Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Horror Movie Roundup: It Follows

In which I share a positive opinion about something.  This is part one of a series that could end up being very long and might as well warrant another blog entirely.

Dark Pit Follows

Around nine months ago I discovered that I’m a bit of horror movie junkie, not because I especially like being scared or watching other people get scared, though I have shared many a good laugh over a horror movie with my roommate, who typically reads the Wikipedia summary to assure himself that everyone who matters gets out OK at the end.*  Horror movies can be a delight to watch with other people, but at their best they also tend to feature more impressive camerawork, production design, and sound than other genres.  At their worst, they can be so formulaic and artless as to have no emotional effect on one versed in horror’s tropes (mirrors and loud noises), but you could say the same of any genre.

Even being a doting scientist of horror movies and their often repetitive art, I can’t say I was always clamoring to see David Robert Mitchell’s independent horror film It Follows, nor can I say that the 95% approval rating it received from critics did much to sway me from my indifference.  As the acceptable but abundantly predictable The Conjuring demonstrated not two years ago, there’s such a surplus of terrible, made-for-streaming horror movies on the market that whenever something halfway frightening or visionary rears its head critics and fans will tend to freak out and embellish it with much higher praise than it truly deserves.  It Follows is an altogether commendable horror film that’s regrettably doomed to suffer from this same phenomenon when audiences find for one reason or another that it’s not quite as terrifying as the hype would tell.  Neither the obvious symbolism nor the message of the movie is very intricate, but Mitchell still manages to make viewers think and fret about the implications of sexuality while deftly avoiding the pitfalls of a moralizing talk on purity.

It Follows is a sweet indie coming-of-age film about a small-town girl in an ambiguous time period who has steamy car sex with a seemingly nice but mysterious guy and is subsequently haunted by a shapeshifting, sexually transmitted demon that endlessly stalks its victims until they let their guard slip and enable it to murder and (maybe) rape them.  The only way to get rid of It is to pass It along to another person through intercourse, and even that is only a temporary solution, because if It does kill one of those cursed, It will continue to work backwards down the chain of one-time partners, leaving no one completely secure and perpetually fearful that the monster will return to punish them for their carnality.  Those are the rules, and the movie manages to explain them much more coherently and quickly than any of the convoluted Insidious movies, Poltergeist, The Babadook, and so on.

The viral nature of the demon puts Its targets in a very tricky moral situation: do they try to pass It along to someone else, stretching the line and getting It as far away from them as possible, or do they resign themselves to outrunning the thing forever, putting themselves and everyone who preceded them at risk? Would you transfer It to a friend even if he fully knew and accepted the lifelong burden that would come as a consequence?  As the plot progresses and It forces the teens to grow from carefree, blissfully irresponsible children into self-reliant survivalists, sex also evolves from a weightless bit of fun into a willful, desperate choice for self-preservation.  Without totally spoiling everything, the final scene of lovemaking in It Follows is almost devoid of passion but nonetheless constitutes the most meaningful act of love the couple could share, for in so physically bonding they have symbolically bound themselves to protect and care for the other the rest of their lives.

The director deserves all the more credit for having the tact to show this development without directly telling us, “See this!  This is significant for reasons X, Y, and Z.  They started here, and look how far they’ve come! Ha ha ha.  Far they’ve come.  I am good.”  Judging from the IMDB message boards (which are good for judging nothing), a lot of people disdain Mitchell’s decision not to explicitly spell out all the key events and backstory details, but  it’s the mark of a strong director that he knows when withholding or implying something can be just as impactful as showing it.  One of the more emotionally potent scenes follows the heroine, Jay, driving home with wet hair and a distraught expression after we’ve seen her start wading out into a lake towards a group of men in a boat.  The combination of Maika Monroe’s forlorn performance and the bleak, disquieting cinematography is just as suggestive and affecting, if not more so than if the director had chosen to leave nothing in doubt over what transpired out on the water.

It Follows is beautifully filmed overall, using natural lighting and long, smooth camera rotations to great, unnerving effect.  I have no reservations calling it one of the most gorgeous-looking movies of the last decade, and many of the scenes will still hold up as thrilling many years in the future: the opening spinning shot, the car crash in the wheat field, the climactic standoff at the pool, culminating in a murky, ominous cloud of blood billowing to the surface.  The throbbing, synth-heavy music is also incredible, epitomizing everything that an intense and memorable horror score should be.  Between It Follows, Ex Machina, Mad Max, and Interstellar, this last year has been one of the most rewarding for film scores since I don’t when.

If I had to nag about anything, it would be some occasionally awkward dialogue/acting and a handful of cheap jump scares that don’t reflect well the building hopelessness that characterizes the horror of the film. There are at least three occasions in the movie where something unexpected and startling happens that poses no threat to the characters.  One of these is a self-aware fakeout involving some random person walking towards the group who isn’t really It, but the other two (ball hitting the window and old wall caving in) aren’t as excusable.  Still, the haunter of It Follows differs from a lot of paranormal movie monsters in that It represents a real, mortal danger to the haunted.  Whereas the ghosts in James Wan and James Wan-ripoff ghosting movies are too often satisfied just with orchestrating spooky, ghosty, totally harmless mischief (stupid stuff like clapping in the basement, knocking down the picture frames, taking the baby out of the crib, possessing a noisy toy and making it rattle around the house), It has only one objective, and that is killing everybody who’s contracted It.  Hence, whenever It appears on screen, you’re not just looking forward to It doing something spooky, you’re fearing for the heroes’ very lives.

