It Follows ★★★★½


Teeth, The Conjuring, Juno, Carrie, Oculus, Fright Night, You're Next, Silent Hill: Revelation, The Apparition, House At The End of the Street, I Spit On Your Grave, Atrocious...sorry I'm just listing the films over the last ten years that tried and failed to do what this film does. Is the dry spell over? Finally? Maybe?

Let me get some business out of the way first. The Babadook scared me more than this did, but can we please stop comparing them like we have to fall on one side of the divide or another. When horror's good we all win. Remember when The Conjuring and Insidious were all anyone wanted to talk about? We're in a richer time, people, let's not miss the forest for the trees. These movies are both excellent.

The victory is two-fold: it's an elemental adolescence movie (whoever said that thing about this being the best adaption of It we're ever gonna get is a hundred percent on the money) uninterested in simplicity, and a horror film that takes risks in the way it chooses to frighten you.

1. I hated Myth of the American Sleepover. It drove me up the goddamn fuckin' wall. It should be hanging in a gallery in Queens no one ever visits. David Robert Mitchell's preferred method of directing actors is to exsanguinate their performances until they all sound and act alike. In Myth it was insanely enervating because it was supposed to just be about kids doing kid stuff and wound up like a Stepford Wives sequel. Tough to sympathize with kids who blankly smile at everything and never raise their voices for any fucking reason. It felt like kids play acting for a guy who'd seen one too many Fassbinders. Here, however, it works splendidly because the terror only gets to strike those infected by it. Jay knows what's out there, everyone else is just dulled by the pain of how bad life sucks being a kid in a Detroit suburb. The shot of Jay's mom passed out in bed is all the exposition the film needs, and Mitchell makes sure to place everything perfectly so we don't ever need the point underlined again. This is a John Hughes movie in an age where every emotion kids feel has been smothered by collective indifference. The kids can't even really empathize with each other because they *all* have problems they're dealing with. I love, for instance, that Paul's feelings about Jay are always in danger of obscuring his sympathy for her. Jay's friends are still just teenagers from broke-ass homes. However, DRM has a diversity problem which he needs to correct: he's filming in Detroit and you could count the black people in his movies on one hand. That seems...wrong. I mean, I assume it's because this was how his childhood looked, but, like...come the fuck on, dude.

I was kind of expecting the film to have a more pronounced mean streak after all I'd read about it being an STD parable, but I don't know if it's quite that simple. Like its influences, its metaphors are semi-nomadic. The It of the title is more generally adulthood, methinks, and how goddamn treacherous it is. It's basically warning kids against the age 20 and how quickly it turns into 30. The mistakes we make can feel like an avalanche once they start. The boat scene is what underlines this for me and breaks down the STD metaphor for me. There's a dreadful sense of obligation to it: to me this is about debasing ourselves in non-sexual ways. That's why Mitchell cuts away before anything happens.

2. After the woman from Room 237, the second proper ghoul who appears to Jay (Maika Monroe is fast becoming my favourite young actress) has heavy eye make-up VERY reminiscent of the zombies from Night of the Living Dead. Old fashioned theatrics. They very probably don't work on some people, but I love them to pieces. Even when they don't work, they have boldness about them. They're just folks with a few things off about them. There's a queasiness to them at first because they're largely naked women, one of them is missing teeth, most of them are kind of dirty, one of them is a black student though you can't see her all that well. But a climactic revelation says to me that these are just projections of Jay's subconscious; i.e. people who she's met before who are now being used against her. So they didn't wind up bothering me, but again, I can see why they might.

The film's biggest influence isn't Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street, although they're both in there in a big way. The film It Follows most reminded me of was Let's Scare Jessica To Death, and I'm shocked Kim Newman didn't mention it in his review. Wonky synth-laden atmosphere, a woman's isolated haunting, the ghoul make-up, the pastel-hued pallet, the mist in the air, the occasional jaunts to the beach/obsession with water, and a woman's past coming to haunt her. All right outta LSJTD, along with a girl whose friends want to but can't quite sympathize with her problem. His compositions are also way more out of John D. Hancock's book than Carpenters. At first I thought it was just inadequate mimesis, until I realized he wasn't trying to look like Carpenter, because they look at things in fundamentally different ways. The movement, angles, aspect ratio are firmly un-Carpenterian, even if the music and suburban hellscapes occasionally call Halloween to mind. Just look at the way he frames the kids together: Carpenter would never have uncentered the frame like that. It's too self-consciously un-geometric (ordinarily I'd prefer JC's way of doing things, but DRM's method is really eye-catching. Helps the ragged group dynamic form). Hancock and Mitchell are both about uneasy movement; there's not just terror lurking behind doors but also utter confusion. The third ghoul Jay sees is a great example of this. It just kind of lumbers into frame, a little too big for the space and in no great hurry to do any damage. That kind of "Holy Shit! Wait...what?" is all over LSJTD, which again is why I don't buy this as a sex panic movie. She's scared, we're more bowled over by the sheer oddness. Think about the appearance of a false mother late in the film. The way the person being visited knows that she's not real is because her breast is exposed: not scary just incorrect to that character's understanding of their mother. It's only scary because in that one moment, a young person has to consider that their parents have sex, are human beings, and also, they gave birth to you and nurtured you. Like much else in the film it requires unpacking before it becomes something more than grotesque for the sake of grotesquerie, but it's smarter and less objectionable than it first looks.

There's a slight spoiler ahead about the shape of the ending, but not the content. So, save this next paragraph until after you've seen the movie.

*I also love the unsatisfying ending. I think there's maybe a way he could have fused climax 1 and climax 2 to make something a touch more cathartic, but the way Mitchell leaves things has a touch of Gore Verbinski's The Ring about it, and while *that* probably wasn't intentional, it mostly works in the film's favour. Part of me wanted more, part of me is very happy I didn't get more.*

Spoilers over

In short, there's a lot going on here. It's sort of the Drive of horror movies, so now I just need to watch it a whole fucking bunch more to figure out if there's more to it than my ecstatic feeling leaving it the first time. I still like Drive just fine, but it's faded in the rearview. It's only been a few hours but It Follows has started to blossom in my mind since I've left the theatre. Nice job, Dave. Keep making horror movies, please, I think they're your calling.