Combustible Celluloid Review - I Saw the TV Glow (2024), Jane Schoenbrun, Jane Schoenbrun, Justice Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Ian Foreman, Lindsey Jordan, Helena Howard, Fred Durst, Danielle Deadwyler, Conner O'Malley, Emma Porter
Combustible Celluloid
With: Justice Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Ian Foreman, Lindsey Jordan, Helena Howard, Fred Durst, Danielle Deadwyler, Conner O'Malley, Emma Porter
Written by: Jane Schoenbrun
Directed by: Jane Schoenbrun
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violent content, some sexual material, thematic elements and teen smoking
Running Time: 100
Date: 05/03/2024

I Saw the TV Glow (2024)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Show and Dwell

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

More deeply haunting than outright scary, Jane Schoenbrun's breathtaking experimental horror movie I Saw the TV Glow explores identity in general and queer identity specifically in ways that are both tender and uncomfortable.

It's the '90s and shy, insecure middle-schooler Owen (Ian Foreman) becomes fascinated by an ad for a TV show called The Pink Opaque. He lives with his adoring, but terminally ill mother (Danielle Deadwyler) and distant, stern father (Fred Durst), who grumbles, "Isn't that a show for girls?"

At school, he spies an older girl, Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine), keeping to herself and reading a copy of the show's episode guide. Owen wants to see the show, but comes on past his bedtime on Saturday nights. They strike up a friendship and eventually concoct a plan wherein Owen pretends to spend the night at a friend's house, but really sleeps at Maddy's, staying up and becoming mesmerized by the show.

In the show, Isabel (Helena Howard) and Tara (Lindsey Jordan) are teens who are connected by a kind of cosmic force, and must battle the evil "Mr. Melancholy." Time passes, and Owen (now played by Justice Smith) continues this little ritual. That is, until, one day Maddy simply vanishes, leaving Owen stranded in an existence whose line between life and TV becomes increasingly blurred.

The follow-up to the non-binary filmmaker's remarkable feature debut We're All Going to the World's Fair, I Saw the TV Glow begins with its fictitious TV show The Pink Opaque. Even its name suggests an image of not being able to get a grasp on gender.

But, like its probable inspiration Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it also suggests comfort, nostalgia, escape, and more. It's a blanket to protect and hide under, but it's also a way to avoid reality. Indeed, Owen doesn't quite know who he is and can't express himself. Maddy explains that she's into girls, while Owen replies "I think that I like TV shows."

But the movie's point becomes more graspable the less tangible it is. The more things begin to blur and disconnect, the better we understand Owen's inner struggle. Schoenbrun offers many striking images, including one in which a group of children gleefully playing under a puffed-up parachute, while young Owen gets up and walks around the perimeter, touching the various colors.

A final sequence, set at Owen's job at an arcade, is heartbreakingly brutal, offering the idea that Owen has spent so much time being afraid of life that he has almost ceased to exist. I Saw the TV Glow will likely disappoint those expecting a traditional shocker with a logical explanation, but for many viewers it could be a landmark moviegoing experience.

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