Monday, March 16, 2015

Review: It Follows

by Patrick Bromley
See this in theaters if you can. Just don't walk home alone.

It Follows, the sophomore effort from Myth of the American Sleepover writer/director David Robert Mitchell, is yet another horror film that I would encourage everyone to see before reading this review. Like so many movies coming out of the indie horror scene these days, it's best to go in knowing as little as possible. It's not because this is a movie of huge twists or surprises, but because it's about discovery. You can't discover something if you already know going in exactly what you'll find.

I'd even consider summarizing the plot spoiling some elements of the movie, so bear that in mind should you decide to keep reading. Anything from this point forward I would consider a spoiler, even if it's very mild plot description. Here goes. Maika Monroe (of The Guest) plays Jay, a Detroit teenager in the early stages of a relationship with nice guy Hugh (Jake Weary). One night they sleep together, and immediately afterwards Hugh drugs Jay and ties her to a chair. He explains to her that he is being pursued by...something...that wants to hurt him. It can take any form and it never stops coming. The only way to get rid of it is to pass it on to someone else through sex. It was passed to him, and now he has passed it along to Jay. From that point forward, Jay, her sister and her friends (including Keir Gilchrist of Dark Summer as the friend who still harbors a years-old crush on her) attempt to figure out what the thing is that's following her and how to stop it...if they can.
After only one viewing, I'm still not sure I know just what It Follows is about. It is about sex; that much I know. I don't mean that the plot is impenetrable or obtuse; everything is right there on the surface, and the movie absolutely works taken at face value. What is beneath the surface I'm still trying to parse out. While there is a temptation to read the film as a metaphor for STDs -- it's something dangerous, possibly deadly, that's transmitted through sex -- the metaphor doesn't quite work because intercourse liberates the one being "followed" (for the parallel to work, we would have to be cured of an STD by having sex). And for as much as Mitchell's screenplay is talking about sex as a rite of passage for young people and the consequences it may carry (which, it should be said, do not always include shapeshifting ghost monsters), there seems to be some much deeper echoes of abuse that ripple through the film. Saying more would require engaging in more specific spoilers; I look forward to being able to talk about the film more after everyone sees it. Love it or hate it, everyone who considers him or herself even a casual horror fan should see it.

Even without subtextual readings, It Follows would be a great movie if only for its technique. Mitchell has created one of the best formalistic horror films in years, one which is unsettling and even sometimes terrifying because of the editing, the widescreen compositions, the relentless score by Rich Freeland, aka Disasterpeace (side note: while just a year ago a synth score in a horror film was a welcome throwback, the approach has become so commonplace that it has already worn out its welcome; having said that, I'm willing to make an exception in the case of this film). While I'm guessing the movie -- like almost every other indie horror film these days -- will be getting a VOD release, it really does deserve to be seen on the big screen. Every inch of the frame is used, often for its negative space -- like John Carpenter's original Halloween, what isn't there is often scarier than what is there.

Until what's there actually is there and then it's way scarier.
As someone who appreciated the looseness and realism of Myth of the American Sleepover but didn't necessarily love the film, I could not have anticipated what a stylist Mitchell could be. It Follows is a directorial tour de force, and while I'm not yet ready to join the vocal majority declaring the movie to be the best horror film in two decades, it's certainly one of the best directed in that same amount of time. The performances Mitchell gets out of his young cast are again natural, bringing realism to familiar teenage archetypes (the geeky boy with the crush [Duckie!], the hunk next door, the charismatic girl around whom everyone rallies). Monroe continues to prove that she's got the goods, while Gilchrist registers way more here than in Dark Summer. These are people who seem to know one another and to care about and support one another. They are thinly written, sure, because the movie is more about its premise than its characters, but the actors keep things grounded in realism.

Because the movie has been playing festivals for close to a year now, there is no shortage of internet buzz surrounding it. Much of it has declared It Follows one of the best -- if not the best -- horror films of the last 20 years. Other writing has already assigned it "overrated" status or accused the film of being simply repetitive; while there might be merit to that characterization, I might replace the word with "relentless." The best thing you can do is tune all of it out, the good and the bad, and see the film on its own terms. Our current discourse is so desperate to build up the next big thing and tear down that which came before that things get hyperbolic pretty quickly. Don't let expectations play too large a role in your own reactions. If the movie works on you, let it work without having to compare and contrast it with every other horror movie.
Like last year's The Babadook, I suspect It Follows is going to be a polarizing movie -- one which experiences a bit of blowback based largely on how hyped up it has been already. But also like The Babadook, it's a movie that works brilliantly in the moment (better, actually, in that it's a much scarier and immediate film -- it captures a real nightmare quality of being chased when you don't know why and you can't get away) but gives us something to think about long after it's over. It grabs us, shakes us for 90 minutes and rattles us to the core, but even then won't let us go. It follows.

It Follows is currently playing in limited release and is scheduled to expand to more theaters on Friday, March 20. See it.

