It Follows (2014 debut, 2015 release), is a clever genre deconstruction written and directed by David Robert Mitchell. The story follows Jay, an attractive female college student that chooses the wrong guy to go on a date with. After having sex in the back of his car, “Hugh” goes to the trunk and returns with a cloth soaked with, presumably, chloroform. Jay never sees it coming, and when she wakes up she finds herself tied to a wheelchair.
“Hugh” had acted strange before, but Jay was unable to appreciate why. Now, at his mercy, Jay listens as “Hugh” describes the film’s antagonist. While staying interesting due to Jay’s distress and “Hugh’s” strange ranting, this scene depends on rather clunky exposition to fill-in the audience.
“Hugh” has something following him, and it has lethal intent. Nobody can see it except for him. Now that Jay has slept with him, she will be able to see it and it will follow her instead of him, since it goes after the last person in the daisy chain of sexual partners.
Thankfully, it’s slow, as it only walks. However, it can look like anyone. If Jay were to sleep with someone else, it would follow that person until it caught them, and then it would go back to walking down the previous person.
The rest of the film is how Jay deals with this dilemma. Should she put people between her and it by sleeping with them? Who is “Hugh” and will it help to find him after he abandons Jay in front of her house and then disappears? Will her sister and their friends be able to keep her safe when the adult world couldn’t possibly take this predicament seriously? And, is there any way to stop it?
It Follows is a genre deconstruction of the 70’s-80’s era slasher films. If you aren’t familiar with genre deconstruction, it’s basically stripping a genre down to its core elements and taking these to their natural conclusions. Much in the same way that early slasher flicks could be seen as deconstructions of giallo films. In this case, it’s not exactly timely, as you’d typically find a deconstruction striking out from among its peers as a reaction to the current state of the art. It Follows is a bit late to the slasher party to be an adequate reaction to it.
So, what is a slasher flick anyways? Take a masked villain, make it seem unstoppable, let it prey on teenagers that are trying to find freedom through exploring their sexuality and/or drug use, with adults that are skeptical or absent, and you have a great start. Throwing in some synth ripped directly from John Carpenter’s presets wouldn’t hurt either. And we all know Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers are more into power walking than sprinting.
So, how does It Follows take these elements and deconstruct them?
1. The villain in this film doesn’t wear a mask, it masks itself completely. Nobody but those on its kill list can see it, and to them it could look like anyone. This is taking John Carpenter’s concepts of The Shape and The Thing to the extreme.
2. Like The Shape and Jason Voorhees, it walks instead of running; but it doesn’t just walk towards its victim, it NEVER STOPS walking towards its victim.
3. It doesn’t stalk some particular town or campgrounds, happening upon teens sneaking off to have sex. Instead, it only targets people that have been sexually active with one another. Keeping the strange “morality” that seems part and parcel to many slasher films, but going further to make it an explicit “rule.”
There’s a lot to like about this film. While, it’s late to the party, it’s doing something clever with tropes that horror movies repeatedly return to. The characters are likeable and, even though they are slightly flat stereotypes, the actors handle them well. The cinematography is often inspired and fetching. There are moments of suspense that made my lady cuddle me tight (always a bonus).
The soundtrack has received a lot of praise. It’s definitely a relief to hear a handcrafted synth-based soundtrack in this age of prepackaged cinema sounds. However, fans of John Carpenter might notice it treads heavily upon turf he’s already covered. It also doesn’t have a lot of coherence between sections, from a composition perspective, other than all of the parts being crafted from synth sounds.
After watching an interview with the composer, who says he never had an interest in horror movies and that he specifically looked to John Carpenter’s work for ideas, I can see why I felt a little let down after so much hype. Even though I can still say that I liked it.
The creature(?) itself is super cool. It has the unstoppable stalking power of The Shape (Halloween 1978), combined with the paranoia-inducing stealth of The Thing (1982); making it a very effective monster, and also the biggest John Carpenter rip-off since the It Follows soundtrack (sorry, I couldn’t resist kicking it while it was down). The monster (or, curse?), works very well when it conforms to its own logic. However, there are many times when this logic breaks down.
