First, I need to preface with the fact that I haven’t posted in a while, and apologize to anyone who has been following my random thoughts and images. I’ve been doing a great deal of writing towards other projects (particularly a couple of novels), and that along with a few art projects and work has taken the majority of my free time, leaving little attention spent on this blog. I’m sure every blogger has run into this time and again, but in any case I apologize for the absence, and hope to continue my tirade in the future. So there’s that, and onward (yarr).
I first heard about this film a while back on a couple of movie-themed sites, as it stormed through the festival circuit. It was being hailed as the Next Big Thing In Horror, which immediately left me with a considerable amount of trepidation. As a rabid horror fan, I have seen these signs align many times and ultimately been disappointed. Then those sites had actual reviews, which mirrored the reactions of said festivals. This got me intrigued. These were guys whose opinions I’ve come to respect, who were considerate enough to not spoil the details of the film, but wholly endorsed the fact that It Follows was a refreshing take on the genre. Needless to say, by this time my curiosity was piqued.
Next thing I know Regal Theatres announces they will be showing It Follows at all of their locations, which was exciting. Living in East Tennessee, most independent films are typically only shown at one or two theatres, if at all. A fortunate trend is that most of these are now available through some form of video-on-demand, but for these titles — especially horror films — a great big screen and superior sound system (not to mention a group of others who are sharing the experience with you) make for a much more enjoyable experience. The fact that Regal had taken something of a leap of faith with It Follows further proved to me that it was unlikely to disappoint. I had to see it.
The film, which was written and directed by David Robert Mitchell (whose only other credit has been The Myth of the American Sleepover, which I haven’t seen yet but will soon) concerns the plight of Jaime “Jay” Height (Maika Monroe, who so reminds me of Gwen Stefani — nothing wrong there), a young woman whose “one night stand” with her current beau Hugh (Jake Weary) ends up with her drugged, then bound to a chair in an isolated location. Hugh tells her he has actually done this to ensure her safety, as he has passed on a curse to her via sexual intercourse. Its inevitable end result is she will be stalked by a shape-shifting, unstoppable entity that will find her, and if it catches her, will kill her. Horribly.
The only fortunate feature of this curse is that the thing can only walk toward her, but while it may be slow, it is inexorable. She will have short periods of time make whatever plans she may, but eventually, it will find her. This in itself is the true horror of It Follows — run if you like, but the end is just around the corner.
Immediately any horror fan will think of John Carpenter’s Michael Myers (a.k.a. “The Shape”) from Halloween and George A. Romero’s zombies, and certainly this is the basic mechanic at work here. One can even allude to the Final Destination films, which tend to be more ham-handed (although wonderfully Rube Goldberg-esque) in their interpretation. It is death, which is inevitable for all. But in poor Jay’s case, it’s often staring her in the eyes as it slowly approaches.
The number of allusions to Carpenter’s work are many, such as the lead character’s name (Jaime Lee Curtis played Laurie Strode in Halloween), not to mention the amazing score (courtesy of Rich “Disasterpeace” Vreeland, who needs to shut up and take my money for that soundtrack) which certainly hearkens to the former filmmaker’s musical work alone or with Alan Howarth. There’s even a scene in a classroom that is highly reminiscent of one from Halloween, but while other reviewers have cut Mitchell as short shrift by stating that he is “copying Carpenter”, I saw it as an homage (there are themes and sequences that give a tip of the hat to the likes of Brian De Palma, Dario Argento, David Cronenberg and even Alfred Hitchcock), and if it’s enough to get the kids digging into their parent’s VHS collections, so be it. This is the guy’s first venture into the genre, and far be it from me to deny him moments to lay offerings at the altars of the great ones.
The whole transference of sex to death thing has certainly been done before, with Halloween into the Friday the 13th series, and on into celluloid oblivion. What makes Mitchell’s work stand out is the fact that he’s completely aware of this, and brings it to the forefront with aplomb. While most immediately interpret the device with venereal disease (again, a parallel to the “body horror” of Cronenberg’s early work), this misses the more archetypal functions at play (Mark Kermode, who I so wholly dig, played the ancient card of “The Hook”, that fireside jewel about a moment of sexual gratification gone horribly wrong, in his description of It Follows. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, drop everything right now and get Stephen King’s Danse Macabre in some form, and get learned. If you consider yourself a true fan of horror and fantasy, you’ll thank me later).
Another thing Mitchell brings to the table is outstanding cinematography and editing by Mike Gioulakis and Julio Perez IV, respectively. While I do feel that some shots linger a bit too long at points, the film’s atmosphere and deliberately methodical pace perfectly play to the concept and story. I absolutely love that the setting of It Follows is almost mythic, belonging to some alternate world where nothing but bad (and presumably royalty free) black-and-white movies play on television while one character has some some weird clam-shell digital book reader. I also give credit to the film’s supporting cast, such as Keir Gilchrist as the socially stunted Paul, who has been holding a torch for Jay since they were kids (which obviously becomes an plot development) and Lili Sepe as her (seriously cute, yes I checked IMDB, she’s 18 — still feel pervy) younger sister, who give refreshingly low key performances. No, they’re not clever and contrite but naturalistic and reactive — another plus for Mitchell’s writing and direction, in my book. But Monroe is the true star of the film, as she carries the proceedings with even more of the same. Jay does stupid things, like drive off alone in a car into a ditch by a cornfield, and daringly sleep on top of a car instead of within it, but we always sympathize with her desperation and cojones in such a horrific situation.
Finally, I must point out that a great deal of the film is given up to the viewer — from the initial concept, several points later in the film, and the ending. After watching the movie, I ran into a couple outside the theatre who were upset that things weren’t more “wrapped up”. I personally think this is a wonderful technique in horror if used appropriately (such as in The Blair Witch Project), where the filmmaker demands the viewer put themselves in the mindset of the characters, and further imprints the crux of the film’s experience upon them. It leaves one with questions, but usually really good ones. Bringing back Carpenter’s Halloween, what I found so horrific about Rob Zombie’s remake of the film is that he completely missed the point. “Why” Michael Myers is transformed into The Shape is irrelevant — the fact that he is is the stuff of nightmare. Even Sam Loomis would tell you this.