Everybody sees dead people in “I Still See You,” a slickly produced but none-too-scary thriller designed for that teen audience which prefers that its spooky Halloween fare involve cute guys of variable mortality fawning around a mildly misfit quirky-girl protagonist. If that sounds kinda “Twilight,” you’ve got that right — the source material is a standalone novel by YA specialist Daniel Waters, whose “Generation Dead” series more or less substituted zombies for vampires in a similar supernatural teen romance saga.
Here, we have live boys and ghost boys alike fluttering around the suburban Goth flame of Bella Thorne in a movie that will no doubt play best to the book’s fans. Newcomers will find this adapted tale’s fantasy logic arbitrary, its plot convoluted, and the sum effect wildly unconvincing without being nearly so fun. Still, it’s given a suitably gauzy feel by director Scott Speer (“Midnight Sun,” “Step Up Revolution”) that will appeal to the target demo. They’ll access it primarily via home formats; Lionsgate opened the film today on just 11 U.S. screens.
The premise is that a decade ago, an “energy wave” triggered by some murky government experiment gone wrong in Chicago killed a couple million people. That aside, its effects were minimal — with the exception that now the living can see “remnants,” specters of the deceased. They appear disconcertingly real, yet disappear after a few moments of repeating random old behavior on a short “loop.” These “projections of the past” aren’t sentient beings, have no physical substance, and can’t be interacted with. Still, they make “the whole world a haunted house.”
High schooler Veronica, aka Ronnie (Thorne), is actually reassured by the brief sight of her late, beloved father at the breakfast table each morning, though her mother (Amy Price-Francis) finds the phenom ghoulish. It’s considerably more worrying when Ronnie steps from the shower to be confronted by an unfamiliar ghost — a ripped youth (Thomas Elms) in tight Calvins and nothing else who writes “RUN” in the steam on her bathroom mirror. This breach in normal “rem” protocol prompts our heroine to befriend classmate Kirk (Richard Harmon), who’s considered weird for being “obsessed” with the apparitions.
Their sleuthing leads to the unpleasant suspicion that Ronnie may be getting stalked by a serial killer — living, dead, or somewhere in-between — whose prior victims were all born on her unusual birthday of Feb. 29. Eventually they make an expedition into the “No-Go Zone” of the “Event’s” ghost-cluttered epicenter, where they encounter the scientist responsible for the disaster (Louis Herthum).
Also turning out to be key to the mystery is their teacher Mr. Bittner (Dermot Mulroney), an overly chummy type who seems to routinely invite lone students over to his house — one of the more prosaic implausibilities (in this day and age) in a script that has quite a number of them. (Another whopper occurs when Ronnie, in acute distress, flees right past several neighbors’ houses without yelling for help, instead heading toward a dark wood where her pursuer can attack her in privacy.)
With its sexy ghost-menace, de rigueur quirky-boy pal, vaguely flirtatious handsome teacher, and even adoring dad (Shaun Benson) in flashbacks, much of “I Still See You” seems rigged to provide Ronnie with a full array of male suitors. (Given a Bettie Page-style black wig and emphatic makeup for the role, Thorne also looks awfully glam and mature for an alleged 16-year-old.)
Director Speer has made something of a specialty of teen-friendly subjects on the big and small screen. His music-video roots grow a little too obvious at times here in images of princessy Gothicism (girls running slo-mo in diaphanous white gowns, etc.), not to mention a watery climax that’s part mermaid fantasy, part “What Lies Beneath” knockoff.
None of this will be very persuasive to those disinclined to buy into the general swooniness. Jason Fuchs’ screenplay piles on too much unconvincing explication late in the game, no doubt channeling elements that played better in the book. Though sequences like the “No-Go Zone” or an interrupted high school basketball game are impressively scaled, they tend to fall flat in suspense terms — maximizing tension and frights isn’t Speer’s strong suit. Decorous teen romanticism is more his thing. That does not extend, however, to getting particularly inspired work from his youthful leads. Still, with its wintry Midwestern setting (shot in Manitoba, actually) and decently moody, glossy design contributions, “I Still See You” has a certain snow-globe dark fairy tale allure that could resonate among younger viewers.