“Hugh”/Jeff tells Jay that it never stops stalking, and that it is slow but smart- so it will use the appearance of people she knows to get close to her. But it doesn’t really demonstrate either of these aspects very well. It often stops stalking (e.g. standing around on a roof to look more disturbing, or long breaks where it apparently took a few days off). Some of the people it “imitates” don’t look like they typically do, so that’s not a very smart tactic to get closer to its victims (e.g. many of the people it imitated looked like zombie versions of themselves, and it even imitated a girl that was already part of the group on the beach).
This rule-breaking isn’t the only issue with the film. The pacing is all over the place. There are many unnecessary shots that, while pretty, break the focus of the film. It seems like someone let the DoP edit parts of the film, keeping superfluous shots that look like they are pulled from camera ads or stock footage. This is a shame because there are many excellent shots that adequately add a very polished and skillful look to the film, without mucking the pacing.
The plot also takes a weird turn when they talk about Detroit on the way to have a final showdown in the pool. I guess they had some favors to return to the city for filming there, but it seems completely random to start talking about where the city begins and their suburb ends. I was actually bracing myself for an Eminem song to drop.
Where did they park anyways? Why park so far away if you have to carry typewriters, hairdryers, and lamps? Why bring the lampshades along if you are just going to throw the lamps into the pool anyways? I'm not sure the idea even seemed coherent, but maybe I missed something.
The ending is a bit of a letdown. While “it” typically plods straight towards its victim, it decides to avoid the pool (I guess going by screen-time, it had “eaten” within the previous 45min), and begins throwing things at Jay, who is wading alone in the pool. This seems strange and doesn’t jibe with what we’ve seen of it previously. Sure, it did throw things through windows, but it was always intent on getting hands-on with its victims. Why didn't it attack Paul when he was shooting it, since it attacked him when he tried to intervene previously?
Paul decides shoots it at point-blank range. Nothing seems to happen, but moments later Paul shoots it again in the water. For some reason this shot seems to stop it (werewolves need silver bullets, so maybe it needs two bullets, or to be shot while in water?). Unfortunately, this never really sets us up to expect that it really is all over. So, when we get to the final scene and see something behind Jay and Paul as they walk, we really aren’t surprised. Ending it that way leaves us feeling a little like things weren’t resolved.
I suspect that’s the point. Jay and Paul were each other’s first kiss. Finally, they have gotten together, but Jay’s past is still there following her. More commentary on teenage sexuality courtesy of the “male gaze” that is also found in many slasher films (I wonder if this is conscious on the part of the writers, but it really doesn't matter either way). These concepts haunt this film as much as the antagonist haunts Jay. But, with nothing really resolving, even if that’s symbolic or commentary, the film just ends.
So, what’s the score? Well, it’s a cool idea, but there’s issues. There are scares and suspense, which make it very much a decent horror movie. However, it seemed to be trying hard to be more than that. It's unique, but it doesn’t rise above the genre. It begs you to think about the subtext, but if you think about it, there’s logical holes in the premise.
Just consider this, how did these series of events get past the first unsuspecting person or two? Seems like they wouldn’t have thought too much about someone they know walking up to them. Also, how did “Hugh”/Jeff figure out the rules he tells Jay, or get chloroform? Perhaps the slightly weird (and not very smart) choices it made when deciding who to imitate helped keep these events going (maybe it liked the fear it generated, or needed to keep the cycle going?). These appearance issues may have kept the writers from better integrating the whole The Thing style paranoia- of who can be trusted.
A decent, but flawed, horror flick with some unique aspects that make it worth the watch. It wants you to think about it, but don't think about it too hard or it starts to unravel. After all, when it’s just being entertaining, it’s a great little horror gem; but, unfortunately, when it’s trying to be high-concept and artsy, it doesn’t follow, it drags.
7 out of 10
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