Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It Follows Movie Review

It’s long been a sort of tradition in the slasher sub-genre of horror films that those who choose to have sex are doomed to succumb to a horrific death. It was enough of a trope that Wes Craven’s post-modern slasher film Scream listed it as a surefire way for any of its characters to seal their fate. It’s no coincidence then, that It Follows, written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, uses sex as the precise mechanism by which its characters attract the attention of the slow-moving, but undeterred creature that wants to take their lives.

Strictly speaking, I wouldn’t call It Follows a slasher or horror film. It’s more psychological thriller than scarefest. It’s creepy, unsettling, unnerving, with the occasional make-you-jump moment. But if I can go through my house in the dark to go to bed without feeling a little terrified, then the movie wasn’t scary. However, I don’t think it’s Mitchell’s intention to scare us. Everything about the craftsmanship of the film seems designed to make you feel off-kilter or like you’re occupying a dream space. He takes many of the trademark techniques of John Carptenter and George Romero (Halloween and Night of the Living Dead are obviously major influences here and puts them to excellent use, framing his shots to create a sense of space that helps serve to ramp up the paranoia. Mike Gioulakis’s cinematography employs wide-angle lenses during, for example, tracking shots in front of characters walking down the street. I was reminded of Jamie Lee Curtis similarly shot in Carpenter’s film. It helps amplify and distort the space at the sides of the frame, giving an added sense of what might be lurking. Then there are the shots that observe the characters sitting in a park or a field, but short open enough to take in the deep background. Sometimes you can see a figure moving toward them or so it seems. Often the scene ends before we discover whether or not there was a real threat.

And that’s really the heart of the story, which is about dread, paranoia, fear of death, and delaying the inevitable. These characters are facing an existential crisis, though it’s all channeled through Jamie (Maika Monroe), a college-aged young woman whose dalliance with a casual boyfriend leaves her the target of a spectral stalker. After she sleeps with Hugh for the first time, she learns that he’s passed something on to her. Not an STI, although that’s a parable that a lot of people have latched onto by way of explanation and meaning. The creature targets you until you have sex with someone, at which point it moves onto that person. If that person is killed, you become the target anew. The vagaries of the mystery are one of the mystery of this thing are one of the screenplay’s assets. No one really knows what the thing is, where it came from, or how to stop it. There’s no stilted scene of Jamie researching and tracing it back to its origin, no attempt to understand its motivation. Managing the threat is paramount. The difficulty for Jamie is convincing her friends, who can’t see the creature, that she’s not crazy. There’s her sister Kelly; friend Yara; Paul, the boy who’s had a well-known crush on Jamie for years; and Greg, who lives across the street. The creature can appear as anyone known or unknown to her.

Mitchell understands at a core level how to make an effective thriller that incorporates all aspects of setting and composition into the story. The film is set in the suburbs of Detroit, where whole neighborhoods contain nothing but dilapidated and vacant homes. There are hollowed-out buildings, empty parks, and a thin population that also happens to be devoid of any parents. There’s the hint of the kind of post-apocalyptic vibe you get in “The Walking Dead.” Mitchell also makes his time setting somewhat nebulous. The cars all look like they’re from the 70s and 80s, as does the television in Jamie’s house where they watch late-night creature features. But Yara has a very modern tablet in the form of a makeup compact. So clearly we’re in the present day, but Mitchell is keen to put his audience in the mindset of the decades when slasher and horror films ruled.

With the exception of a handful of very minor plot holes, the film hardly has a misstep. It’s really an imaginative and skillfully executed film, all of whose goodwill is likely to be squandered when the inevitable sequel is made which will probably be a genre train wreck. Avoid that movie when it arrives.

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