Tuesday, March 31, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: It Follows

It Follows was written and directed by David Robert Mitchell. 

The film is a slow-burning throwback to 1980s horror films, reminiscent of John Carpenter's Halloween, with a dash of A Nightmare On Elm Street thrown in for good measure. Like many 80s horror films, it's a thinly disguised parable on the evils of promiscuity and STDs.

The central idea of a monster that relentlessly pursues you no matter where go taps into deep primal fears that we all have. In fact the director himself said he based the "It" entity on a recurring nightmare he had as a child.

It's also a very low budget affair, made for just $2 million dollars! Most movies spend more than that on their craft service these days! 

The entire film is a marvel of low budget movie making. There are no big name stars in the cast. It was filmed in the economically depressed remains of Detroit, which I have to imagine is pretty cheap these days. There are no special effects to speak of, and little or no prosthetic makeup. And because the titular "It" of the film assumes the appearance of any person, there was no need for an elaborate rubber monster suit or CGI.

Despite all that, it's an effective little chiller. Sometimes having no money is a good thing, as it forces the filmmakers to be more creative.


The Plot:
The film opens as a young woman, clad in a perfectly reasonable ensemble of underwear and high heels, flees something that apparently only she can see. The next morning she's found brutally murdered, her limbs twisted into impossible positions.

A few days later, Jay, a young woman with a confusingly masculine name, goes to a movie with her boyfriend Hugh. Inside the theater Hugh spots a woman in a yellow dress walking toward him and abruptly tells Jay they have to leave immediately. Jay doesn't see anyone.

On their next date, Jay has sex with Hugh in his car. When they're finished, he chloroforms her and she wakes up tied to a wheelchair under an overpass. Hugh calmly explains he's being followed by some unrelenting, murderous entity, and has now passed the curse onto Jay through sex, which absolutely isn't a metaphor for STDs. 

As a result of this, Jay will now be pursued by "It," which can only be seen by those with the curse. "It" can take the form of anyone it chooses, and will follow her at a brisk walking pace until it catches and kills her. At that point the curse will revert to Hugh. Just then Jay sees a naked woman walking toward her, which she assumes must be "It." Hugh hurriedly drives her home and dumps her in front of her house.

Jay contacts the police, but they can find no sign of Hugh, who apparently lied about his name and address. Jay returns to school and sees an old woman in a hospital gown walking toward her. She returns home, and her gang, consisting of her sister Kelly and friends Paul and Yara, agree to stay over and protect her. During the night "It" returns, in the form of yet another naked and bloodied woman. Jay flees to a nearby playground.

With the help of her friends and John Bender-esque neighbor Greg, they're able to track down Hugh, whose real name is Jeff. He tells them he got the curse from a one night stand, which again absolutely isn't a metaphor for unsafe sex. Greg takes Jay and the gang to his family's lake house to hide from "It." While there, Greg teaches Jay how to use a gun. As everyone relaxes at the lake house, "It" catches up to Jay and begins attacking her. Paul hits it with a chair, proving that even though it's invisible, it has a solid form. Jay manages to shoot "It," but it continues its pursuit. Jay flees in Greg's car and crashes into a tree ten seconds later.

Jay wakes in the hospital, surrounded by her friends. Greg gallantly offers to sleep with her so she'll pass the curse onto him, as he says he doesn't believe in it (surrrre that's why). Later after Jay is released from the hospital, she sees what appears to be Greg breaking into his own home. She realizes she's seeing "It," and tries to warn Greg, but is too late. "It" takes the form of his mother and kills him.

Paul, who's harbored a long-time crush on Jay, offers to sleep with her next in order to save her, but she refuses, not wanting to pass the deadly curse onto another friend. They then come up with a foolproof plan. They set a trap in a curiously well-maintained abandoned indoor pool, lining the edges with plugged in appliances, hoping to electrocute "It" in the water. Jay enters the pool, serving as bait.

"It" arrives, taking the form of Jay's (dead?) father. "It" refuses to enter the water though, instead throwing the plugged in appliances at her with deadly accuracy. Kelly throws a blanket over "It," giving it form long enough for Paul to shoot it in the head, knocking it into the pool. "It" then grabs Jay and attempts to pull her under. She manages to escape as Paul shoots it in the head again, seemingly killing it for good.

Days later Jay and Paul finally have sex. Paul then drives to a seedy part of town, where he sees two prostitutes on the corner, implying he passes the curse onto one of them. Nice guy, that Paul.

As the film ends, Jay and Paul walk down the street hand in hand, as someone behind them may or may not be following them. The End... Or IS IT?????

• The film takes place in a strange parallel universe with no clear-cut time frame. The characters drive older model cars, dress in a variety of styles and watch black and white shows on 19" picture tube TVs. Yet somehow Jay's friend Yara has a bizarre Kindle-type device shaped like a sea shell.

I'm assuming this timelessness was deliberate, in order to give the film a surreal, dreamlike quality. Either that or the director honestly has no idea what year this is.

• The rules of the It curse could have been spelled out a bit more clearly. As near as I can tell, if a cursed person has sex with you, the curse is then passed on to you. "It" then follows you at a moderate pace until it catches and kills you. The only way to throw "It" off your trail is to pass on the curse to someone else. However, if "It" kills that person, then you move back up to the front of the line and it'll be after you again. At least I think that's how it works.

