I Saw The TV Glow Review: Jane Schoenbrun's Coming-Of-Age Drama Is Haunting, Hypnotic And A Powerful Examination Of Fandom

Eyes are glued!

Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine in I Saw The TV Glow
(Image: © A24)

While movies and television often serve as playful pastimes that exist to touch our souls and entertain us between the intricate fabrics of our lives, that’s not all they can be. Have you ever loved a film or show so much you rewatched it over and over until you memorized the placement of every prop, every line spoken... and yet somehow found yourself hitting play on it again? It’s this guilty pleasure of media obsession that is the access point for writer/director Jane Schoenbrun’s I Saw The Glow

I Saw The TV Glow

Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine in I Saw the TV Glow

(Image credit: A24)

Release Date: May 3, 2024 (Limited), May 10, 2014 (Wide) Directed By: Jane Schoenbrun
Written By: Jane Schoenbrun
Starring: Justice Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Ian Foreman, Helena Howard, Fred Durst and Danielle Deadwyler
Rating: PG-13 for violent content, some sexual material, thematic elements and teen smoking
Runtime: 100 minutes

Schoenbrun recently got their start in feature filmmaking with the under-the-radar horror flick We’re All Going To The World’s Fair in 2021. To boil I Saw The TV Glow down to its core plot, it’s a coming-of-age movie set in the 1990s that follows Owen (Justice Smith), a boy who becomes obsessed with a supernatural TV show called The Pink Opaque. He’s never actually seen it, because it comes on after his bedtime, but the ads send him into a mesmerized trance. When Owen meets Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) at school, he gets the opportunity to watch the series for the first time during a sneaky sleepover, and the pair begin an unspeakable bond over their love for the late-night sci-fi series that spans decades. 

But I Saw The TV Glow is not one of those movies that can nor wants to be boiled down to its core plot. It’s so much more than a movie about the shared fandom or friendship between two people. Beyond the neon lights reflecting on their agape faces and the grain on the television screen is a very vulnerable, poem-like horror movie about losing time – losing time to a television set because facing oneself is much more terrifying than anything else Schoenbrun can imagine. 

Jane Schoenbrun creates a distinct and mesmerizing atmosphere that delivers blistering metaphors drawn from their personal experiences. 

In a landscape where the spooky-scary genre often finds itself pigeonholed into the same conversations around what shadows are lurking at night, within society, or on the other side of a internet connection, I Saw The TV Glow compassionately uses its filmmaking to evoke a feeling of dread around having a hollowed out identity. 

Jane Schoenbrun is drawing on their own origin story growing up as a Buffy The Vampire Slayer-obsessive years before embracing their queerness. While I Saw The TV Glow offers many connections between the filmmaker’s own personal experiences to interpret, there’s an objective quality about its hypnotic and haunting vision. One can personalize and internalize one’s own emotional reaction to the story – not unlike hearing the lyrics to a song and coming to one’s own conclusions about its meaning and how one relates to it. 

Sometimes, the movie even takes the form of a music video in between its dialogue and ooze of atmosphere – with performances from the likes of Phoebe Bridgers and Sloppy Jane, and an entire sequence devoted to Owen roaming the hallways of his high school as an original song by Caroline Polachek takes center stage.  

And the power of movies and television, on adolescence specifically, is certainly something universal we’re all grappling with, and  I Saw The TV Glow beautifully analyzes the influence with its artsy and eccentric structure. These days, watching a single performance when you’re young can have some influence regarding what color you decide to dye your hair or what profession you want to go into. How much you feel seen. How much you don’t feel seen. As Owen’s journey in I Saw The TV Glow plays out into a space where his real life and The Pink Opaque begin to become entwined, these conversations are aptly, yet somewhat subtly communicated. 

Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine bring teen angst and a welcome quirkiness to Schoenbrun's dreamlike vision. 

While there’s a something-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach kind of vibe about I Saw The TV Glow throughout, its leads are great at towing the line between being part of that and breaking the tension of the storyline into a lighter place. Both Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine find some cleverly comedic moments to remind viewers that despite the melancholic mood of the whole movie, it’s still about these awkward teenagers who are just really into a TV show together. 

Unless you’re a fan of Netflix’s Atypical, chances are you haven’t really heard of Brigette Lundy-Paine. The young star owns every moment a rare leading performance in I Saw The TV Glow, even when the script asks her to perhaps commit a bit too far into the angst. Smith (of Jurassic World and Detective Pikachu) brings a palpable eeriness to the movie until the very last frame – which is part of an ending that will sear into one’s brain for years to come. 

I Saw The TV Glow is ultimately a heart wrenching drama, packed full of influence and style from the horror genre. 

While I Saw The TV Glow is filled with horror, in its own unique way, it’s not necessarily a horror movie by other measures. It’s more so a somber drama that implements horror filmmaking techniques to communicate its message. Don’t expect jump scares or the blood-flowing final acts of many A24 titles in the genre. Jane Schoenbrun is much more interested in placing you in the shoes of a feeling – a feeling that might make one understand the sorrow that comes with being too afraid to be one’s true self, if they are not friends with it already. I Saw The TV Glow is incredibly effective in doing so, while also taking the audiences on a distinct journey that blurs reality with a neon pink metaphysical world. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.