31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: ‘It Follows’

For the last 8 years I’ve been watching a horror movie a day during the month of October. And then (because I’m not too bright), I’ve been writing up a rambling, barely coherent post about each. This year I’m sharing the madness on FilmExodus.com! I guess we’ll see if that turns out to be a good idea or not.

Here are the rules I try to abide by:

  1. It’s got to be a horror movie (straight sci-fi, thrillers and mysteries are generally out, though rules are made to be broken).
  2. I have to watch one a day, but I might not get to write it up for a day or two.
  3. No set watch-list. I’ll decide that day what I’ll watch (and I’ll take recommendations under consideration). The only exception is if I get an itching for a particular film and I don’t currently have access – I’ll plan around when I can rent/borrow/buy it.
  4. I try to do theme weekends – past years have seen things like :Spanish Language Time Travel Horror, Horror Comedies, and Vincent Price Movies With “Doctor Phibes” In The Title.
  5. Probably should go without saying, but there are bound to be spoilers galore.

Today was a rough one to get started on. Day after a migraine is always a brain crash and I had a ton of work to do. On top of that, my in-laws stopped in hoping to have some tech support. So I spent two hours chasing the Ouroboros of an account connected to an email with a lost password whose backup email is from an ISP that no longer exists and a phone number that is ringing to a phone 25 miles of the coast of Maine with no one to answer it and that needs to be updated by logging in to the first account which…

Anyway.

When I finally got a few minutes to watch a movie I wasn’t really in a horror movie mood. Which, it turns out, is exactly the mood I needed to be in to watch a horror movie I haven’t wanted to watch again for a while.

None of this makes sense, does it? Ah well, on to the first movie of 2018!

It Follows

I’m not sure why I haven’t rewatched It Follows since seeing it in the theater. I know I liked it – in fact I remember thinking I’d have to watch it again, maybe even pick up the Blu-ray. Time passed, though, and even after it was released on Netflix it sat in my queue and I just kept overlooking it.

I think I always felt like I’d just seen it. I don’t even know how to explain that, given that it’s been four years since the movie came out. It happens to me sometimes – I’ll see a movie a hundred times and not get tired of it, or see it once and then be all ‘nah, I’m good’ if it comes up again.

To cut the rambling short(ish) –  I just haven’t felt like re-watching It Follows… until today.

The Medium

It Follows is currently streaming on Netflix. The stream was good quality, but watching it on the small screen diminished the experience somewhat. I missed the opportunity to scrutinize the backgrounds at the level of detail that the big screen allowed.

The Movie

I think of It Follows as a nightmare. It looks like a nightmare, it feels like a nightmare, and it has that weird sort of dream logic where nothing you do seems to make a difference. You run and you run and no matter how far you go or how fast you go, when you turn around whatever you’re running from is right there.

GAH!

 

From the very first scene – a suburban street at dusk, revealed  in the first of many languid, floating 360 degree pans – the film feels slightly unreal. Disconnected. Not that it isn’t familiar – the setting evokes comparisons with John Carpenter’s Halloween and when a girl in nightclothes (and high heels) runs from one of the nearly identical houses we’re almost certain that someone or something will pursue her into the gathering dark. Nothing does however, nothing we can see anyway. The scene continues, but the rhythm is different, and it throws you off – or it threw me off, anyway.

Then the movie proper begins, and we meet Jay – played with a sleepy-eyed detachment by Maika Monroe. A disaffected young college student still living at home, still drifting through life like she drifts in the above-ground pool in the backyard. Other characters are introduced with typical horror movie economy – the pining nerd, the jealous sister, the former-flame next door. And, of course, the really nice guy she’s dating – the one with the terrible secret.

I seriously thought about just posting that Killer Klowns image again.

 

It’s that secret that lies at the heart of It Follows. Her beau has what has to be one of the worst sexually transmitted diseases of all time. There’s something monstrous following him, trying to kill him. When the inevitable occurs and Jay has sex with him, that thing is passed on to her. It’s horror movie cliché that sex-equals-death, of course, but here the trope is reversed. The only way to rid oneself of the curse is to have sex with someone else – passing it on to them. (Though if that person then dies, it makes its way back down the chain – neatly circumventing the obvious tactic of sleeping with your hated ex.)

The majority of the film involves Jay and her friends trying to deal with a presence that only she can see, that can look like anyone, and that absolutely will not stop. The feeling of unreality established in the opening scene persists throughout the film. Shots linger longer than they should.  David Robert Mitchell uses a lot of wide lenses and they isolate the characters in the foreground, which combines with the longer shots to give us time to peruse the background for things that are out of place, off. Even closeups have plenty of depth of field and there’s always someone – or something – moving in that background space.

Is that a Klown back there? It is, isn’t it.

 

It Follows is a horror movie by way of indie-film character study – there are portentous scenes where young people say very little in very meaningful ways. A character reads Dostoevsky aloud. The main character stares into the middle distance without blinking while another character shifts nervously. I sometimes find this meaningful-meaninglessness to be annoying, but somehow it works in this context. It contributes to that dream-like feeling of unreality, as does the almost complete lack of adult presence. The characters – young, but not children – live in a vacuum that lacks significant relationship with the larger world.

The setting also facilitates that nightmare feeling. Despite the earlier comparison this isn’t Carpenter’s 1970’s Illinois, this is modern Detroit. A dim and grimy suburbia where similarity breeds contempt rather than familiarity. The characters live on the border of  an urban decay that presents itself more as a profound isolation than a distinct threat.  The looming, vacant-windowed buildings and empty, orange-lit parking lots are a modern wasteland, nearly empty of people and providing little in the way of comfort or context. Even the suburban houses, so similar and normal on the outside, are mazes of dim rooms lit only be the blue glare of the television.

And sometimes weird flower lamps.

 

Then there’s the soundtrack. The synth score by Disasterpeace is initially disconcerting – it feels like it belongs in an older, more Italian horror film. I couldn’t help feeling at times that someone had taken a Goblin score for an unreleased 1980’s Argento movie and simply repurposed it. That being said, it IS really effective, and in a movie that – for the most part – studiously avoids the standard cinematic shock cuts and jump scares, it provides much of the eerie and occasionally disturbing mood.

There are missteps. Sometimes the pacing is too glacial, even for the kind of mood they’re trying to create. One scene in a bathroom lingered so long on so little that when one of the rare jump scares occurred it didn’t work – I’d forgotten that we were supposed to be building up to something. There are a few action set pieces that are disjointed and confusing. The final scenes are too few and go by too quickly – especially compared to the earlier pacing.

This scene takes approximately an hour and a half, for instance.

 

The Bottom Line

It Follows is a really good horror movie, even on a belated second viewing. Knowing the set pieces and jumps let me pay more attention to things going on in the background and details like how IT often wears the form of someone Jay knows. (And what time period does this even take place in? Tube TVs but clamshell Kindles?) It unsettles more often than it scares, but it does that really well. Definitely worth a watch – or even two.