32 comments:

  1. Sigh...another film that will most likely never find its way to the backwaters of Canada's East Coast's largest city. It's sad that the economics of "small" movies is such that it's not worth it for them to get a screen in a place with 350,000 people - from what I can tell It Follows will only be showing in Toronto and Vancouver. Thank God we at least got The Lazarus Effect so I can get my fix of original, well-made horror (barf). I look forward to eventually reading your review after I eventually see the movie - I'm sure they're both great!

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  2. Can't wait to see this. It's rare to see a positive consensus with a new horror movie.

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    1. Just wait, PC. The negative reactions will come soon enough.

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    2. F the Negatives. Both you and Elric like it and that's all the endorsement I need, :)

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    3. This movie sucked & has so many long boring parts I wanted to fast-forward! If this piece of crap "scares" you, stay away from "funny games!" Enuff said.

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  3. This movie has been on my radar for about a month, soon as I heard the buzz. This and babadook look quite interesting. Gotta watch!
    -Rick

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  4. This movie has been on a schedule for a local theater for two months now. As time goes by I find myself more and more excited yet at the same time I keep seeing more and more on it. Very similar to how the babadook was released. I know that I will love it initially but I worry that I will become cool and hate it as quickly. There's no cure is there?

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  5. I've also been really looking forward to seeing this since right around New Year's (after I first heard about it on Killer POV.) And wouldn't you know it, one theater in Cleveland was going to carry it...until last week, when they cancelled it. Now I have to watch it on VOD, which is a shame. I was really looking forward to seeing it on a screen.

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  6. I've still not seen this movie, and therefore have avoided reading your review, but I have been listening to the score recently, and if the movies content rules anywhere near as much as that opening title theme does, I think I will absolutely love this movie.

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    1. That score is something.

      It's supposed to expand to 1,200 screens this weekend, so hopefully it will be playing somewhere near you. It's well worth your time.

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  7. So very glad I got to see this on the big screen. Relentless is a good word for it. At the theater where I saw it, it was (unsurprisingly) playing in the smallest auditorium, tucked away in a dark corner. No joke, an elderly woman wandered into the auditorium less than 5 minutes before the movie ended. Until that point I had been the only person there. I'm still unnerved from that, it could not have happened at a more appropriate movie. Yikes!

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  8. I saw It Follows and may have loved it, but at least really, really liked it. I applaud that it actually feels like it is about something more than just the plot, even if it's debatable as to what that something might be. Furthermore, it may not be the scariest movie I've ever seen, but to me it is sufficiently creepy, with great atmosphere, music, and acting, all of which successfully draw me into the interesting story.

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  9. Still listening, though haven't commented in awhile. I haven't read the review, but did see It Follows in the theater, which was a good recommendation. It was a good non profit theater with stellar screens, and sound.

    It Follows was indeed an enjoyable new horror movie. Cinematography was beautiful, the sound track was right up my alley, and the actors were head on. The perfect mix of modern day, and the very essence of teenage horror thriller. Though all the characters seem to be over the age of 21, I definitely felt they were trying to instill a teenage sense of problem solving, group dynamic, sexuality, and mind set period. Which I really appreciated, I have come to despise the over 21 mindset that is put into horror films, it almost seems to make the characters dumber as they get older. The opening scene was perfect, it really got me ready for the film. Though I was disappointed that the initial gore factor, which really appealed to my tastes in horror, was a one hit wonder in the film. I really expected a bit more gore, and less supernatural essence of the invisible enemy that can be attacked physically. I fully expected the young fellow who ends up with the main character to die, a gruesome horrible death that we would have to have in our minds as the last scene of the film, filling us with utter abandonment of all hope, the curse moves forward, and the latest victim is one of the most likable characters. I was hoping for that, and instead I got a lack luster, "A" typical, open ended ending with no gusto. Though I enjoyed the film over all, I felt it lacked a certain fortitude to enjoy the cheese of gore it did at the beginning for the rest of the film. It did succeed in quick moving scares with a thread bare sense of suspense, well done indeed. The music of course was the most proficient tool of horror, and suspense. For me the soundtrack was the story teller, and it played into my love of electronic music. As I said the actors were amazing to me, I really love the main character, I loved her in The Guest, and she really just pulls the movie on her own. Beautiful, and so damn talented. Supporting characters I also really enjoyed. Playing far more realistic modern day "teenagers" then I have ever seen. One thing nagged at me, though there were modern day technological tools, i.e. cell phones, smart phones, clothes, cars, I felt I was frappe in some strange time warp where 2015, and 1987 were mashed together, I liked it, but it was a bit distracting. Over all I really enjoyed it as a theater experience, but probably not as a watch at home experience. The stereo audio, and larger then life picture of horror really made it worth seeing. I would definitely want to see something else with the same actors, cinematographers, art directors, director, and musicians, but not the same writer. That is my two cents. Now I will read your review.

    -Andrew Gibbons

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    1. Heheh - 2015 and 1987 mashed together? Welcome to Detroit!

