What I'm Watching: It Follows
Oh, this one is LONG LONG overdue. I saw this in *theatres* and watched it a few times on DVD since then, even. Since I am doing a lot of reviews this week, that's as good as an excuse to FINALLY get around to reviewing It Follows.
The plot here is pretty simple. Jay, after having sex with her new boyfriend Hugh, discovers that she's been cursed through this act to be stalked by an entity only she (And others similarly cursed) can see. She can only escape this creature by passing it along to someone else through sex. This entity is also capable of taking on whatever form it desires, so it can appear as friends or family to get close to you, or take on the visage of strangers so you suspect EVERYone, or just plain downright strange looking people to freak you right the hell out.
It's a simple idea, with simple rules, and the movie lays them out very well, and actually sticks to them. There is no Magical Loophole clause that lets them get out of it, and even if you pass the curse onto someone else, if the creature catches them and kills them, it resumes coming after you. Even if it gets passed down and down and down, if it kills them all, it's coming right back for you.
I'm calling this the terror of inevitability. And that is something that is truly terrifying, and truly inescapable. Once Jay is cursed, she knows that thing is out there, walking towards her, no matter how far or how fast she runs, drives, flies, etc. It's always out there, walking towards her, and it could be anyone, anywhere. That is *terrifying*. And even if you escape it, it could come back AT ANY TIME, and you wouldn't know it. She will be forever looking over her shoulder, no matter how many people she becomes removed from it. Even on her final days, decades down the road, it could still return.
I love that. I love it a LOT. The idea is original, unique, and downright terrifying. This movie *affected* me. Just knowing that something might one day be out there, coming for me, or right behind me right now, just really messes with my head. Even months later, when I started thinking about doing this review finally, it started to freak me out in the dark hours of an empty house.
I also love that the movie uses this as a metaphor for coming of age, losing ones virginity, and STDs, all rolled into one, while talking about that strangely terrifying time of growing up, between one phase of life and the next, and the ethereal Otherness one becomes after their sexual awakening.
And while it makes it clear that such ideas are its metaphor, it doesn't hammer you with it. It puts it out there and lets it be, for the viewer to do whatever they want with the ideas, and doesn't keep coming back to almost say, "SEE SEE WE'RE CLEVER GET IT." Like another recent horror movie I might talk about later...
The movie also has a feeling like it is straight out of Guillermo Del Toro's head, as there's a whimsical sense of terror when the creature becomes more terrifying to freak out Jay and her friends.
I love the way this movie is shot, too. Most of it is done with a steadycam, although I didn't sit there and analyze every shot, and eventually I just get sucked in and don't pay attention to that stuff AT ALL. But for most of the movie, the shooting is *very* smooth, gliding along, spinning in slow circles to take in surroundings and possible creatures coming for Jay. Most movies would go straight for the frenetic energy of a handheld camera running around, but It Follows goes this other direction, and uses it to great effect on its own terms, like increasing the spinning when things start to go haywire, making you feel on edge like you're spinning around trying to see what you missed out of the corner of your eye before it grabs you and drags you away. That gets added to by the creepy, tingly music that's a little bit synth, a little bit 80s, and just plain strange and indescribable.
Speaking of the 80s, It Follows doesn't seem to exist in any definable time period. It's clearly modern with the use of cellphones, but it has this curious throwback feel to it that makes it almost timeless, which is good, as it should help the movie endure and not feel dated.
There are a few odd bits to the movie, like the cold open feels like it's from another story entirely. It sets things up, and I presume the girl who gets killed was the girl Hugh slept with to pass things on, hence why it comes back for him and sets off this movie's events, but it still feels like it doesn't fit somehow. There's also a later scene of Jay walking off into the water where we don't really know WHAT happened there, as it's never spoken of, and cut away from fairly quickly.
The kids' plan for defeating the creature is pretty brilliant, even if it ultimately doesn't work because they don't understand the proper relationship between electrical appliances and a swimming pool. Sure, it may never have worked to kill the creature, but it is EXACTLY the sort of plan a group of sixteen year old kids would think up to try and stop an unstoppable monster. For something kids would think up? Oh yeah, it's great.
And the movie leaves you with an ambiguous ending, where you don't know if Jay and friends have escaped the creature, and successfully killed it, because as her and Paul are walking towards the camera, you see a figure in the far background behind them. Is it the creature? Has it come back for them? ...Or is it just someone walking on the sidewalk, as people do?
That not knowing, the uncertainty of it all, is the beauty of the horror this movie presents. They'll never know, they'll never feel safe, and it is truly unending. And the audience doesn't know either, leaving us anxious as well. While a more conclusive ending would be nice, the ambiguity and uncertainty of it puts us right in Jay's shoes, and is the perfect ending to It Follows.
This might just be my favourite horror movie of the year, if not decade, because it really is unique, it's its own thing, has set up a whole new mythology for future people to play with, and is very effective and affecting in its horror, to really get into your own head, and make even the viewer question their safety. Whenever a horror movie can present a "It could be anyone, it could be outside watching you right now and you wouldn't know it", they capture something in the imagination.
I am torn with wanting to know more and needing a sequel, and really wanting this movie to just Be and let it stand as its own thing. How do you do another story, that isn't just rehashing people trying to avoid this creature all over again? There's ideas for a prequel that could be done, and/or expanding the mythology, getting to the root of things, but that would almost ruin the mystique and charm this movie has.
While the movie is strange, and some people might find it silly, I thought It Follows was an amazing new effort in the horror genre, and give it my absolute highest recommendation. Finally. Months after seeing it. Sorry!