Thursday, April 2, 2015

Battle Of The Sexes

Year: 2015
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Sex is never a good idea if you're in a horror film. Whether it's the puritanical slashers revenging themselves upon the youthful and libidinous, the Satanic cults that want to infest your womb, or the various horrible diseases, infections, and possessions it opens you up to, just avoid doing the do at all costs. Listen closely. Can you hear faint music that sounds like this? Do yourself a favor and join a convent or something.

Sex has been a part of horror for as long as the genre's been around, dating back to classic literature and even folklore. There's a million reasons to be afraid of the illicit pleasure that has the power to wither, corrupt, cure, infect, and create with wanton arbitrariness, but It Follows has almost miraculously found a new one. 

I mean besides the fact that doing it in the backseat of a car is a cramped, sticky nightmare.

It Follows follows the story of the following: Jay Height (Maika Monroe of The Guest) is a young college student in Detroit. Her ancient rabbit ears television set would seem to indicate that she's in the 80's, but her friend is reading an eBook on some ridiculous Star Trek clamshell compact nonsense that I'm not sure has even been invented yet. So I came to the conclusion that maybe the TV is supposed to indicate that she's poor. But her bedroom is bigger than mine. So... science fiction, it is.

Anyway, Jay goes on a date with the hunkish Hugh (Jake Weary, who somehow survived the terror of being in all 3 Fred movies). All night he acts very strangely, looking over his shoulder and being profoundly distracted. Nevertheless, she finds him likable enough for a quick shag in the backseat of his car, after which he reveals that he is being followed by a relentless shape-shifting creature. It takes the form of whatever person will most help it blend in with your environment, ceaselessly walking toward you until it can reach you and perform a murder most foul. You can outrun it for a stretch, but it will always come trudging, ever trudging for your soul.

The only way to temporarily abate the following is to have sex with another person, at which point the It moves onto them. Once it murders them, it comes back to you. It's like a homicidal game of hot potato. Jay takes to the road with her useless friends: her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), their bookish friend Yara (Olivia Luccardi), their horny hanger-on Paul (Keir Gilchrist of the tremendously underrated United States of Tara), and their half-stud, half-hippy garbage neighbor Greg (Daniel Zovatto) to avoid the It while trying to discover a way to defeat it.

And being very symmetrical in the process.

It Follows can be described the same way that Hugh describes the monster: "It's very slow, but it's not dumb." The film's pacing, much like its intermittently interesting electro-score by Disasterpeace, has that very same deliberate, interminable pounding. In the beginning, this is a mortifyingly dull weakness, but as the steam builds in the film's pressure cooker, it becomes an unstoppable oppressive force.

The film isn't quite scary enough to give nightmares to more than the most impressionable of teenyboppers, but the tension it creates in its later sequences is still insidiously effective, even for hardened horror viewers. 

The various forms of the It twist the mundane world into a deranged nightmare, and the unflagging determination of the slow but steady menace creates an overwhelming pressure in the background of every scene. On top of that, due to the disguised nature of the beast, victims are required to flee to less-populated areas (which are usually a death sentence in these kinds of films), creating an unsettling cognitive dissonance in the minds of the viewers.

Of course, there's also a smattering of the usual suspect jump scares that feel particularly cheap among the riches to be found here. It's like eating a bowl of juicy raspberries and finding a Cap'n Crunch crunchberry hiding in your spoon. It's startling, yes, but it doesn't make you appreciate the experience any more.

Not when I could spend my time being followed around by a raspberry instead. (I think I've lost control of this metaphor.)

That's the real problem with It Follows. For everything it does spectacularly, terrifically well, there's one small rankling element that knocks it down a peg. Much like Paula Abdul's relationship with the cartoon cat, it's two steps forward, two steps back. And yes, I just referenced "Opposites Attract" on a blog in 2015. I deserve a Pulitzer.

Seriously though, every great element of the film has a small negative one latched onto it like a remora on the belly of a shark. 

Example #1: The film is utterly gorgeous. David Robert Mitchell provides It Follows with a slick, well-polished look that balances colors and symmetry in a unique and arresting way. BUT the machinations of the monster lack internal logic, sometimes choosing the exact form that would cause it to stand out rather than blend in with the masses. The forms it picks are scary, yes, so I'm only nitpicking here, but they don't quite gel with Its motivations as we understand them.

Example #2: The monster is one of the absolute best low budget exercises in terror ever conceived. It's astoundingly cheap, but still feels effectively chilling and supernatural without requiring any extensive special effects. BUT other elements of the production value belie its low budget a little too much for a wide release. The audio can be a little muddy at times, the film's predilection for 360 degree shots is not entirely supported by the resolution of the camera, and the shakiness of the cinematography (especially in an early sequence with a wheelchair) is a constant reminder of the camera's presence, breaking the film's reality a little too often.

Example #3: It Follows is super smart. There are loads of valid ways to interpret the film, because the film is cleverly layered in a way that promotes conversation and active viewership. With today's anemic slate of original horror, this is a tremendous boon. [Highlight for my personal interpretation: Although there's a lot to talk about with the sexual angle, like the STD from Hell that prevents future loving relationships from flourishing, or the idea that sex and intimacy are dangerous and terrifying. My personal feeling is that the It represents the ever-present truth of your mortality, which you can push from your mind by seeking pleasure and feigning ignorance, but inevitably comes to retrieve you. At any rate, It Follows is emphatically NOT a date movie.] BUT there's a dismaying amount of heavy-handed symbolism, mainly in the form of Yara reading literary passages from her damn ass seashell e-reader thing that have a direct link with the events onscreen. Wow, what a coincidence. Such merit, so art.

At least the cinematography is still gorgeous no matter what.

So, for these reasons, despite desperately wanting to give It Follows an 8/10 rating, I really can't find it within myself to do so. But I still highly recommend the film. It's clever, intelligent, original horror starring one of the genre's quickly rising stars in her second role of the past year that really should put her on the map. There's a subtle sense of humor, a modern treatise on sex and dating, and a refreshingly non-exploitative use of nudity. All in all, it's a win-win-win even if it ain't perfect.

Brennan says check it out!

TL;DR: It Follows is a terrific original horror film with a clever low budget concept, but it's a little too ponderous to be truly unforgettable.
Rating: 7/10
Should I Spend Money On This? Yes! Support original horror!
Word Count: 1319


  1. I wanna see this an awful, awful lot. May be going tonight!

    I didn't realize, until you pointed it out, that the following monster might be creepy, but it must also be the single cheapest horror conceit possible. Gracious, Brennan, even The Happening demanded renting out some big fans.

  2. I agree exactly with you review Brennan! It has its ups but those downs keep it from being great. Sometimes the monster just grabs your hair and messes with you and sometimes it feels like leaping on you and bam your dead.