• As mentioned earlier, the "It" curse is a pretty blatant metaphor for AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. It's an interesting, if unpleasant, direction to go, and probably more compelling than the usual psycho killer angle.

• After Hugh/Jeff has sex with Jay for the first time, he knocks her out with chloroform and ties her to a wheelchair, then proceeds to tell her the rules of the curse.

Was all that really necessary? Couldn't he have just told her about the curse while they were sitting in the car together? It all seemed a bit too theatrical, and I'm betting the only reason they had Hugh/Jeff knock her out was to make it seem like he was the killer for a few minutes.

• At least Hugh/Jeff was considerate enough to warn Jay that he'd passed the curse to her, which is more than she did for her various victims.

• Sometimes "It" takes the form of an innocuous stranger, but other times it appears as various bloodied and mutilated corpses. I'm assuming these latter forms represent its previous victims?

• Nice attention to detail— when Jay and her gang find Hugh/Jeff's flophouse, they break in looking for clues. In his bedroom they see a moldy mattress, a stack of porn magazines... and dozens of wadded up Kleenexes littering the floor. Ew. True to life, but ew.

• Jay and her gang eventually track down Hugh/Jeff at his mom's house (!) and confront him. They then all sit in his back yard drinking sodas, calmly and civilly discussing why he chose to pass a deadly curse on to Jay.

They certainly take this much better than I would have. Even if you ignore the whole curse thing, Hugh/Jeff still chloroformed Jay and dumped her half-naked body in the street in front of her house when he was finished with her. Not to mention the fact that the police are looking for him. Luckily for Hugh/Jeff, neither Jay or anyone in her gang ever think to inform them of his whereabouts.

• I appreciate the film's "slow burn" tone, but I think it may have been a little too slow. At times it comes very close to crossing the line between "thoughtful and deliberate" and "sleep-inducing."

• The soundtrack was very reminiscent of the one in John Carpenter's Halloween, which I'm sure was deliberate.

• I don't need to have every little plot point spelled out for me like I was a mouth-breathing cretin, but there were a few puzzling scenes I thought were a little too vague. Whether these scenes are the result of poor editing or sloppy writing, I can't decide.

For example— at one point Jay drives to the beach to escape "It." She sees a boat full of young guys out in the lake. She stares at them for a few minutes, then walks into the water, peeling off her clothes. We then immediately cut to her driving home, her matted wet hair stuck to her face.

So... I guess we're supposed to infer that she swam out to the boat and had sex with at least one of the guys, to hand off the curse? Or did she chicken out halfway and swim back to shore? Apparently it's none of our concern.

If she did deliberately seduce any of the innocent boat men, essentially condemning them to death, then she's no better than Hugh/Jeff, and comes off as much less sympathetic. 

There's another similarly vague scene at the end of the film. After Jay finally has sex with Paul, we see him slowly drive past a couple of prostitutes. The implication here is he's callously planning to pass the curse onto one of them. Because they're whores, I guess we're not supposed to care that he condemned them to death. Once again we don't know if he actually went through with it or not.

• As the film opens, Jay is floating serenely in her backyard pool. Later when she comes back from her did-she-or-didn't-she boat party, the pool has been severely damaged. We never see it happen, and no one ever says anything about it. I think this was supposed to be yet another metaphor. Jay considers the pool to be a safe haven. Womb-like, even. I'm betting the damaged pool is supposed to visually represent her loss of safety and innocence.

• Jay and her gang's endgame doesn't seem very well thought out. They hope to lure "It" to an abandoned municipal pool using Jay as bait. Once "It" enters the water, they'll toss in a variety of plugged-in electrical appliances in an effort to electrocute the entity.

Whoops! That won't work anymore. Yes, there was a time when you could kill your spouse by throwing a plugged-in toaster into their bathtub, but those days are gone. We now have GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interupter) outlets to protect against just such a thing. When these circuits detect a power surge, they trip the breaker and shut off the juice to the outlet. A swimming pool would most definitely have GFCI outlets around it.

Now that I think about it, this could be a case of the story's vague time period/parallel universe coming into play. Maybe in this world GFCI outlets haven't been invented.

Even if they don't have safety outlets, there's some question as to whether an appliance could electrify the large amount of water in a pool.

• About that pool... it seems awfully well maintained and clean for a supposedly abandoned facility.

• Eventually "It" tracks down Jay at the pool, but refuses to enter the water. Paul has trouble shooting it, since it's invisible to him. Kelly throws a towel over "Its" head, giving Paul something to aim for.

So... if you could throw a towel over "It," that means it had solid form. That also means that we should have been able to see it once it fell into the pool. "It" should have appeared as a man-shaped empty bubble in the pool water, even to non-cursed viewers.

• After "It" is killed, Jay finally has sex with Paul. I get that he's hopelessly in love with Jay, but if I was him, after I saw her so blithely and willingly sleep with three or four other guys in the past few days (even if it was to remove a curse), I think I'd be over her.

It Follows is a surreal and unsettling low budget horror thriller that will stick with you long after the credits roll. They might want to tone down the blatant sexual metaphors though. I give it a B.

1 comment:

  1. It’s really spooky and doesn’t rely too much on cheap jump scares but rather builds tention gradually.


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