Skip to main content

All you can do is pass it along to someone else.

It Follows
(2015)

(SPOILERS) David Robert Mitchell’s unstoppable horror has received rounded acclaim, even embedding itself in Sight and Sound’s hallowed Top 20 of 2015 list. It’s certainly an effective, confidently-directed latest incarnation of the relentless boogeyman, heavily indebted to John Carpenter (complete with retro-synth score from Disasterpeace) but also bringing its own psychosexual component (a bit like Cronenberg but shorn of the grue). In other words, it’s no wonder Kim Newman loved It Follows.


To the extent that there’s nothing new under the sun, I’m not entirely sure the kudos heaped on the picture in terms of its exploration of sex and death are entirely deserved, however. It Follows is essentially raking over coals. But Mitchell is so sure of himself in technique and execution, taking a leaf out of Carpenter’s aforementioned book with his widescreen lensing and long lingering set ups (of empty Detroit suburbs), allowing the space itself to become threatening in its own sweet time, usually when “It” idles into frame, or merely through someone looking for “It” to no avail, that it’s almost impossible not to be won over.


The world Mitchell envisages is hermetic, isolated and claustrophobic, even when its protagonist Jay (Maika Monroe, following last year’s acclaimed genre effort The Guest, which was also indebted to ‘70s/ ‘80s cinema and synths) isn’t stuck in a room without an easy exit. It’s the knowing exteriors that most evoke the dream logic Mitchell’s aiming for, though, where it’s impossible to evade your pursuer no matter how far you run. As Newman notes in his review, It Follows is curiously absent of adults, adding to the cumulative sense of divorce from anything approaching a normative environment.


While much of the attention has focussed on the means by which It gathers victims, apparently this notion came later in Mitchell’s conception of the picture. It’s a classic horror trope, of course; teenagers having sex spells death, so embodying that force has a certain inspired literalness to it. With that inevitably come readings regarding STDs and AIDS (“Someone gave it to me, and I passed it on to you…”) complete with the fear of a faceless virus that exists anywhere and everywhere (“It can look like anyone, but there’s only one of it”). Then there are the post-infection consequences belying the truth (“I don’t feel any different”, comments Paul) And eventually, no matter what precautions you take to survive (by fucking as much as possible, the ultimate act of feeling alive) it will encroach on you again. All potently familiar, then, but it’s in the execution that Mitchell makes an impact.


And much of what really works here is also about the observation of character, as opposed to the mechanics of the monster or why the cast haven’t watched Scream and its sequels, so continue to do really stupid things despite having clear rules to obey (that should be a relief in a way, although those who claimed Scream was going to change the horror map forever were mostly writing puff pieces rather than devout believers).


Mitchell makes some interesting choices that break with the expected for such fare, some of which work and some of which are less successful. As so often happens, Jay tells others of her waking nightmare, and they either don’t believe her or tell her not to worry. More surprising is that It ends up manifesting to her friends, who then no longer doubt her delusions. On one level, this is a bold move; now the isolated teen has friends rallying around and attempting to defend her. On another, the rules by which this wraith operates no longer seem quite so comprehensible or overpowering, leading to an over-stoked climax that doesn’t make much sense in either the planning our outcome (this may be why no one actually discusses the plan aloud; Mitchell knows it isn’t much cop, but he can’t come up with anything better).


But the means by which archetypes are highlighted in interesting new ways is striking. There’s pretty Jay (Gwen Stefani-pretty; Monroe, who gives a mesmerising performance, gets that a lot) who will have no trouble finding a guy to pass It on to. Says Jake Weary’s Hugh, the guy who impregnates her with “It”, then drugs her and ties her up so she can have a really close look at her ardent pursuer; one wonders how long he spent figuring out this modus operandi. Like the classic one-night stand guy, Hugh is only interested in his own satisfaction (she should sleep with someone as soon as possible, as “If it kills you, it will come for me, you understand?”)


Platonic nerd childhood best friend Paul (Keir Gilchrist) nurses an eternal flame for Jay, and is more than prepared to be pursued to the death if it means he can have sex with the object of his desire, but Jay is interested in handsome Greg (Daniel Zovatto), whom Jay’s sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) fancies. There’s also Yara (Olivia Luccardi), focussed on her clamshell reader and seemingly not especially into anyone, so she may well survive longest post-credits.


Jay’s congress with first Greg and then Paul is less about passing the buck than seeking some kind of protection, but she is nevertheless knowing about what she is doing, just less ruthlessly so than Hugh. The closing sight of her and Paul walking hand-in-hand, having trapped herself with someone she isn’t attracted to for the sake of peace of mind, is revealed as a slow death itself (curiously both are wearing black and white in the last scene); inevitably the struggle and cycle to feel alive will have to begin again.


I liked the early scenes where Jay and her gang decide to track down Hugh; it makes for a refreshingly pro-active approach, one that is abandoned once the need for characters (Greg) to disbelieve resurfaces. But the rules at points feel a little Gremlins for a picture taking itself so seriously; an interesting moment comes when it appears Jay will swim out to a boat and have a threesome with the men on board, but clearly she decides against it (unless It made short work of them). Yet such conjecture raises the prospect of mockery, like that scene in Gremlins 2; does this thing really just walk everywhere? What if you hop on a plane and travel to the other side of the world? Will you have respite for several years (or will It hop on a plane too?)


And, while It’s revealing itself as interactive with those uninfected makes for an original twist, it doesn’t entirely make sense. Earlier we see the thing seemingly not interacting with others (in corridors, in the Jay’s house in the form of a giant), but now It’s visible in its actions, can punch Paul and have a rug thrown over it. Most bizarrely, it seems it can be shot.


Maybe this is Mitchell referencing the unstoppable Carpenter “Shape”, such that it will inevitably resurface in the final reel, but there’s a lot of difference between starting with something supernatural and Carpenter finishing with the intimation that something may be. I wondered too at the different approach the thing took; the attack on Greg made most sense in terms of the kind of creature this is, an incubus/succubus that feeds on sexual activity, and which will suck the life essence from you (most queasily while appearing as Greg’s mother; "It looks like people you love, just to hurt you"). But this contrasts with the more typical “crazy” monster that snaps the leg of the first victim we see backwards, or starts throwing stuff around a swimming pool.


Inevitably, there’s talk of a sequel, in which Jay traces the source of the curse, and Mitchell who is “personally not that interested in where it comes from” is also open to the possibility.  I tend to think he’s better treating It Follows as a one-off; once you start unravelling or deducing, 9 times out 10 you diminish the mythology. And you also run the risk of making it seem like just another movie series. Perhaps It will become a one-off anthology series come the second sequel, before reverting to increasingly pedestrian follow-ups with the third.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.