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Sundance 2024: ‘I Saw The TV Glow’ Is A Candy-Coated, Guttural Scream of a Movie

I Saw the TV glow is a titanic achievement in indie filmmaking that could be a sign of what’s to come in this new and exciting generation of horror, shepherded by Jane Shoenbrun, who has established themselves as a major talent. 

I Saw the TV Glow

Not many movies scare me anymore. Jane Schoenbrun’s I Saw the TV Glow is one of them. It reduced me to a child, and brought me back to a dream I had of being strapped to a chair and forced to watch something with some unknowable power that is at once intoxicating and terrifying.

I Saw the TV Glow is Schoenbrun’s sophomore film after the micro-budget, experimental critical favorite We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. It is extremely slow, largely abstract, and entirely up to the viewer’s interpretation. With audiences and horror fans, it was controversial, and it seemed like your enjoyment of the film was equivalent to how much you put into it. It premiered at the online 2021 Sundance Film Festival in the NEXT category (a usually niche category that celebrates more experimental films), and was released in a very small theatrical run, followed by a digital release on HBO MAX. So, I sat down for a screening of this movie with great interest, knowing almost nothing about the film, excited to see what she chose to make. 

I Saw the TV Glow begins in a small town in the 90’s and follows a young teenager played by Justice Smith (Detective Pikachu, Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves) who is fascinated by a Buffy the Vampire Slayer inspired TV show called The Pink Opaque. His fandom is encouraged by a cool queer girl a few grades older than him played by Brigette Lundy-Paine (Atypical). The film then unfolds to become a portrait of Smith’s character refracted through the prism of The Pink Opaque, exploring our relationship to media and painting a vast allegorical portrait of a person who does not feel comfortable in their own body. This is not all the movie has to offer, but to spoil the inner workings and filmmaking choices in the film would be just as harmful, to me, as spoiling a major character death or plot beat. Part of the fun of the film is unraveling it, letting yourself think you are a few steps ahead of the movie, before being knocked off your feet and getting the wind knocked out of you, leaving you disoriented and lost in a seemingly endless maze of a film. It is a pulsating, anguished, candy-coated concept album, with no interest in confining itself to any corporeal form when it comes to genre, structure, and style.

I Saw the TV Glow

The film is earnest to a fault and completely fearless about upending the form, bending the language of film to its whims and creating something that feels wholly original. And the craziest part is, it feels effortless and unpretentious. It feels like a guttural scream of a movie, expressing deep frustration and fear in a way that only Shoenbrun could express using only this medium. It is so grand and emotional, yet it feels precise and controlled. They pluck hyper-specific sense memories from the past and instead of using the nostalgic quality they have to comfort and soothe the viewer (as so much of the last decade of pop culture has), they use it as a weapon. They take these absurdly well-observed moments, mix them with original visual creations that feel ripped straight from nightmares, and pummel the audience with them, leaving them upset and vulnerable to a bold and deeply emotional story anchored by two powerhouse performances, an abundance of creative sequences, and a stacked soundtrack that occasionally takes complete control of the film to hypnotizing effect. 

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Even in terms of A24, it is on the more niche side of things. I don’t believe it will crossover like The Witch, Hereditary, Midsommar, and most recently Talk to Me have managed to, but it isn’t quite like those movies. Those movies are considered to be “elevated horror”, but they still lay on the foundation of what a horror movie is. They follow time-tested structures and more traditional subject matter. I Saw the TV Glow has no such luxuries, but it doesn’t need them. If this movie will work for you, it’ll hit hard. But if it doesn’t click with you early on, I imagine you will feel nothing and will sit wondering what in the world everyone else is on about. That is nothing against you as a viewer in this scenario, just that this film is very specific and will only work for a certain chunk of the audience. People with similar memories, feelings, or experiences as Shoenbrun will be at an advantage, as well as people who appreciate stranger and riskier filmmaking. 

I Saw the TV glow is a titanic achievement in indie filmmaking that could be a sign of what’s to come in this new and exciting generation of horror, shepherded by Jane Shoenbrun, who has established themselves as a major talent. 

Aiden Morton

Aiden Morton is a lifelong fan of film that has been writing reviews for as long as he can remember. He is located in Utah and is currently in film school. His current project is a Christmas horror film. He tries to see as many new releases as he can, while filling in blindspots in film history.

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