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The ending of I See You explained

Adam Randall's second feature film, I See You, premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival and stars Helen Hunt, Jon Tenney, and Judah Lewis as the Harpers, a dysfunctional family reeling from the revelation of recent infidelity. Jackie Harper (Hunt) and her husband Greg (Tenney) are trying to figure out how to move forward, but their teenage son, Connor (Lewis), seems to be taking things the hardest. The family's problems are compounded by a crisis in their small town after a couple of young boys go missing, a case that Greg must deal with as a police officer. But while Greg is out of the house, eerie things start to happen in the Harper home, putting the entire family in mortal danger.

In addition to all the scares, I See You is filled with enough twists and turns to keep even the most seasoned horror fans on their toes. To help you better understand each revelation in the film's final minutes, here's the ending of I See You explained. 

I See You begins with a missing child

I See You starts off with the disappearance of child in a small, seemingly pleasant town. While riding his bike in a local park, ten-year-old Justin Whitter seemingly vanishes without a trace. Shortly after Justin's disappearance, Detective Greg Harper is assigned as the lead investigator of the boy's case. Soon enough, Justin's bike is discovered in the park, but his body is nowhere to be found. However, officers come across a tripwire that was likely used to ensnare Justin. More ominously, the search team finds a green pocket knife, the same weapon found in a string of child murders years prior. Considering the similarities between cases, the search team hypothesizes that Justin's disappearance could likely be related to the previous killings and the recent disappearance of another young boy. 

The only problem with this theory? A man is already serving time for the old child murders. But since the methods and the MOs match the crimes committed years ago, police must grapple with the possibility that they might've convicted the wrong man, leaving the real killer to run free and become active once again.

There's a lot of drama happening in the Harper home

Justin's murder isn't the only drama in Greg's life. His wife, Jackie, recently had a romantic affair with an old friend named Todd. As a result of her illicit relationship, the Harper house is now in a state of dysfunction. And Greg doesn't seem to be all that forgiving about his wife's affair, and their teenage son, Connor, wants nothing to do with his mother. Despite Jackie's best efforts to rekindle her relationship with Greg and patch things up with her son, the family is cold and distant from one another.

Considering the tense state of things around the Harper household, meeting with her lover is the absolute worst thing Jackie could do. Unfortunately for her, Todd decides to visit unprompted and begs her to continue their relationship. Jackie adamantly rejects Todd, stating that she needs to think of the well-being of her son. Though Todd begins to protest Jackie's decision, the conversation is ultimately cut short when he's struck in the back of the head by a coffee mug that's been launched from the attic. Seeing as the house is empty except for Connor, Jackie comes to the conclusion that her son is responsible for attacking her boyfriend.

Things take a turn when Todd winds up dead

Seeing how the guy is suffering from a lightly bleeding head injury, Jackie harbors Todd down in her basement. But having already promised her son a ride to school, Jackie leaves Todd alone, seemingly in stable condition. However, when Jackie returns, she finds him dead. Because she assumes Connor inflicted the injury that killed him, she believes her son is now a murderer.

Though Jackie thinks Connor is responsible, this isn't exactly the case. After all, just after Jackie leaves, the film reveals that Todd was attacked from behind while looking around for medical supplies. The unknown person strikes Jackie's boyfriend in the head, ultimately killing him. Since Jackie wasn't privy to this information, however, she tells her husband that their son is to blame and implores him to call the police. Greg shuts this idea down, stating that Connor's life will be ruined if they report him. To save their son from any repercussions, Greg and Jackie take the body to the woods and dispose of it in an unmarked grave.

But even though they're hiding the body to protect Connor, they're actually putting him in danger. Going out into the woods means leaving Connor alone in the house, rendering the lone teenager very, very vulnerable.

The Harpers are attacked

While his parents sneak into the woods to hide the body of Jackie's boyfriend, Connor sits alone in his room playing video games. While at first, the night plays out as usual, things begin to take a drastic turn after he receives a strange text, indicating that somebody else is living in the house.

Shortly after receiving the eerie texts, Connor is attacked. Fortunately, he doesn't meet the same fate as Todd, but he does find himself in a bit of a predicament. When his parents return home, they find Connor bound and gagged in their bathtub. More disturbing is that his attacker has left something behind ... a green pocket knife, the same weapon left behind at the crime scenes of the murdered children.

While Jackie rushes her son to the hospital, Greg scours the house for his son's attacker. After a brief game of cat and mouse, a masked intruder seemingly comes out from the shadows to swing an ax directly at Greg. Surprisingly, at this moment, the film reveals a unique twist, one that shows there's more going on in the Harper house than meets the eye.

I See You takes a twist when a couple of teens show up

Throughout the film, the Harpers experience some pretty odd occurrences, like pictures going missing from their frames, silverware disappearing, and the television turning itself on and off unprompted. While the family chalks this all up to their imagination or each other, the real answer is a bit more unsettling.

