IT FOLLOWS (2015, David Robert Mitchell)
Entering theaters with a massive amount of hype built up among the cinephile community (thanks to appearances at Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, and just about every other film festival held over the past 10 months), yet little-to-no mainstream marketing muscle, Mitchell’s modern horror film had a lot to live up to. Perhaps without these expectations my reaction would be stronger, but still — for the most part it does live up to the hype: it’s scary, it’s photographed incredibly well, and it avoids some of the lamer horror tropes that sink many in this genre.
The premise (a ghost/monster/creature/thing that stalks you and everyone you’ve slept with) is a giant honking metaphor for STDs — most specifically AIDS in the ’80s and ’90s, since sex basically equals death in this film. If you catch this thing, you’ll die sooner or later, and whoever you bang is going to get it too. To fuck someone is to murder them, essentially. Regressive, isn’t it? Same with the idea that when you fuck somebody, you’re actually fucking everyone they’ve ever slept with. This never made sense to me. But anyway, even being HIV+ isn’t a death sentence anymore. The amount of life-or-death terror heaped on the sexual act in this film, then, can most charitably be read as a comment on how important sex seems to you when you’re losing your virginity. But even that seems a bit dated.
Speaking of dated, when does this movie take place? It’s kind of fascinating — all the cars are old, the characters use wall-corded landlines (nobody seems to have a cell phone), and all the TVs are old CRTs. So it takes place in the ’80s, right? Well hold on — the youngest sister uses this weird Kindle-type reader that looks like a seashell-shaped compact but contains all of her school reading. It’s literally the only modern piece of technology in the entire film. Then again, Mitchell is aping John Carpenter (specifically HALLOWEEN) so loudly that he probably wants 2015 to be 1980. [The last film to be this Carpenter-heavy was THE GUEST, which I thought of frequently during this, yet without even recognizing that Maika Monroe plays the female protagonist in both movies — and she’s quite good].
Other questions involve the logistics of the premise: Does it transfer if you use a condom? What about oral or anal sex, or gay sex? What about group sex — who will it follow? What if you start but don’t climax? If the thing can break through doors and windows, why does it knock so often? It can walk great distances, but can it get onto boats or planes? If not, just fly to Hawaii. Sometimes it walks right through people, but sometimes you can feel it if you bump into it. Does it smell?
Okay, enough nit-picking. This is a pretty good movie; the camera stalks with purpose and does terrific things with creepy reveals and all edges of the frame. The characters are nicer to each other than most teen horror films, and bond together with sibling love and deep friendships rather than isolating each other. And whenever the acting isn’t so hot, Mitchell’s camera takes over the heavy lifting. The entire thing is drenched in water imagery — we first see Monroe in a cheap, above-ground swimming pool; there’s rain and ocean and lakes everywhere; and the climactic battle with the thing (the film’s best sequence by far) takes place in a massive indoor pool. (Not to mention one of the ghost-zombie figures is soaking wet and peeing on herself while stalking Monroe). And a shot early in that above-ground pool is key: Monroe notices an ant crawling down her arm, so she gently submerges her skin in the water, and the bug is easily lifted off of her. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the bugs we had around us could be removed so gracefully?
A couple notes I didn’t fit in here:
* Mitchell falters when he tries too strenuously to get the movie’s themes into the text, such as when teachers or sisters read text aloud from books — the biggest offender is the youngest sister sitting there talking about how death is inescapable and relentless.
* The sound design and foley effects are often laughable. With so many other good technical credits here, it’s weird how risible the audio work is — half-open cabinets are opened with massive latch-catching noises, doors creak far too much, and a tuna sandwich on white bread is chewed as if it were a bag of potato chips. (Followed by a juice box sounding like it was a pool being drained). I can see this entire sound design being intended — over-modulation and exaggeration as an artistic comment on the world, but it doesn’t gel with the acting methods, the production design, or the tone.