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

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

The head is missing... and... he's the wrong age.

Twin Peaks 3.7: There’s a body all right.
First things first: my suggestion that everyone’s favourite diminutive hitman, Ike “The Spike” Stadtler, had been hired by the Mitchum brothers was clearly erroneous in the extreme, although the logistics of how evil Coop had the contingency plan in place to off Lorraine and Dougie-Coop remains a little unclear right now. As is how he was banged up with the apparent foresight to have on hand ready blackmail tools to ensure the warden would get him out (and why did he wait so long about it, if he could do it off the bat?)


Launching right in with no preamble seems appropriate for his episode, since its chock-a-block with exposition and (linear) progression, almost an icy blast of what settles for reality in Twin Peaks after most of what has gone before this season, the odd arm-tree aside. Which might please James Dyer, who in the latest Empire “The Debate”, took the antagonistic stance to the show coming back and dismissed it as “gibbering nonsen…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

It does work, you know. The fire, the wooden stakes, the sunlight. I’ve got a list right here, somewhere.

Vamp (1986)
(SPOILERS) My affection for Vamp is only partly based on the adorability therein of Dedee Pfeiffer, in what might be the closest she’s come to a starring role. Ostensibly an entry in the resurgent vampire-comedy genre (Fright Night, The Lost Boys), Vamp actually slots more effortlessly into another ‘80s subgenre: the urban nightmare comedy. We’d already had Scorsese’s masterful After Hours and John Landis’ knockabout Into the Night, and writer Richard Wenk’s big screen directorial debut shows a similar knack for throwing its protagonists in at the deep end, up against an unfamiliar and unfriendly milieu.

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

Garage freak? Jesus. What kind of a crazy fucking story is this?

All the President’s Men (1976)
It’s fairly routine to find that films lavished with awards ceremony attention really aren’t all that. So many factors go into lining them up, including studio politics, publicity and fashion, that the true gems are often left out in the cold. On some occasions all the attention is thoroughly deserved, however. All the President’s Men lost out to Rocky for Best Picture Oscar; an uplifting crowd-pleaser beat an unrepentantly low key, densely plotted and talky political thriller. But Alan J. Pakula’s film had already won the major victory; it turned a literate, uncompromising account of a resolutely unsexy and over-exposed news story into a huge hit. And even more, it commanded the respect of its potentially fiercest (and if roused most venomous) critics; journalists themselves. All the President’s Men is a masterpiece and with every passing year it looks more and more like a paean to a bygone age, one where the freedom of the press was assumed rather than a…

You may not wanna wake up tomorrow, but the day after that might just be great.

Blood Father (2016)
(SPOILERS) There are points during Blood Father where it feels like Mel is publically and directly addressing his troubled personal life. Through ultra-violence. I’m not really sure if that’s a good idea or not, but the movie itself is finely-crafted slice of B-hokum, a picture that knows its particular sandpit and how to play most effectively in it.

Sometimes the more you look, the less you see.

Snowden (2016)
(SPOILERS) There are a fair few Oliver Stone movies I haven’t much cared for (Natural Born Killers, U-Turn, Alexander for starters), and only W., post millennium, stands out as even trying something, if in a largely inconspicuous and irrelevant way, but I don’t think I’ve been as bored by one as I have by Snowden. Say what you like about Citizenfour – a largely superficial puff piece heralded as a vanguard of investigative journalism that somehow managed to yield a Best Documentary Feature Oscar for its lack of pains – but it stuck to the point, and didn’t waste the viewer’s time. Stone’s movie is so vapid and cliché-ridden in its portrayal of Edward Snowden, you might almost conclude the director was purposefully fictionalising his subject in order to preserve his status as a conspiracy nut (read: everything about Snowden is a fiction).

Oh look, there’s Colonel Mortimer, riding down the street on a dinosaur!

One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (1975)
(SPOILERS) There’s no getting round the dinosaur skeleton in the room here: yellow face. From the illustrious writer-director team who brought us Mary Poppins, no less. Disney’s cheerfully racist family movie belongs to a bygone era, but appreciating its merits doesn’t necessarily requires one to subscribe to the Bernard Manning school of ethnic sensitivity.

I’m not going to defend the choice, but, if you can get past that, and that may well be a big if, particularly Bernard Bresslaw’s Fan Choy (if anything’s an unwelcome reminder of the Carry Ons lesser qualities, it’s Bresslaw and Joan Sims) there’s much to enjoy. For starters, there’s two-time Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Ustinov (as mastermind Hnup Wan), funny in whatever he does (and the only Poirot worth his salt), eternally berating his insubordinate subordinate Clive Revill (as Quon).

This is a movie where, even though its crude cultural stereotyping is writ large, the dialogue frequen…