Sunday, 5 July 2015

Movie Review: It Follows (2015)

If there’s anything that is more subjective than the concept of ‘comedy’, it is the concept of ‘horror’ and what makes things scary. Subjectivity is the critical man’s kryptonite, so talking about what can get under people’s skin like I know anything for absolute certain is rather stupid. That said though, and as much as I like to believe otherwise, the current trend in horror films that leans more towards ‘music video horror’ has an audience and I can see why. I know full well that not every moviegoer thinks as intently about what they watch as I do, and that is very much a good thing, and scares generated from smash cuts and sudden loud noises in the soundtrack may not be that substantial but they still work at getting the heart racing. There is as much a place for this breed of film that focuses primarily on editing and soundtrack (hence the term ‘music video horror’) as there is for films that creep a little further under the skin; I just wish that one didn’t far outweigh the other in today’s market. So, with the current prevalence of junk food scares, does today’s subject add to their ranks? This is It Follows.

The plot: After having sex with her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary), Jay (Maika Monroe) is told that she has been cursed. An unknown being that can make itself look like anyone follows those who are cursed, and the person dies if they are caught. The only way that she can save herself is if she passes it on to someone else by having sex with them. With the help of her friends, she explores every possibility she can to rid herself of the curse, but she can’t be sure of who she can trust.

One look at the plot, not to mention the poster complete with backseat banging, and this doesn’t look too good; so much so that even the director realized how bad this initially sounded. Don’t get me wrong, the concept of a shapeshifting killer coming after you no matter where you are is a genuinely scary idea but the emphasis on sex is pretty disheartening. However, as the film carries on, this starts to make further and further sense. Not to say that it starts out on its best foot, as while the scene where Jay is told about the curse is well-shot and acted, the basics of what is happening on screen is rather silly. But as the film carries on, with its numerous and quite deliberately placed shots of couples in varying stages of connection, from flirting to full-on boning, it start clicking into place. Even during the early eras of horror, sexuality has been a big part of the genre’s mythos; look no further than the classic trope of the virgin who survives to the end. The idea of this kind of forced sexual liberation, that being needing to get laid in order to save your own skin, feels like the furthest natural progression from the days when it seemed like Jason Voorhees could smell people having sex with how often it was happening around him. It uses a chicken-and-the-egg approach to the idea that, in even more recent scare fare, the presence of someone/something that will kill them for some reason gets people really horny in films like this. Hell, there’s even a line that addresses the stud/whore double standard in relation to sex in these kinds of horror movies, which earns major points in these parts. There’s also the STD parallels to be drawn here with the way It’s curse is spread, kind of like a porno spoof of The Ring (which, oddly enough, they wouldn’t even need to change the title for), but given how widely-discussed that POV is already, I can be forgiven for leaving that horse where it lies.

Of course, good ideas mean nothing if they aren’t met with equally good execution. Let’s start with the titular ‘It’. Now, at first, the fact that it moves as slowly as it does will raise a few eyebrows as, you know, you could just run the hell away from the thing. But David Robert Mitchell takes this very nightmare-influenced idea and twists it to give it a surprising amount of believability, not limited to having it appear out of nowhere and even out of people’s eye-line, creating some very tense moments. This does end up bringing up some plot holes, like why doesn’t it go after them while they sleep or just appear two feet away from them in the same room, but that isn’t quite enough to take away from the fact, despite how slow and stilted the creature may be, it is still quite terrifying. It’s like a thought experiment of trying to resurrect the old-school slow moving zombies and still make them intimidating when there’s only one of them, and for the most part it works. Couple that with a decent indie cast, and you’ve got yourself a very good baseline for a tense horror film. I say ‘indie cast’ not just because it’s comprised of mostly unknowns and up-and-comers, but also because they have the kind of acting that only seems to find itself in lesser known film festival-type productions, with long monologues to show some level of profundity. Unlike so many other occasions where I’ve seen this, this doesn’t come across as pretentious horse hockey; in fact, it actually ends up culminating in easily the most satisfying conclusion of any film I’ve seen in a long while, horror or otherwise.

So, with all that in the woodwork, how are the actual scares? Well, while we do have a handful of jump scares that are ever-so telegraphed, the film mostly hones in on the atmosphere of its core concept: You are being chased by a creature that make itself look like your closest friend, and you might never know who it is until it’s too late. The tension is built much like the creature’s movements, in that it takes its time to build and build until setting off one of several powder kegs to latch onto the audience. The soundtrack, courtesy of Fez composer Disasterpeace, may get deafeningly loud at times and sound like he’s trying to make the infamous Hans Zimmer horn blast from Inception sound scary, but it weirdly fits in with the unnerving and alienating feel of the film. Of course, said alienating tone can sometimes inspire occasional moments of uncomfortable giggling, like when It appears on a rooftop as a naked guy, but it nudges the line of mindfrag just enough for me to give it a pass. Then there’s the scene where Jay and her friends finally take action and actively fight against It, which takes a major step up from the rest of the film in terms of production quality: The camera work, the lighting, right down to the chilling conclusion, this kind of damn effective filmmaking should be shown in Scares On A Budget 101.

All in all, this is one of those indie successes that genuinely deserves its hype. Never mind that it’s a horror film that makes an effort to be original in today’s day and age while commenting on the tropes of the genre in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s retreading a lot of revisionist horror that has come in recent years. Never mind that it has the kind of writing that is a god-send for people like me who love to deconstruct the themes present to create a more complete experience. Never mind that, despite its relatively low budget, the only real evidence of a tight wallet production wise is the infrequent showing of public domain films superimposed onto a weirdly anachronistic TV. At the end of the day, this is a film that manages to create proper scares without leaning on music video horror too much and does so without resorting to the more egregious parts of the genre like the easily unlikeable cast and actually closes on a satisfying note; do I even need to say that this is recommended? It ranks higher than Mad Max: Fury Road, as the impact of the scares here hit a bit harder than the action beats from that movie did for me, but out of how amazing the acting was and how it coincided with the script, Big Eyes wins out. I may not have seen what everyone else did with The Babadook, but trust me on this one: This is most definitely worth checking out.

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