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    2. @Andrew - I was thinking the exact same thing re: whether the movie was supposed to be present day or retro. That one girl was reading an e-book or something early on but other than that it all seemed like something out of the 80s. Good call!

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  10. Thanks for the great review Patrick, I feel I can always get an honest review from you. I feel we had the same feeling in general of the film. One thing I would like to discuss is the message, I joked with my friend who saw it with me that I would take my underage children to see this, (I have no children so I'm probably a cruel imaginary one) and tell that it is real, and basically a PSA to promote safe sex or the lust demon will tear you to pieces. The problem I have is that I don't feel the film, or story had to have a message, it could of been easily glossed over to focus more on the horror. Instead I feel the message whatever it was, was muddled at best, and didn't really penetrate the core story, mythos, or lore of the antagonist. There was a point where I found the sexuality just boring, and repetitive, ti would of been better used as a set piece with real passion and tensity as the curse of passed. But what do I know, though I liked it a lot about it, I felt the writing suffered the most, which unfortunately is a big part of me. Thanks for the review.

    -Andrew Gibbons

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  11. It Follows played in my city after all! Watched it last night (with a couple dozen attendees - not bad for a Monday night I guess) and thought it was great! Your review pretty well sums up my feelings - "relentless" is the perfect description and the movie does a great job conveying the claustrophobic-feeling inescapability of "It".

    I look forward to watching it again - I agree that the transmission mechanics of the "curse" muddy the metaphor - and there were a lot of references to parse through. II'm a little lost as to the significance of Dostoevsky's "The Idiot" other than the scene Glasses Girl is reading a description of the anguish of knowing one is about to be executed/die (which Dostoevsky experienced himself - his pardon coming while in front of the firing squad) so that reference is obvious but otherwise...? I loved the reading of Eliot's "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" which is about love and death but also, I think, because of Eliots notoriety for riddling his work with allusions, a signifier that this movie has done so as well. Hopefully "close watchings" of this movie doesn't reveal that the references are only skin deep but I look forward to doing so.

    Great review Patrick - I'd love it to get a proper F'ing from maybe you and JB (with a guest appearance from Jan?) because I think there's actually a lot to discuss.

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    1. You want to watch this again? Are you 10?

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  12. Just got out to my car after seeing it. Just read the review and agree with your take. I see this review was a couple weeks ago. This just opened out here a couple days ago... on one screen in the smallest capacity auditorium.

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  13. It Follows just opened and I really liked it. I have to say that I felt like the brilliant cinematography and tone were a little too good for the actual story, but it was definitely a few steps above the average horror fare.

    The comparison to The Babadook was pretty spot-on. Personally the Babadook worked way better for me but I could see how this one would work better for other people. That's where personal taste comes in. Great review!

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  14. I agree that it's one of the best DIRECTED horror flicks in a long time. I really enjoyed it. Maika Monroe: I am a BIG fan after The Guest and now this; she's completely relatable and appealing.

    It has been much overhyped -- I did think that The Babadook was scarier (while this was creepier, if that makes any sense; I hope we're still cool, Senor Bromley).

    As good as it is (again, agree completely that all horror fans should watch it at least once), it is not the best horror film in even the last decade. But again, that is to say that I do not feel that way; if others do, I'm glad that they at least like a good one.

    I will need another couple of viewings -- which I already know it will get, I really did like it -- to know if I LOVE it.

    Overall, well goddamned done.

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  15. What is the best horror movie in the last 2 decades?

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    1. A difficult question with a different answer depending on who's being asked. I think for me it would be The Descent or The Cabin in the Woods. I have to acknowledge Scream, too, since it completely changed the genre while still being a really good movie. It's about as good as pop horror gets.

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    2. Scream is a horror movie about horror movie fans made by horror movie fans. We don't get nearly enough of those.

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    4. I agree with these choices. Scream for the '90s and The Descent or Cabin in the Woods for the 2000s. I'm more of a The Descent guy, myself.

      Personally, I have to give a shout out for Trick 'r Treat, too. It doesn't necessarily do anything unique, but it's a rare great horror anthology and an awesome homage to the Halloween holiday.

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    5. I agree with all of those. I would maybe throw the Dawn of the Dead remake, Slither or the Sixth Sense in there. I might go with Cabin in the Woods as the best.

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    6. I'd agree with The Descent, I was genuinely scared, which most movies don't do to me. It was pretty much the worst case scenario I could see myself in.

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    7. How can you noy mention "funny games?" It has been out for years! Even a remake! I am waiting for the next big scare. It follows- swallowed.

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    8. The 60"s-"nignt of the living dead" ; the 70's-"texas chainsaw massacre"
      The 80's-"friday the 13th"
      & "the evil dead"
      The 90's-"scream:
      The 00's-"cabin in the woods" the 10's-"hobo with a shotgun". Not without "the exorcist", "
      Blood sucking freaks" "brain dead" & the friday the 13th: remake! Woo! That was close!

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