Just before we see the masked man strike Greg down, the film switches to an establishing shot of the Harper house, filmed using a shaky handheld camera. We then see the faces behind the camera. They belong to two teenagers named Mindy (Libe Barer) and Alec (Owen Teague, who might look familiar from the It movies), and they're filming their experience sneaking into the Harper home. Mindy and Alec are phroggers, meaning they hide inside homes and live among the residents unnoticed.

From this moment onward, the film recounts events that previously transpired through the perspective of Mindy and Alec. By exploring the already established events through their eyes, it's revealed that the various strange events occurring in the home were a result of Alec pranking the family.

Alec is bad news

Though the free food and a rent-free stay is undoubtedly better than sleeping on a park bench, phrogging has some severe drawbacks. To keep undetected, Alec and Mindy have to stay quiet and still while the Harper family is at home. While Mindy is used to these restrictions as an experienced phrogger, first-timer Alec has a difficult time adjusting and quickly becomes bored inside the house. To ease his boredom, Alec decides to have some fun messing with the Harper family.

Though his pranks start out innocently enough, they quickly escalate from childish jokes, like misplacing objects, to violently antagonizing the Harper family. So yeah, he's the mysterious baddie who attacked Connor and Greg. But eventually, Mindy tires of Alec's dangerous games and threatens to call the police on her friend, believing that things have gone too far. In another act of violence, Alec reacts by shoving Mindy, causing her to fall down the stairs and hit her head, knocking her out.

At this point, Alec seems more and more sadistic, and all signs point to him as Todd's killer and possibly the one who preyed on the children who've gone missing as well. However, looks can be deceiving, and the killer's true identity is a bit more surprising than what we're initially led to believe.

Greg was the real killer the whole time

While Alec has a bit of a violent streak, his actions pale in comparison to Greg's. How so? Well, after Alec's well-aimed coffee cup crashes onto Todd's head, Mindy panics and determines she and Alec need to evacuate the house. The only problem? All of their belongings are stored in the basement, where Jackie had left her injured boyfriend. So Mindy sneaks downstairs and tries to remain unseen. But as she's creeping along, an unexpected person appears and murders Todd. Surprisingly, Todd's killer is none other than Greg, who uses a baseball bat to take care of his wife's lover once and for all.

But things are about to get worse ... a whole lot worse. So Todd's dead, and Greg and Jackie leave the house to hide the body. It's around this time that Alec knocks Mindy out by shoving her down the stairs. Everything is escalating, and Alec decides to stow Mindy's unconscious body in the trunk of Greg's car. But before he can hop into the driver's seat and make an escape, Greg returns, finds Connor bound in the bathtub, and then jumps in his car and drives off without knowing about Mindy. 

Upon waking up in the trunk, Mindy starts looking through a bag in the back of the car, and that's when she makes a horrific discovery. Inside, she finds the clothes that Justin Whitter, the missing child from the beginning of the film, was known to be wearing when he disappeared. On top of that, Mindy finds a collection of green pocket knives, cementing Greg's identity as the child predator from years ago.

Greg vs. Alec

After discovering Greg is the one behind the child murders, Mindy is held hostage by Greg inside the Harper home. However, her stay is short-lived. Though she attempts to bargain for her life, her pleas fall on deaf ears. Despite her desperate cries, Greg fatally shoots her. He then uses a second gun to shoot the wall behind him and places that spare pistol in Mindy's hands, making it look like he shot her in self-defense. Having taken care of one intruder, Greg goes to another part of the house to deal with Alec, who he suspects is hiding in his home.

Alec cautiously emerges from the garage upon hearing the gunshots. When he sees Mindy's body on the ground, he arms himself with an ax, ready to kill Greg. But with Greg still being on edge, he quickly disarms Alec, and the two get stuck in a fistfight until Greg knocks Alec out with a fireplace poker. With his foe incapacitated, Greg grabs a knife from the kitchen and stabs himself to make it look like he was again acting in self-defense.

However, Alec stands up, revealing that he'd taken Greg's gun during their brawl. Alec then takes the opportunity to finally kill Greg, despite the cop's efforts to talk Alec down. Unfortunately for Alec, the police arrive just in time to see him standing over a fallen officer. As a result, he's shot, though the wound is luckily not fatal.

Alec escaped from Greg years ago

In a movie filled with great plot twists, I See You's best reveal involves the relationship between its two biggest character. Throughout the film, Alec has this intense hatred of the Harpers, as reflected in his harassment of the family. Though seemingly random at first, Alec's anger isn't without justification. In fact, the reasoning behind his immense hatred for the Harpers can actually be traced back to Alec's childhood.

