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It Follows (2015)

They Swallow

I'm officially done with horror's hype machine. Every year, the genre elects an indie darling to be its poster child. Every year, I walk away disappointed, bewildered, and more than a little mad. It's no wonder fright flicks struggle to break out of the pop ghetto, when the best audiences can expect are participation-ribbon homage parties like The Lords of Salem, You're Next, The Babadook, and 2015's "Must-See" misfire, It Follows.

Like its predecessors, David Robert Mitchell's body-jumping STDemon movie is technically very well put together. The creators maxed out their $2 million budget, and I wouldn't be surprised if star Maika Monroe became a sensation. There's more to filmmaking than competent execution, though, especially in horror. Because our collective unconscious has been so thoroughly mined for thrills, chills and ideas, the simple jumbling and regurgitation of tropes just doesn't cut it anymore.

I'm tempted to write off the film's word-of-mouth success as uninformed, excitable chatter from casual audiences who don't watch horror movies (see also Black Swan). But It Follows is being pushed hard by people who should, ostensibly, know better--people who've seen every film Mitchell and company pay "homage" to, and who often make a big show of bemoaning clichés, remakes, and throw-backs (I will never forgive you, Killer POV). I'm putting this out there right now: Anyone who claims to be a genre fan and says they were surprised/scared by anything in this film is either delusional or a Goddamned liar.

[Deep, calming breaths]

Jay (Monroe) is a Detroit-suburbs college student living in a nondescript time. Though acid-wash jean jackets are all the rage, and TV production apparently stopped around 1963, Jay's younger sister's best friend reads Dostoevsky's The Idiot from a clam-shell-shaped e-reader. Jay goes on a date with a guy she barely knows, has sex in his car, and winds up drugged and tied to a wheelchair. Coming to, Mr. Wonderful clues her in on a few things: A shape-shifting creature has now caught her scent. It will pursue her relentlessly, and can only be pawned off on someone else through intercourse. It can take the form of people Jay knows in order to get close, and if it succeeds in killing her, everyone down the line will once again be fair game for the monster's revenge (or whatever you'd call it).

So far, we've covered The Ring, The Hidden, and Final Destination. There's also a whoooole lotta Elm Street towards the end, flavored with a dash of Let the Right One In. That's fine. Nothing new under the sun, and all that. But if you're going to make old things interesting, you either need to establish rules early on or keep the proceedings simple enough that the audience asks questions in the parking lot--not four minutes into act two. Mitchell falls in the depressingly common camp of filmmakers who are content to let a gaudy, Carpenter-esque-esque synth score sub in for well-orchestrated scares, and who confuse no-stakes narratives for intentional ambiguity.

For example, the creature sometimes takes the form of its targets' dead relatives. Why? How is that a helpful predatory skill? Further, only those cursed by the creature can see it, and the thing* appears to move, phantom-like, through crowds--until mid-way through the film, when it manifests as a physical yet invisible and invincible force that attacks other people. One need only throw a sheet over its head or whack it with a chair to "see" the attacker. One would think that a full-time cloaking device would be a much more effective mechanism for dispatching prey (speaking of Predator...) than randomly popping up as a hissing, black-eyed version of the neighbor kid. But there I go, leaving my brain on past the concession stand...

The better version of this movie is Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin. Weird, gut-wrenching, and truly unique in concept and execution, that picture is the term paper to Mitchell's first-draft thesis statement. I don't know why Scarlett Johansson's alien character came to Earth--or what the deal was with those faceless motorcyclists--but I walked away confident that someone had the answers. All I took away from It Follows was a lovely couch scene between Jay and a younger boy (Keir Gilchrist) who likes her. It's the one moment that feels lifted from memory, not from another movie.

Mitchell appears to be very much stuck in the past, obsessed with cheesy 80s fashion and dying to continue an outmoded dialogue regarding teen sex and cosmic punishment. But I have no idea what the writer/director actually wants to say. It's easy to say he has nothing to say, and doesn't have to say anything. That's not the grounds for a horror classic. It's the description of every knock-off terror tale that disappointed you as a kid--the ones whose scripts and scares were cheaper than the paint used to make their awesome bait-and-switch VHS covers.

In fairness, the poster's tagline gives us proper warning: It Follows doesn't think and it doesn't feel. Like the titular entity, Mitchell's film is a voiceless energy suck that's better left unseen. 

But don't take my word for it.

*Hey! Another point of reference!

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