I See You (2019) Ending, Explained: Who Kidnapped Justin?

Genres such as horror and thriller have become so oversaturated throughout the years that constant innovation is needed in storytelling to keep the audience entertained. Directed by Adam Randall and based on a screenplay by Devon Graye, ‘I See You’ (2019) is one of those films that belong to both genres and still manages to be unique in its own way. It steers clear of employing jump scares to stimulate a response, focusing instead on telling a story that seems invasive and unsettling.

Although the film is slightly over 90 minutes long, it can be split into three almost equal parts. The first part introduces a family who we are led to believe are the heroes of the story. The second part introduces the two so-called “phroggers” and their secret life hiding in the house of the family mentioned above. In the third and final chapter, one of the most exquisite instances of bait-and-switch happens. Here is everything you might want to know about the ending of ‘I See You.’ SPOILERS AHEAD.

I See You Plot Synopsis

Predominantly set in Lakewood, Ohio, ‘I See You’ begins with the disappearance of a ten-year-old boy named Justin Whitter. He was riding his bicycle through the woods near his house just like any other day when he was suddenly thrown back by an unseen force. A park ranger later found his bike but not the boy. This is the second boy who has disappeared in the recent few weeks. Michael King, who is about the same age as Justin, went missing while cycling to a corner store in the city, though the police don’t initially see a connection. Greg Harper (Jon Tenney) is the police detective tasked to find Justin.

Greg’s picture-perfect home life has been disrupted by his wife’s infidelity. Jackie Harper (Helen Hunt) is a therapist and, given the size of their house, an extremely successful one at that. Her affair has affected not only her relationship with her husband but also her son, Connor (Judah Lewis), who has become deeply resentful toward her. Although Greg doesn’t show that he is furious over Jackie’s actions in front of Connor, he has his share of outbursts when he is alone or with just Jackie.

Veteran detective Spitzky (Gregory Alan Williams) joins the investigation. Fifteen years earlier, Spitzky investigated a series of abductions of boys of similar age. Only two of the boys were found alive. Spitzky believed that he caught the culprit at the time. But when he finds a green pocket knife near where Justin went missing, Spitzky starts to question the past investigation. The green pocket knives were the signature that the abductor left behind, so it irrefutably connects Justin’s disappearance to these abductions 15 years earlier. This can only mean two things: Justin was kidnapped by a copycat, or the actual perpetrator is still out there. Spitzky and Greg go to speak to Braun, one of the survivors from 15 years ago, who starts screaming after seeing them.

With the new evidence coming to light, the lawyer for Cole Gordon, the man Spitzky caught at the time, moves to court for a declaration of a mistrial. Meanwhile, odd things start to happen in the Harper household. Silverwares and pictures from photo frames go missing; Greg gets locked inside a closet; and a repairman claims that a girl has let him in the house.

Todd (Sam Trammell), the man with whom Jackie had an affair, visits her to tell her he is in love with her. It appears that Jackie reciprocates his feelings, but she chooses her family. When he gets hit in the head by a mug, Jackie presumes that Connor has thrown it and leaves him in the basement to take Connor to school. When she returns home, she finds Todd dead and assumes her son is responsible. She informs Greg about this, and together they go to the woods to bury the body. Upon returning, they find Connor tied up in the bathtub and a green pocket knife near him. After Jackie takes Connor to the hospital, someone in a frog mask attacks Greg,

The scene shifts then, and we are taken back before the start of the film. Mindy (Libe Barer) and Alec (Owen Teague) sneak into the Harper house through the garage. The rest of the film is depicted through their perspectives, revealing the truth about what is happening.

I See You Ending: Who Kidnapped Justin?

The first part of the film basically establishes it as a garden-variety thriller film, with Greg at the center of the narrative — a police detective whose marriage is on the verge of collapsing and who is tasked to find a dangerous kidnapper and child killer. As per this narrative, Alec is the copycat, and Gordon is indeed the real abductor and killer from all those years ago. After the shift in perspective, the film continues to adhere to this narrative as we see things from Mindy’s point of view. She has no ulterior motive to be there except to be a phrogger and make a documentary out of it. She even starts suspecting Alec when his behavior becomes increasingly erratic.

One of the rules of phrogging is not to disturb the lives of the residents of the house. Alec is the one who takes the silverware and the photos, locks Greg inside the closet throws the mug that hits Todd, and ties Connor up in the bathtub. It isn’t until she sees Greg killing Todd that Mindy (and us, the audience) starts reassessing her beliefs.

This is when the deconstruction of those typical thriller tropes begins. Greg is revealed to be the killer from 15 years ago. The reason Braun started screaming earlier in the film is that he recognized Greg. In the present day, Greg kidnapped both Justin and Michael and kept them in the trailer that Mindy finds. In the climactic scene, he kills Mindy and nearly succeeds in killing Alec to portray them as copycats. As he tells Alec, he has plans to claim that Alec and Mindy came after him knowing he was the lead detective investigating the case. This would have given him the perfect ending according to the original narrative, but Alec manages to grab the gun while he is busy adding details to his tale and shoots him dead.

Who is Alec?

The answer to this question lies in the final scene of the movie. After Alec kills Greg, Spitzky arrives and shoots him in the shoulder. Alec recognizes and addresses him as Detective Spitzky, implying that he has already met the older man. As Spitzky and the other officers go through Greg’s things, they realize he was the original kidnapper and killer. Soon enough, Jackie and Connor return to find their home filled with police officers, and Justin and Michael are rescued. As Alec is placed in an ambulance, he recalls the first time he met Greg. Braun was with him, and they were as young as Michael and Justin are now.

Alec is Greg’s other surviving victim. During the climactic scene, Greg believes that he has knocked out Alec, so he leaves him on the floor to go and set things up in such a way that will make him seem like a victim. However, when he turns back, he finds Alec is not on the floor but pointing a gun at him. Even at this point, Greg is fairly confident that he will come out of the situation alive. He tells Alec of his plans to frame him and Mindy as copycats as police sirens can be heard in the distance. But his confidence evaporates when Alec steps into the light and Greg sees him for the first time. He recognizes Alec and realizes that he is about to die.

Why Does Alec Wear a Frog Mask?

The answer to this is given in that final scene mentioned above. Alec earlier tells Mindy that he chose the frog mask because the word “frog” sounds similar to Phrogging, a real-life thing where people live in strangers’ homes without their knowledge. In reality, this is tied to his childhood and that first meeting with Greg.

There was something in Alec’s back pocket during that encounter with Greg. It can be either a toy or a pencil head. Either way, it seems that the mask is connected to his childhood and symbolizes the innocence he lost. He likely brought the frog mask with him when he came to the Harper house with Mindy to eulogize that innocence and exact revenge.

Why Does Greg Leave Green Pocket Knives as His Signature?

Like most other psychotic and serial criminals, Greg has a signature. He leaves a green pocket knife at each one of his crime scenes. It’s likely tied to his past. Monsters like Greg are rarely born but made through unusual circumstances, often severe trauma. Greg alludes to this when he realizes who Alec is and pleads to the younger man. In response, Alec says he doesn’t care in significantly more colorful words before killing Greg.

So, this remains an unanswered aspect of the narrative. However, the way the story is told, it doesn’t need to be answered. The focus in ‘I See You’ is on different things. It’s enough to know that there is a possibility that Greg’s use of the green pocket knife as his signature is tied to the monster he became.

Read More: Where Was I See You (2019) Filmed?