echo

An official poster for "I Saw the TV Glow."

Review: ‘I Saw the TV Glow’ is a haunting film that challenges reality itself

Independent studio A24’s most recent horror film, “I Saw the TV Glow,” has received a wide release.

The movie follows Owen and Maddy, two loners who are obsessed with a 90s fantasy TV show called “The Pink Opaque.” But said show had strange effects on reality, prompting questions of which horrors are real or fiction.

The movie stars Justice Smith as Owen and Brigette Lundy-Paine as Maddy. It was directed and written by Jane Schoenbrun. It initially received a limited release on May 3, with a wide release on May 17.

Highs

The film was disturbing in a slow, psychological way. Though the first half lacked many outright horror elements, as the mystery unfolded, it became increasingly more bizarre and unnerving. The horror was derived from the uneasy reality the characters faced, not jump scares.

“The Pink Opaque” was especially unsettling. Making use of mostly era-accurate effects, the show used creatively grotesque designs for its characters and set. “The Pink Opaque” itself could make an excellent horror film.

The movie was atmospheric, making use of highly saturated colors and lights in dark places as well as liminal spaces. The use of liminal space in particular added to the eeriness of the movie. Enhanced by a stellar soundtrack, featuring artists such as Caroline Polachek, Sloppy Jane, and Phoebe Bridgers, the latter two of who even got an onscreen cameo.

At the center was an endearing and heartbreaking friendship between Owen and Maddy, both loners from broken homes. Even without the horror elements, their relationship would still make the movie worthwhile as an emotional coming-of-age narrative. Both were well-acted, capturing teenage awkwardness, emotion, and fear.

Lows

Though the film does have some excellent LGBTQ+ representation, particularly with the character Maddy, who is a lesbian and gets a touching coming-out scene, it could have done more with Owen.

Owen’s arc flirts with queerness in multiple regards. There is a high use of the bisexual flag’s colors in his wardrobe and lighting. There is a conversation with Maddy where he could be implying that he is an aromantic asexual. Lastly, the way he resonated with one of the “Pink Opaque” characters could be read as him being a transwoman, or at least someone questioning his gender. 

These all end up going nowhere. Though he is still a well-rounded character and his narrative can still be read as queer since he is questioning himself and plays with gender, these plot threads are dropped, leaving part of him underdeveloped.

Verdict

“I Saw the TV Glow” was cleverly deceptive. Beginning as a bittersweet story about two kids finding solace in each other and a bizarre TV show, it morphed into a terrifying mystery that challenged reality itself. The film was haunting long after it finished, begging to be rewatched so one can try and piece it together.

“I Saw the TV Glow” is currently playing in theaters everywhere.

Rating: 9 out of 10.