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  • Writer's pictureJames McCleary

I Saw The TV Glow // Film Review

It’s commonly said that what you bring into a work of film or television is what you’ll get out of it; that we read and interpret context in the frame of our own experiences, especially when it comes to the characters we like or find “relatable”. Jane Schoenbrun’s I Saw The TV Glow applies this concept to a lo-fi, abstract horror space, turning the television into a literal, often terrifyingly powerful mirror reflecting home truths we’d find it easier to pretend were fiction.

Like Schoenbrun’s previous feature We’re All Going To The World’s Fair, I Saw The TV Glow deftly balances psychological fears and anxieties with a vibrant understanding of aesthetics both technological and fantastical. Their style blends the palettes of Nicholas Winding-Refn with the cold satirical imagery of Charlie Brooker, all through the visceral and often incomprehensible lens that is modern queer identity.

The film focuses on the character of Owen, played by Justice Smith, an introvert who finds comfort only in a shoddy drama on the ‘Young Adult Channel’ titled “The Pink Opaque”. The show, which is a send-up of Buffy by way of Twin Peaks, focuses on two teen girls whose psychic link allows them to share knowledge and fight monsters even when separated across the county. Owen watches this every Saturday night with their only friend, older teen Maddie (Brigette Lundy-Paine), at least until said friend decides to run away from home. Owen gets the offer to leave with them, but declines and learns only days after that “The Pink Opaque” has been cancelled.

From here, I Saw The TV Glow scatters its lead characters across time and space, generating a sort of void reality which imitates the shapeless and utterly personal journey of discovering one’s queerness. The timeline Schoenbrun constructs is impressive both for its use of evocative imagery in place of plot, but also for its clarity of tone and theme; we’re never unsure of what it is we’re seeing, even when neither us nor Owen can confidently say why. It’s a complicated, gorgeously realised journey that never leaves us behind… at least not until the third act. That’s where the horror comes in.

Whereas most typical coming of age LGBTQ+ dramas, even within the darker genres, tend to land at similar points of self-actualisation, Schoenbrun is shockingly brutal in how they mark the final stages of Owen’s evolution (or perhaps their lack thereof). It’s a note of melancholy I’ve never seen put quite this way on screen, culminating in a final cut so harsh and cruel that many in my audience gasped despite the lack of an obvious twist. I Saw The TV Glow is a titanically strong feat of visual and narrative drama, every bit as capable of harnessing audience projections as the shows from which it draws its power, while similarly being so obscenely honest in its finale that it might just change your life. After all, what you bring is what you’ll get, and a ticket is probably cheaper than therapy.


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