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…

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…

Something something trident.

Aquaman (2018)
(SPOILERS) If Aquaman has a problem – although it actually has two – it’s the problem of the bloated blockbuster. There's just too much of it. And the more-more-more element eventual becomes wearing, even when most of that more-more-more is, on a scene-by-scene basis, terrifically executed. If there's one thing this movie proves above all else, it's that you can let director James Wan loose in any given sandpit and he’ll make an above-and-beyond castle out of it. Aquaman isn't a classic, but it isn’t for want of his trying.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite?

The Box of Delights (1984)
If you were at a formative age when it was first broadcast, a festive viewing of The Box of Delights may well have become an annual ritual. The BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 novel is perhaps the ultimate cosy yuletide treat. On a TV screen, at any rate. To an extent, this is exactly the kind of unashamedly middle class-orientated bread-and-butter period production the corporation now thinks twice about; ever so posh kids having jolly adventures in a nostalgic netherworld of Interwar Britannia. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. There is something genuinely evocative about Box’s mythic landscape, a place where dream and reality and time and place are unfixed and where Christmas is guaranteed a blanket of thick snow. Key to this is the atmosphere instilled by director Renny Rye. Most BBC fantasy fare doe not age well but The Box of Delights is blessed with a sinister-yet-familiar charm, such that even the creakier production decisions may be vi…

Mountains are old, but they're still green.

Roma (2018)
(SPOILERS) Roma is a critics' darling and a shoe-in for Best Foreign Film Oscar, with the potential to take the big prize to boot, but it left me profoundly indifferent, its elusive majesty remaining determinedly out of reach. Perhaps that's down to generally spurning autobiographical nostalgia fests – complete with 65mm widescreen black and white, so it's quite clear to viewers that the director’s childhood reverie equates to the classics of old – or maybe the elliptical characterisation just didn't grab me, but Alfonso Cuarón's latest amounts to little more than a sliver of substance beneath all that style.