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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Movie Review: It Follows

Not Just Another Horror Flick.

WARNING: This review contains major spoilers.

Review by David Clark

The anticipated wide theatrical release of the independent film It Follows is close at hand. This should be good news for fans of the horror genre. The film follows a group of high school students as they deal with the intricacies of peer pressure, social anxiety, sexual tension, and relationships that have plagued teenagers for generations.

The main stars in the movie are Maika Monroe (Jay), Lili Sepe (Kelly), Keir Gilchrist (Paul), Olivia Luccardi (Yara), Jake Weary (Jeff), and Daniel Zovatto (Greg). The cast that commanded the majority of the screen time for this movie has little experience in the film industry. They are also a fairly young group, mostly in their early-to-mid twenties, which makes sense considering they are portraying a group of teenagers. Despite being young in the industry and life, these actors and actresses put forth a believable and entertaining performance.

The individual responsible for their success is David Robert Mitchell, the writer and director of It Follows. If you find yourself asking “who?” right now you are likely not the only one. Perhaps even less well known than the people portraying his characters, Mitchell has only written and directed two other movies. His other films consist of a drama short called Virgin (2002), and a feature length film called The Myth of the American Sleepover (2010), which was a comedy. What inspired Mitchell to stretch his comfort zone again with a film in the horror genre is unknown, clearly he has a diverse range within which he is proving to be quite accomplished.

Still uncertain about the movie? One thing audiences do not need to worry about with Mitchell’s latest film is a bait-and-switch. The movie is called It Follows and that is exactly what the movie is about. Well, that and a bunch of horny teenagers trying to figure out the nuances of their complex hormone driven lives.

After an opening that sets the tone with a brutal death the narrative gets underway. Jay is the main character and she is your average, boy obsessed, good looking, young teenage girl. For the most part she has lived a rather uneventful life. She is in high school and spends most of her time hanging out with her friends, dating, and talking about boys.

On a particularly hot date Jay finds herself in the backseat of a car with a local hunk that recently moved to town. One thing leads to another and suddenly the two are playing show and tell in the backseat of his car. The heart throb hunk (Jeff) turns out to be a not-so-good guy. He is actually both a victim and assailant that has, what can only be described as, a new kind of horror oriented sexually transmitted disease. This is definitely not the kind of STD/curse that anyone would want to get. The symptoms might include but are not limited to: a brutally gory death, insanity, an urge to walk fast, paranoia, and a desire to have sex with random guys on a boat.

Only one person can have this curse at a time and it can be passed on through the act of sex. Not unlike Final Destination, the curse in It Follows will go down the line one at a time and kill everyone that has ever been infected. The curse is manifested in the form of a monster that can take human form and look like anybody. It is always walking straight for the person currently holding the curse. If a person with the curse dies the monster will go after the person who gave them the curse. Should a person with the curse pass it to some other poor unsuspecting victim through sex, they are safe unless the person that contracted the curse dies. The curse monster goes down the list, always walking, always killing, until it catches the current cursed victim and kills them.

Jeff had sex with Jay because he was trying to pass on this curse. He was being followed by the shape-shifting monster that, if it ever caught up to him, would kill him. It is never really disclosed as to what this ‘thing’ is, be it a demon, ghost, poltergeist, or some other undisclosed creepy crawly. A person carrying around the sex curse will always have this creature following, thus the title It Follows.

Jay inherits the follower from Jeff and must face the moral dilemma of whether she should pass it on, deal with it, or give up. Not believing the curse to be real at first Paul and Greg, friends of Jay, selflessly volunteer to help her pass on the curse. Dealing with hormone driven boys, sex, and relationships, is difficult enough for a teenager without the added motivation of survival. Eventually the stress forces Jay into making decisions that would likely require a normal person to get years of therapy.

The camera work in It Follows definitely adds character and drama to the scenes as they unfold. Mitchell utilizes long one-cut stationary shots, 360 degree panning shots, and purposeful scenes showing an infinite expanse into the horizon. These techniques are not only unique but work well within the film by emphasizing elements like space, time, and distance. For example, there are moments in the movie where the panning shots add a very real sense of claustrophobia. In contrast to that effect, at other times the never ending horizon and infinite road shots give the feel of unlimited possibilities.

Impressively executed, the unique camera play in this movie influences the perception of the overall story. However, not to be outdone, the audio and score might be the real stars. That is not to say the score in this movie is diverse or something that might soothe a restless soul to sleep, quite the opposite. The score in this movie is at times repetitive and even distracting. Normally traits that would count against the movie, but in It Follows this seems to have been done intentionally.

Overall this is a serenely quiet film. For the most part the dialogue in the movie is spaced out and plays second fiddle to other sounds. In truth, the characters really do not speak all that much. The camera techniques coupled with the ambient sounds help set the mood and pace of each scene. The decreased level of dialogue does not take away from the characters or the overall movie, if anything it makes the scenes being watched feel like they could almost be real. Nobody actually talks with the frequency that people do in movies anyway right? One of the best aspects in the movie is the way the quiet moments impact and build into the frantic moments and the accompanying score.

Written by Rich Vreeland, who records under the name Disasterpeace, the score is harder to follow than New Orleans Jazz on speed. The score does not play a lot during the movie and when it does it is used strategically. It will start to crescendo from within one of the ambient quiet moments. When the film starts to reach the peak of a suspenseful event the score will start to lose any semblance of music or melody; replaced by ominous and chaotic tones. Whenever the movie was ready to ramp up the crazy the same type of music, if you can call it that, would return with slight variations. Plainly put, the tactic of the quiet ambient noises building into a crescendo of frantic chaos added a sense of intense panic to scenes that might have otherwise been quite mundane.

It Follows is a great example of the ‘whole’ being more than the sum of its’ parts. Dissect this movie into individual categories: you have an inexperienced writer, directing a group of unproven people, in a low budget independent film, with hardly any dialogue, and a score that could melt the wax out of a screaming monkey’s ears. Put the pieces together and you have layers that improve upon each other. The actors, though unproven, are aided by the fact that they do not have to carry scenes with dialogue. The intense moments in the film are not telegraphed by action sequences or dialogue, they are built through quiet ambient moments and crescendo into a rabid score that feels like it is urging the characters to run faster. The low budget of the movie is masked by a directors keen eye for creating a realistic and tangible world through clever cinematography. Perhaps the movie should not work, but It Follows works.

Overall I would have to recommend this movie for fans of the genre. It might not be a jump-scare type of movie but the suspense-horror should please people. Mitchell does a great job creating a movie about teenagers and sex without making it raunchy. If anything, this film de-glorifies sex and makes it more realistic. Without ranting about it, sex is often presented in an unrealistically exaggerated way through many popular mediums. This gives audiences a false expectation of what to expect when it comes to sex in real life.

If you want to see It Follows because you heard it was about teenagers, sex, and a sex craved boogie monster you might be disappointed by what you find. Mitchell explores the darker side of peer pressure and sex in this movie while telling a horror story. This is not the typical horror film with the blonde-bilbo running upstairs in high heels and a sheer nightgown. This is a slow paced, methodical, and suspense filled horror film that is pulled along by some very dark social themes.

It Follows was originally shown in 2014 at the Cannes Film Festival. The film also had a limited release in theaters earlier this year in France and the UK. Limited screenings began domestically earlier in March and the wide theatrical release is coming March 27. It Follows is rated R and has a runtime of 100 minutes.



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