Though Greg killed several boys in the years prior to the film taking place, two had managed to escape. One survivor made an appearance earlier in the movie, but the whereabouts of the other was unknown at the time. However, it turns out that the other child who escaped was, you guessed it, Alec. This realization is confirmed in a flashback that shows a young Alec along with another boy who comes into contact with Greg. In the flashback, Greg shows the boys a green pocket knife in the moments before their abduction.

In the end, Alec always had revenge on his mind while he was inside the Harper house. His secret past with Greg cemented Alec's hatred of the Harper family and his resolve in tearing their lives apart.

Greg's crimes are revealed in the ending of I See You

In the second half of the film, Jackie and Connor are relegated to side character status and don't really contribute much to the unfolding story. When Connor is discovered by his parents bound in the bathroom, his mother understandably panics and whisks her son to the hospital, where the two continue to stay off-screen.

However, Connor and Jackie do make a brief appearance at the end of the film just after Greg is killed and the police have surrounded their home. Though both Connor and Jackie are visibly confused, we don't get much insight into their reactions, emotions, or the pair's next steps. At this point, Jackie and her son have no idea about Greg's crimes or any of the details about Mindy and Alec. All they know is that Greg is dead and an intruder had been lurking around their house. And that's where the film leaves them, staring at a collection of police cruisers and an ambulance by their home as Alec is wheeled out on a stretcher.

Though the pair don't know what exactly occurred in their home, they're likely going to find out soon. Just before Alec is taken to the ambulance, the police are shown closing in on a trailer that belongs to Greg. And inside, they're going to find (and rescue, don't worry) the children he abducted. Along with the kids, there's also Greg's bag full of incriminating evidence, ensuring that his morbid secrets will soon become public knowledge.

I See You tells a story of police corruption

A common theme throughout the film is Greg's abuse of power as a police officer, consistently using his position and influence to kill with impunity. The first instance of this occurs at the beginning of the movie after Greg is placed in charge of the police search for Justin Whitter. Knowing that Greg is the abductor, it's easy to see how this enabled him to direct the investigation away from key evidence.

Another example surfaces after Jackie comes to Greg asking for help in dealing with her lover's corpse. After Jackie shares her suspicion of Connor, Greg says that if they talk to the police and paramedics about her suspicion, there would be no way for him to protect their son. Of course, Greg doesn't say this to protect Connor, but instead to defend himself. And later, when Greg kills Mindy, he stages her body to make it look like she was breaking into his house and attacking him. In doing so, Greg uses his knowledge of how crimes are processed to make his murders look like pure self-defense after the fact.

Greg even tries to use his job as leverage when Alec is pointing the gun at him. He says that the arresting officers will see him as a punk who shot a cop in his own home. Though this doesn't work out for Greg in the end, his power as an officer has allowed him to evade capture and assign blame to an innocent man for years.

Suburbia is full of secrets

Another theme that's present in the film is how the suburbs serve as a symbolic labyrinth that seems idyllic but actually harbors an ugly reality. At the beginning of the film, Jackie's infidelity has just been laid bare for her family. Greg has been murdering children and keeping it a secret from his family. And of course, Alec and Mindy literally secret themselves away into the very walls of the house.

When the phroggers first arrive, Mindy takes a look out of the window in the living room and remarks about how she's never seen a house with a better view before. As she and Alec first survey the kitchen, she makes a remark about how wasteful the Harpers are with their money. In fact, it's the material wealth of the Harpers that makes them such easy prey.

In addition to serving as a hiding place for the phroggers, the house takes on a maze-like quality when Greg tries to track Mindy and Alec through the house. All of the extra space afforded by this three-story home gives the phroggers more space to stay out of sight. While the wealthy lives of the Harpers seem picturesque, they're plagued by dark secrets and dysfunction hiding behind the facade, ultimately leading to their downfall. 

I See You plays with supernatural tropes

Though the film plays up supernatural tropes in its beginning half, I See You doesn't actually feature any demons, ghosts, or ill-intentioned paranormal creatures. For example, as Justin Whitter rides through the forest, he's suddenly lifted off of his bike. The way the scene is shot, it looks like the boy is being grabbed by an invisible force, but really, this is to throw us off the scent of the real killer. Despite the otherworldly framing of the attack, we later find out that Justin was knocked back courtesy of a tripwire. 

In addition, there are signs that could lead the viewer to believe that the Harper house is haunted. For example, the television turns on unprompted, the kitchenware disappears, and an unseen girl lets a repairman into the house. Given genre conventions and the purposeful cinematography, the film hints towards a specter or poltergeist.

One of the reasons for this association may be — spoilers for one of the most flawless horror films of all time — the movie's aesthetic similarities to the 2018 film Hereditary. I See You uses similar shot composition, camera movements, and even similarly ominous music that all works together to lend both films a sense of impending doom and voyeurism. Playing off of these well-established tropes, the film can easily trick audiences into believing a Hereditary-like demon is pulling the strings.