It Follows (2014)

Writer & Director: David Robert Mitchell
Cinematographer: Mike Gioulakis
Composer: Disasterpeace
Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist

Horror movies have become so overly cliched especially during the past decade that when I see previews for them I have a very difficult time distinguishing anything in them that separates them from each other. The same tropes have become so repetitive and over-reliant on gruesome gore that there is no shock value anymore – instead a dull desensitization has taken over audiences, with barely a reaction elicited at the many sights of disemboweling and decapitating that occur at an alarmingly regular pace. Interestingly, it’s no longer horror that causes strong guttural and emotional reactions anymore, rather it seems to now occur especially in television on shows such as Game of Thrones, in which characters are developed only to be offed without warning.

It Follows attempts to do something original, and, while it is many times unsuccessful at it, the fact that it is trying to separate it from the pack and is worthy of some praise. Often during the course of the film the teenagers who make up the cast make irritating decisions that unfortunately tread on waters that have been visited all too often. Several times in the movie the kids run up the stairs, or lock themselves in enclosed spaces with no apparent escape and if I were someone who would scream at the movie screen these are some examples of where I would vent my frustrations loudly. These choices are especially egregious in post-Scream cinematic framework. When Wes Craven’s film came out nearly twenty years ago the landscape of horror movies had already become stale – a perfect environment for a scary movie poking fun at its predecessors. Films that commit the sins that Scream called out are especially cringe-worthy, especially if nothing original is done with the same old behavior. So when a scantily clad young girl runs up the stairs to escape a threat with no original take on the action, why are we, the viewers, supposed to care what happens to her? She is committing a dumb horror cliched crime. Do we really care what happens to her?

But let’s get to what this film does that is interesting. I have still mixed feelings about the message of the movie, but a little background information is needed first. The “It” of the title is some entity/being/succubus that takes on many forms, including those of people its intended victims knows. This monster is a slow moving one – zombies are sprinters compared to the glacial pace of the murderous being. Its origin is unknown and remains so. Once someone becomes its target the only escape is to pass on the curse to someone else before it manages to kill. How is the cursed passed on? Through sex. By having (apparently penetrative heterosexual) sex with someone, anyone, the being shifts its attention to a new victim and the previous person is in the clear, as long as the new person remains alive. If the being kills the holder of the curse, then it works its way back to the previous one – thereby signifying that once on its radar, one is never completely safe.

The punishment for being sexual is a common one in horror films – as the characters engaging in it tend to be the first to be killed off, and the survivor is nearly always a virginal female protagonist. The message of abstinence, especially in women, is a problematic one that permeates society and especially genre films. Unfortunately, this film does not set itself apart from that message, rather still seems to reinforce it. However, once the act has happened the only cure is more sex, which is an interesting and novel idea. It seems to be a commentary on growing up, and that once someone has expressed their sexual preference and experienced this act, then there is no turning back and a need to do it often takes over. Still, innocence and chastity seem to be preferable, and punishment for being sexual is still where this work is grounded, echoing the HIV-phobic subliminal messages in the horror films of the late 80s and early 90s.

The best part of the film is the mood it creates and its score. The shots are beautiful and still. Having an antagonist that is slow and methodical yet always threatening allows for Antonioni-esque framing that demand attention and are nearly hypnotic. The opening minutes are the strongest of the film. The music is also electronic and mechanical, yet soft and dream-like: a new age take on the ambiance of discomfort horror movie music should create. Overall the film has a hard time knowing how to manage these gorgeous and intriguing shots with the much more wild action filled scenes of imminent danger, and it makes for an uneven viewing experience. There were, for me at least, absolutely no scares or jumps. I’m still not sure whether I liked it or not, but I can say one thing: no recent horror film has made me think as much as this one, and that is not nothing.

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