The overall lack of adult characters as anything other than ghouls is also curious; is the director intentionally projecting the teens’ anxieties about intimacy and adulthood onto It?  Is the absence of parental figures a veiled critique of a society that’s surrendering more and more of the responsibility for its children’s upbringing to the schooling system, thus spurring kids to treat their sexuality more lightly and make more mistakes in the name of Experimentation?  I can’t give a definite answer either way, but the cool thing about It Follows is that it’s ambiguous enough to let you think about these – ahem – ‘problematic’ questions for yourself.

The same critics who extolled Mad Max: Fury Road for being a feminist parable have complimented It Follows for taking down slut shaming, rape culture and, like, whatever, but I think the movie at its core is more of a statement on the illusiveness of simple choices: things we tell ourselves are trivial and harmless usually have enduring consequences we fail to anticipate or just deny, and this is especially true of the friends we keep (or join with in “casual” coitus).  For a movie that’s all about a sexually transmitted demon, It Follows is probably the most refined and beautiful and somber movie one could make about a sexually transmitted demon.  If you can tolerate the premise and don’t know how to raise a child without the assistance of visual media, it’s an excellent film to show your teens to scare them out of having sex.  It Follows is rated R for scattered bloody images, a couple F-bombs, and boobs, though nudity in the movie is only ever used to horrify.  Given its subject matter, Mitchell’s film is surprisingly restrained compared to other horror pics, and the protagonist is oddly much less sexualized than, say, Jonas’ girlfriend in The Giver movie, though I’ll get to that catastrophe in due course. Suffice it to say that It Follows is a visually mesmerizing and imaginative work of modern American mythmaking, personifying our most primal fears about the natural world just as the Norse and Greeks of old.

The movie concludes on an uneasy note, leaving open the possibility that It’s still out there hunting the beleaguered kids.  While the custom of ending without an ending is a regrettable and lazy trend in horror, I’ll be first in line to watch It’s Getting Closer and It Got Me.  After all, It Follows is truly a remarkable film, and you owe it to yourself to pass It on.


* The Descent in particular was a riot to watch together.  Too bad the DVD broke right after this scene.

Bonus Commie Con Trailer Reviews
Batman vs. Superman colon generic subtitle – Let’s forget Ben Affleck is Bruce Wayne for a second. Is Superman now a metaphorical stand-in for every discriminated-against and hated-upon minority in America? How did an emblem for truth, justice, and the American way get perverted into a role model for illegal immigrants and homosexuals?  Would the Westboro Baptist Church really picket the Capitol over a flying guy in a red suit?  There are what, 50 of their members tops?  Why does the Social Network guy say, “The red capes are coming”?  Is that some kind of joke?  It’s kind of hard to tell in these lifeless Man of Steel movies.  Why does Wonder Woman look so weird, and why is she in this movie?  Why are they still decimating skyscrapers after so many people complained about the headache-inducing 9/11 imagery of the first film?  Why’d they even choose to adapt Dark Knight Returns in the first place?

Suicide Squad – Wow.  Harley Quinn.  Just wow.  Like, I can’t even.  Sold.  Screw Jared Leto as the Joker.  He’s just another freaking Joker.  But Harley Quinn raised every fanboy’s interest in this movie to a whole nutha level.  Hee hee hee.  You’re so dirty, Mr. J.

On a (more) serious note, the movie looks pretty dang good too.  I’ll probably be waiting on more story details, but for now it seems to be going a darker route than most superhero features, which is exactly what I’d want to see from a deranged DC villain teamup movie.  They actually got a competent director/writer, and the film appears to have a distinctive visual look to it between the costume design and cinematography.  It kind of reminds me of Watchmen at the moment, which was nothing if not a pretty-looking movie.  Consider me hopefully intrigued.

Deadpool – “I’m touching myself tonight.”  As are many others, I’m sure.  Say what you want about the money-grubbing business model of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, but at least they care about their fans and give them exactly the junk they want to see.  Not one of my Marvel devotee friends wanted to watch a PG-13 Deadpool movie, and the studio deserves a hearty pat on the back for taking a chance on financing a movie that’s more true to Deadpool’s character – an accurate but apparently very stupid movie.  I don’t think profanity for profanity’s sake is inherently funny, and what little action I saw in the leaked video was too small and blurry for me to form a conclusion about it.  The only halfway decent thing I’ve seen Ryan Reynolds in was Ted, and he didn’t even talk in that.

1 comment:

  1. I knew there was a reason why I loved this movie. Excellent analysis. You just got yourself a follower.


Please be aware that Google/Blogger has a regrettable habit of crashing before you hit the Preview or Publish button, so writing out longer comments separately before entering them into the browser is well advised.

Moderation is to combat spam, not to muzzle dissenting voices.