Owen (Justice Smith) stands in front of a movie screen that says "Thank you for watching."

Review: ‘I Saw the TV Glow’ Is a Gorgeous Fever Dream

5/5 TVs

It’s official: director Jane Schoenbrun is the reigning monarch of emo-horror, and their new film I Saw the TV Glow proves it.

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Like Schoenbrun’s first film, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, I Saw the TV Glow explores the oddities of life on the screen. Here, though, Schoenbrun turns their attention from internet ephemera to vintage TV. The film tells the story of Owen (Ian Foreman and Justice Smith), who forms a childhood friendship with the inscrutable Maddie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) over an obscure kids’ show. The show, called The Pink Opaque, is about two teens who use their psychic link to fight monsters. It’s equal parts cheesy and terrifying, and Owen and Maddie begin to live for the 10:30 p.m. time slot when new episodes air.

One day, though, Maddie disappears. Owen tries to move on with his life, but then he’s confronted with an earth-shattering possibility: that The Pink Opaque was more than just a TV show, and there’s a hidden reality just out of reach.

There’s so much to love about this movie. First, there’s the story-within-a-story of The Pink Opaque. Schoenbrun accomplishes something kind of incredible with their portrayal of the show, evoking not the straightforward kids’ TV many of us grew up with, but rather our distorted and surreal memories of it. The characters in The Pink Opaque roam a dreamlike world filled with silly and horrifying monsters, with lo-fi special effects that actually heighten the show’s tension instead of diffusing it. After the film, I found myself itching to google the weird old shows I watched as a kid, like The Tomorrow People and Today’s Special. For a split second, I actually decided to look up The Pink Opaque, too, before I remembered that it wasn’t real.

Then there’s the emotional heart of the film: Owen’s struggle to carve out a place for himself in his own life, expressed beautifully through Smith’s sensitive and volatile performance. Owen starts off as a shy child before maturing into a troubled teenager, dealing with bullies and family deaths. On one level, the film is an allegory for trans awakening, and that allegory is woven seamlessly into the story. Owen becomes increasingly desperate as conflicting realities shift and slide around him, with hidden messages emerging from his drab suburban world. The film captures the terrible urgency of knowing that there’s a secret version of yourself buried somewhere, but not knowing how to find them—or, even worse, believing that it’s pointless to even try.

If you love nuanced, understated horror, you’ll love The Pink Op … uh, I mean, I Saw the TV Glow. (It’s not real, I keep telling myself. It’s not a real show.) If you love beautiful indie filmmaking and strange stories filled with genuine heart, you’ll love this film. In the beginning, you’ll laugh at the bizarre images of monster ice cream cones and evil moon men, but by the end, you’ll be praying that Owen and Maddie find their way to what matters.

I Saw the TV Glow comes out in limited theaters on May 3, with a wide release on May 17.

(featured image: A24)


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Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at <a href="https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/">https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/.</a>