2 min read

I Saw The TV Glow

A singular movie about fans, becoming, and unbecoming.
I Saw The TV Glow

"I Saw The TV Glow" is impossible to lock into a single genre. Any attempt to do so short changes what makes the movie special, which includes its ability to utilize so many genres while defy them simultaneously. Horror would be as close as we can get to locking the film to anything. But what's scary about "I Saw The TV Glow" is unlike any other horror film I've seen.

"I Saw The TV Glow" is about two fans of an old television show, "The Pink Opaque," an homage from writer-director Jane Schoenbrun to 90s adventure shows for teenagers. But the film goes beyond being a mediation on fandom; it's a tribute to the people who watched those shows then, the fans for whom that piece of media became a formative part of their transition into adulthood. But Schoenbrun isn't peddling in nostalgia. They're going somewhere far deeper than that. It's not about remembering the shows as they were. It's about recognizing why those shows meant so much to us, in ways we weren't even aware of. And rather than making that a source of comfort, Schoenbrun evokes a consistent feeling of dread. Not horror, but dread. A slow, plodding dread that never leaps out of the shadows, but lives in the crackling between channels, a dread that is so much more potent because we refuse to see it. It's not so much the dread that's scary; it's the idea that it could be with us for the rest of our lives.

"I Saw The TV Glow" moves at an insistently measured pace, refusing to take on the breakneck speed we expect from horror. Its two central characters, Owen (Justice Smith) and Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine), speak as teenagers do, drawling, mumbling, faltering. They, and Schoenbrun, never quicken their pace for our ease. And while this can make the viewing experience feel slightly slow, it also is part of why the film lodges into your brain after it's over. It lends the film an air of reality, much needed amidst the surreality that surrounds its characters.

For me, nothing encapsulates this film better than its reception at Chicago Critics Festival. When the film ended, as custom, the audience at the Music Box Theatre applauded. But the claps were intermittent and scattered, unlike the other ovations I'd seen at the festival. The pre-credits ran; hushed whispers went across the aisles, as if no one wanted anyone else to hear their thoughts. Frances Quinlan continued playing over the speakers. The title appeared on screen again. "I Saw The TV Glow." And the audience exploded. The film had taken us on such a ride that we had to recover from viewing it. It had pulled us into its glowing screen and we had to pry ourselves away from the glass. And like Owen and Maddy, I'll be spending a long time trying to figure out what it all meant, as the frame after frame replays in my mind.