May we suggest a soundtrack for today’s reading?
Drew: Subtlety is not something often associated with the horror genre. There’s a tendency to go for the throat in order to invoke an immediate and strong reaction. But It Follows is a film that opts for a quieter approach, and it’s that stillness that makes it stand out among it peers. When horror films lean heavily on mood instead of a propulsive story or bombastic effects, there’s a tendency to label them as “slow.” That’s not the case at all with It Follows, which zips into its plot with ease, but with a fairly quick pace, too.
Travis: The movie centers on Jay (Maika Monroe, The Guest) — a nineteen-year-old living with her mom and younger sister in a Detroit suburb. After her first sexual experience with Hugh (Jake Weary), he informs her that he’s passed “something” to her through sex. Unless she can pass it on (and ensure it is passed on further), Jay is doomed to be stalked and killed by a shape-shifting monster that will follow her wherever she goes. The monster is invisible to most, but to the affected it can look like anyone — a stranger, a friend, a lover, or even family. It can’t move faster than a steady walk, but even if she outruns it, Jay will only be delaying the inevitable. Unless, of course, she passes it on.
Drew: Let’s talk about the creature, because if there’s one element to the film that is a resounding success, it’s the monster. I love that the creature is a slow beast. Not only does this feed into the idea of a creeping inevitability, but it also functions as an homage to classic boogeymen, very specifically The Shape from Carpenter’s Halloween. I also love that the monster just is. There’s no scene where our characters research this thing and find some doofy ancient name. We’re told the rules of the creature from our first encounter with it, and that’s all the knowledge we need. Anything else we learn about the monster is through our characters interactions with it. In an era of filmmaking where everything needs to be over-explained to the point of tedium, this simplicity is always refreshing.
Travis: And like the best monsters, the eponymous “It” is a great metaphor. Many people have attached themselves to the idea that it represents sexually transmitted disease, and I think that’s partially true. It’s also a statement about the stigma that comes with promiscuity. Our characters can fuck this thing out of their lives, but only if the people they fuck go and fuck other people. Sounds easy, right? But the guilt of passing it on compounded with the pressures of monogamy and the way we treat promiscuous women paralyzes our characters with fear. Why don’t our characters use technology to help solve their monster problem? That’s easy — the film exists in an odd timeless fuzz in which only one character (who meets a swift death) seems to own a cell phone. Another character uses a strange device that looks like a shell-shaped compact mirror. It might be a phone, but she really only uses it as an e-reader of sorts. Seemingly no-one has a computer. All the TVs in the film are chunky CRTs with rabbit ear antennae. It helps create a feeling of pleasant slackness, because without today’s constant buzz of technology, characters resort to watching old movies together or drinking soda in the backyard. It’s a feeling of youth — or more specifically, youth before the internet. It’s a feeling of sticky, languid summer that director David Robert Mitchell captured just as well in his previous film (The Myth of the American Sleepover).
Drew: This perceived lag will probably turn a number of people off, and I’ll even admit to there being a sleepy haze over the film at times. However, that dreamy feel only makes the moments of terror sharper. It also coats the movie with an unyielding sense of dread that most horror films fail to achieve. I mentioned Halloween earlier, and it’s that film’s influence that is most felt in It Follows. Characters watching black and white horror movies, the suburban setting, the unstoppable boogeyman.
Travis: Mitchell, like so many great directors, understands what makes suburbia so compelling on-screen. There’s that listlessness, but he heightens the suburban sensory experience through use of terrific cinematography, sound design, and music. It’s intoxicating.
Drew: You’ll probably be able to articulate this more eloquently than me, but the score by Disasterpeace is damned incredible. I’m a sucker for synth-y throwback stuff, and It Follows has the best possible version of that. It’s like if Vangelis did the music for a grindhouse horror. I love it.
