Ten years ago an accident at Ashburn Laboratories in Chicago claimed countless lives. As a result ghostly victims of both that cataclysmic event and other tragedies haunt the world as silent, non-sentient "Remnants." Teenager Veronica 'Ronnie' Calder (Bella Thorne) lost her father on that terrible day. Now mom Anna (Amy Price-Francis) is almost numb to his daily spectral presence at the breakfast table, but Ronnie is not over the loss. One day while taking a shower Ronnie has a terrifying encounter with a remnant she somehow intuitively identifies as Brian (Thomas Elms). He scrawls the word "run" on the bathroom mirror then vanishes. A shaken Ronnie reaches out to Kirk (Richard Harmon), a high school misfit dealing with his own tragic loss, whose research helps identify Brian as prime suspect in the abduction and murder of a local pastor’s daughter. Further investigation reveals Brian's connection to two other slain girls. It dawns on Ronnie that Brian somehow intends to claim her as his next victim from beyond the grave unless she and Kirk can solve this mystery.
Former Disney Channel teen star turned professional click-bait Bella Thorne has trodden many paths in her attempt to forge a solid big screen career: sexpot, serious actress, horror starlet, provocateur. None have really stuck as yet. Here Thorne tries to take a leaf out of Kristin Stewart's early career playbook with the lead in a young adult fantasy adaptation, donning a black dye job and genre regulation sulky attitude. For some reason ninety percent of Y.A. heroines are always passive-aggressive brunettes. Based on Daniel Waters' 2012 novel "Break My Heart 1000 Times", I Still See You arrived just as the audience for Y.A. fantasy genre seemed to be on the wane. Its release largely overshadowed by a storm of legal and personal issues engulfing director Scott Speer.
Interestingly despite sporting a high-concept premise that seemingly afflicts the whole world this is a rare Y.A. outing that stays small scale and idea driven, preferring to keep any big set-piece moments off-screen (although that might have as much to do with the low budget). Waters' book reads like an allegory for a generation of kids coming of age amidst the various cataclysms of the early twenty-first century, be it the 9/11 terror attacks or the 2020 pandemic, dealing with grief and loss. Set in world literally haunted by tragedies both past and recent, global and personal, the plot and subtext should resonate strongly yet proves frustratingly stolid.
While the murder mystery angle, which lifts intriguing motifs from the giallo genre and J-horror, adds a novel investigative element to an otherwise familiar Y.A. scenario, casting the killer with the most recognizable face in the cast gives their identity away all too easily. The film's pace is leaden, plodding from plot point to plot point. Heroine Ronnie lacks agency, too often pulled by the whims of the plot. Or, more problematically, by strong male figures either living or dead. Bella Thorne, while not the heavy hitter usually cast in these roles (e.g. Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence, Saoirse Ronan, Chloë Grace Moretz, Lily Collins), is at least capable of conveying personality. The same cannot be said of the blank-faced supporting cast. Richard Harmon, while well regarded for his role on TV’s The 100, looks like he should be Ronnie's substitute teacher not love interest. On the flip side Dermot Mulroney brings much needed warmth albeit mixed with a dose of moral complexity as Ronnie's empathetic 'cool' teacher.
Speer indulges in the old Sixth Sense (1999) trick of having dead people pop up at random to freak Ronnie and the audience out, but it is Bear McCreary's score that adds atmosphere otherwise lacking in his staid direction. Only one sequence set amidst a derelict building haunted by centuries’ worth of remnants where Ronnie and Kirk the haunting murder of a girl in white carries any frisson of death. Yet even here the staging is perfunctory to the point of proving almost mundane. Speer's previous film Step Up 4 - Miami Heat (2012) had a lot more pep.