It Follows

IT FOLLOWS is a modern indie horror film, which is to say it is a new retro horror film. Like his contemporaries (most obviously Ti West and Adam Wingard), director David Robert Mitchell is a student and mimic of the heydays of horror, the late 70s and early 80s. These young directors cherish that grainy look, slow contemplative dread, and muscle shirts and knee high socks from scary movies of yesteryears. 

IT FOLLOWS employs all the familiarly campy tropes: slow zooms and panoramic pans, loud droning Craven-esque synth music, and hot teens in bikinis and cool cars. The only thing missing is the gore--which incredibly garners widespread praise because... I'm not sure why. We're all suddenly squeamish and civilized in the year 2015? 

The story is a mix between Nightmare On Elmstreet and Charles Burns's teen-sex horror-comic, Black Hole. The boogie-man is transmitted sexually and nobody can tell the adults because they just wouldn't understand or believe them. Even the block they live on resembles Elm Street and the youths who live there dress like extras from an episode of 21 Jump Street. Everyone drives a funky 70s car and calls each other on rotary landline telephones, although the occasional PT Cruiser driving by and characters reading books on electronic tablets tells us this isn't a period piece. 

After an impressively inspired first half-hour, the plot begins to feel like its design is less to tell a compelling story and more to showcase the interesting Detroit locations the production was allowed access to. The only explanation I can come up with for the 3 or 4 hospital scenes is that the producer must have an aunt who's a night nurse there. The film's ramshackle final climax especially emphasizes the value put on place over coherence. The film is shot, lit, and composed beautifully but the parts don't add up. 

The lack of cohesion in the story would matter very little if the film actually followed through on the scares. There were two good ones that I recall, where I actually jumped in my seat a bit, both in the film's first half, and about 4 attempts to startle that came up short. I'm sure the filmmakers would argue, "This isn't that kind of movie--here the scariness is more of a creeping dread," but the creeping dread I felt for the majority of the film was a dread that this movie wasn't going to get any scarier. This is about par for the course in the dismal genre of mainstream modern horror but where equally scary films are met with generally lukewarm reactions, IT FOLLOWS is being hailed as the resurrection of the genre. As the theater cashier handed me my tickets, he solemnly said, "This is the scariest movie of the last 10 years," and it currently holds a 95% "Fresh Rating" on Rottentomatoes. Last year's BABADOOK was similarly hyped but was sufficiently interesting and delivered enough genuine fear to warrant some of that enthusiasm. 

IT FOLLOWS is a classic case of style over substance. Just because a character is reading "The Idiot" throughout, doesn't make this Dostoevsky level writing. Just because two white characters briefly exchange a couple of lines about their perception of the inner-city compared to the suburbs, doesn't make this a commentary on class or race. And just because the evil is passed between people through sexual intercourse, doesn't mean this film has anything meaningful to say about sex or intimacy. These are all leaps viewers might be tempted to make, swept off their feet by the beauty of the images and the suspicion that they're in on an inside joke. But is it an inside joke when everyone's laughing? 

This is an indie horror film in the same sense that Arcade Fire is an indie rock band--the artisanal aesthetic is there to allow squares to enjoy the experience more because they feel smarter for "getting" something they perceive as unique and special. I'm reminded of when a date dragged me to a sold-out Friday night screening of GARDEN STATE in 2004. The end credits rolled and the entire audience gave a standing ovation to a film they were proud to have been hip enough to know about and were too stupid to recognize how ashamed they should have been for enjoying it. I'm not suggesting here that fans of IT FOLLOWS should be ashamed for liking the film--it is likable. Just don't be walking around giving it a standing ovation every time someone mentions it to prove you're a part of the club. 
IT FOLLOWS presents some loosely strung together but legitimately creepy scenes of ghosts that walk like zombies on the trail of a ragtag group of pesky teens, some of whom are fun to watch (Maika Monroe as the beautifully brooding lead is a compelling treat) and others who were total casting misfires (the baby-faced Daniel Zovatto as a tough-guy ladies man comes to mind). Throughout their adventures, they do stupid and unbelievable things and sometimes something scary happens. 

All of that being said, this was not a bad movie. It is one of the better horror movies to come out in recent years. But with the state of modern horror, that's kind of like saying one piece of dog shit was better to wipe from the crevices of the bottom of your shoe than another. It's all garbage--just like this garbage review I just spent too much time writing. I don't think I even like movies. Of any genre. Watching movies, thinking about movies, writing about movies: all just distractions from the scariest horror movie of them all, this terrifying free-fall we call life that ends the most horrible way every time. I just wrote this to distract and because a coworker saw IT FOLLOWS Saturday night and proclaimed it "if not a perfect film, a near perfect film," and I'm the kind of dirtbag who feels better about himself proving other people's enthusiasms wrong. 

I left IT FOLLOWS feeling the same way I did at 13, leaving the theater after watching the universally lauded SCHINDLER'S LIST--like the whole world has really mediocre taste and I'm humanity's last chance for redemption.