Travis: The score is indeed fuck-off amazing. It’s like Carpenter by way of Nintendo; a chiptune masterwork. Rich Vreeland (a.k.a. Disasterpeace) composed the music for the game Fez as well, and I hope he keeps doing both film and game work. He’s such a promising talent.
Drew: Speaking of talent, I want to talk about the cast. I’m frustratingly on the fence about them. No one is by any means “bad”, but the nature of the piece really only calls for one strong performance, and that’s from Maika Monroe as Jay. She certainly carries the film, but I can’t really decide if that’s because she’s forced to do that or she’s really good. Everyone else is fine, but that’s often par for the course in horror films.
Travis: For the record, I think Maika Monroe is really, really good in the film. Yes, she’s the obvious standout, but I like the casting of everyone else. They’re all very real, all unknowns (to me, anyway). Their roles are not flashily written or acted. Some might think them dull, but they’re so unlike the twenty-something teens we normally get in horror films. I’m grateful that film’s arthouse nature allows for such low-key work. No one’s creating melodrama in a film that doesn’t call for it.
I think there’s been a yearning, particularly from critics, for smarter, slower (and scarier) horror. We want something less pop-fueled, less shrill; something written with fewer exclamation points. I don’t think the average American viewer really gives a damn (hence Ouija 2, coming 2016), but critics have been pleased with the VOD arrival of good horror movies like Spring, Backcountry, and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Many critics thought It Follows would be the next big festival favorite horror to be a VOD success, but the folks at Radius TWC thought differently. Over the course of two weeks, It Follows has expanded from four US theaters to over 1,200. That’s great, and I congratulate everyone who worked on the film. They probably never imagined this little movie would play in so many theaters. But this isn’t a film built for wide release. Like most Americans, I live in an area with a minuscule arthouse scene, so the audience in my local 16-screen cinema was positively baffled by this movie. It Follows makes no effort to explain its stranger choices and abrupt (see spoiler section*) narrative jumps. “Welcome to arthouse, jerk-off! Enjoy the ride!”
Drew: As far as that arthouse feel goes, the film does suffer from some areas of pretentious annoyance. Having someone reading The Idiot is particularly eye-rolling, and there are a few shots here and there that I’m certain someone smarter than me can spin into some symbolism. I’ll detract from that criticism by praising the look of the film. David Robert Mitchell has crafted a film full of immaculate compositions, and it makes the film look far more expensive than I bet it was.
Travis: Huge credit to cinematographer Mike Gioulakis. His work on this film is so, so beautiful. It’s lit like a fucking dream.
Drew: It Follows deserves adulation simply for achieving a whole lot with very little. What makes it truly praiseworthy is its inventive creature, the masterful direction, and the killer soundtrack. Although it can be a little highfalutin at times for my taste, there’s no denying it’s a well-made and effective little terror tale. The horror genre can always use more of those.
Travis: I couldn’t agree more.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
*SPOILER SECTION BELOW. HIGHLIGHT TO REVEAL. ↓
Drew: The big confrontation with “It” in the swimming pool has got to be one of the slickest showdowns in recent horror history. Yet again, the simplicity of the film works to its advantage and the subdued creepiness of the final fight (having “It” be Jay’s absent/dead father adds yet another disturbing level to the last confrontation) makes it my standout sequence of the film. As far as how the film ends, there’s this dark sweetness to the idea of Jay and childhood friend Paul (Keir Gilchrist) sharing this burden together. The ending seems to be about accepting your partner’s romantic past and learning to match the pace of the thing that will ultimately destroy you instead of futilely trying to escape it. It’s not an easy ending, but it is one that feels honest.
Travis: The pool scheme is so preposterous, and I love that there’s no scene where the teens come up with this completely harebrained idea. The payoff, however, when Jay is in the pool with “It” is profoundly frightening. The film’s denouement feels strangely flat, but I think that’s intentional. When Jay and Paul finally shack up, there’s no big revelation. I think you’ve got it right — it’s all about acceptance.