Friday, December 11, 2015

What I Thought of It

Since it ran in theaters earlier this year, I've been hearing a lot about the movie It Follows. It was an exceedingly rare example of a horror movie critics were showering with praise. It was an equally rare example of a horror movie which two particular friends of mine (who love -- or at least find some good in -- almost all horror) proclaimed a big pile of crap. I found that I just had to know what had provoked these atypical reactions.

It Follows is a riff on the horror movie cliche (articulated in Scream) that "sex kills." A young college student named Jay decides to sleep with her new boyfriend Hugh. Afterward, he informs her that doing this has passed a curse onto her. She will be pursued by a supernatural entity that only she can see. It can alter appearance to look like any person, friend or stranger. It is always moving toward her, but always at a slow and steady pace. If it ever catches her, it will kill her. The only way to be rid of the creature is to pass it on to a new victim.

In my opinion, It Follows resides somewhere between the extreme reviews I mentioned above. It's neither the most amazing horror movie to come along in years, nor a catastrophe. It is a bit of a throwback to 70s and 80s horror, more reliant on psychological thrills than blood and gore. That part, I quite enjoyed. The movie embraces this "classic" quality in a number of ways, unfolding at a slow pace (much like the original Halloween), and even setting up the world as weirdly divorced from a specific time frame -- characters have cell phones, but watch 4:3 tube televisions; they drive beat-up old cars through old neighborhoods, but wear less dated fashions.

Yet the idea of a slow burn is more interesting than its actual execution here. The pace is downright glacial at times, to a point where some audience members (my friends) will question whether this supernatural curse is in fact rather manageable. And the acting is pretty scattershot, even from the same performer in different scenes. You usually believe when people are terrified, but not always when they have simple conversations with each other.

My theory on the ultimate "lukewarmness" of this movie is that the part that most interested the filmmaker is not the part that most people latched on to. According to writer/director David Robert Mitchell, this story was inspired by a childhood fear of being followed everywhere he went. (And indeed, the moments where you see the creature actually approaching are when the movie is at its best.) The "transmission by sex" aspect, which critics latched onto as evidence of the movie's clever, allegorical agenda, was in fact an afterthought in the story's creation. Mitchell wanted a means to transfer his curse between people, and this is what he came up with. (And it's not like the movie has anything remotely profound to say about sex; the only reasonable message you could infer is "don't ever have sex, ever," which isn't worth trumpeting even if it was intended.)

If you're a fan of horror, The House of the Devil is a far better example of a good modern horror movie with retro sensibilities. If you're not a fan of horror, then you probably shouldn't waste your time with either. I give It Follows a B-.

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