It’s really irritating when you discover that a film which has been widely praised and critically acclaimed is in fact a disappointment. Case in point “It Follows”, a supernatural Horror movie about a murderous spirit which begins to follow you after you’ve had sex, like a game of Tig crossed with a venereal disease. When this film was released last year it was touted by everybody as a genre game-changer, it was described as a highly original, highly scary, highly enjoyable Horror movie, but now that I’ve finally watched it, it’s quite clear this unanimous praise was some form of mainstream-Critic-mass-hysteria. The film I watched was all style and no substance, it was watchable but it wasn’t original, it was marginally enjoyable but it wasn’t scary; considering all the furore last year, I was expecting something much better than the movie I was presented with.
The storyline of “It Follows” is pretty straight forward, it’s somewhere between “The Ring” and “Nightmare On Elm Street” with a group of teens trying to tackle a supernatural being that begins following the lead character Jay after she has a sexual encounter. What is refreshing is the fact that the main cluster of characters are actually quite captivating and endearing as opposed to having a bunch of twats which you couldn’t care less if they live or die (à la “Cabin In The Woods” or “The Evil Dead” remake). Maika Monroe (who’s like a less annoying Brittany Murphy crossed with Chloë Sevigny) plays the character of Jay, the girl who contracts the “follower” from the character Hugh, played by Jake Weary. There’s also her sister played by Lili Sepe and her friend played by Olivia Luccardi who are both quite amiable too. Keir Gilchrist does his usual depressed and confused acting as he plays Jay’s first kiss and wannabe boyfriend, and there’s also Daniel Zovatto who looks like a bootleg Taylor Kitsch mixed with a Smartprice Johnny Depp, playing the guy-next-door-quickie. These likeable characters are the only element that keeps you interested in the unfolding plot since amidst the music video visuals, the serene pace, and the eighties B-Movie looks, you almost begin to get waylaid by the tone rather than get engrossed with the plot.
The film opens with the contrived scene of a scantily-clad girl in her underwear and high-heels running in terror. Weirdly, she runs full circle from her house, into the street and back into her house again. This nonsensical introduction leads to the first murder, and as the girl drives away from her house to the beach, an invisible spirit murders her, err… by breaking her leg. This is the first inconsistency of the film, in this opening scene the invisible spirit walks toward the girl on the beach and makes no footprint in the sand, yet in the latter portions of the movie the spirit breaks through wooden doors and gets covered in a sheet, so is this force truly invisible or does it affect it’s surroundings?
The second idiotic plot device is Jay’s first encounter and introduction to the “follower”. Immediately after having sex with Hugh in his car, he chloroforms her, ties her to a wheelchair and takes her to an abandoned building… and for what you may ask? Apparently, to explain to her what the strange spirit walking towards her is. Makes perfect sense; couldn’t he have done that without restraining her and wheeling her around?
There’s also the moronic plan the group concocts toward the end of the movie in order to thwart the “follower”. Kier Gilchrist’s character comes up with an amazing plan… I know how to catch this pesky spirit, he says (paraphrasing) let’s all hang around in a derelict swimming bath and place huge amounts of electrical equipment that we couldn’t possibly carry half way across Detroit around the edge of the pool. Great plan, how’s that supposed to catch or stop the spirit exactly? Then during this amazing scene the “follower” suddenly changes his modus operandi from simply “following” Jay to angrily throwing stuff at her… who knows why, but at that point who cares?
The “supernatural” plot-line about a mysterious form-changing, sexual-intercourse-related, following creature is potentially scary, but the way in which this idea is handled in the film, the scares are almost rendered obsolete. Firstly, the walking of the “follower” varies in pace (a few of the older Actors walk very slowly whereas some of the younger Actors walk slightly faster). This is a small detail but when you consider it’s supposed to be the same character but in a different guise, this fluctuating walk makes this character unbelievable. On top of that, the characters whom the “follower” transforms into have no visual consistency; there’s a nude woman, an old woman in a hospital gown, a young girl with one sock wetting herself, a tall guy in a white tee, and a naked man standing on a roof (I thought he was supposed to follow you, not stand around) anyway, these random characters add nothing to the storyline, I mean is their costume supposed to be representative of lust, sex, rape, losing your virginity, or just some random nonsense? There’s also the fact that close-ups of Actors’ faces aren’t scary, so when the audience first see the “followers” far away they look a little creepy, but as soon as they come within several feet of the camera, their dull expression makes them anything but frightening. This is the exact opposite to the hair-obscured face in Japanese Horror movies which make a similar walk toward the camera unnerving, and in this movie there’s something about seeing the antagonist’s face that detracts from the potential hair-raising atmosphere.
The plot is pretty formulaic too, especially for a modern Horror flick, and whereas in Wes Craven’s “Scream” the audience was made aware of Horror movie conventions of the previous two decades, almost two decades after “Scream”, “It Follows” seems to be following these same conventions once more. Watching this film reminded me of the line “Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act, who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door; It’s insulting”. Sure, the killer is supernatural, and the girl or girls in question can act, but apart from that, this line rings true… if you have sex, you get killed, how original. It’s safe to say, there’s absolutely nothing new here, and if you watch low-budget cult Horror from the seventies and eighties, or if you watch Japanese and Asian Horror, then there’s nothing in “It Follows” that you haven’t seen before.
On top of the contrived plot, there are a few other borrowed elements which begin to stand out and rile you. Aside from the aesthetics which are somewhere between “The Video Dead” and “River’s Edge”, the score sounds like some over-normalized, Tangerine Dream knock-off, as if the Composer is constantly leaning on their synthesizer keys regardless of what’s happening on screen, then toward the end of the film they begin channelling Charles Bernstein’s “The Entity”, either way we’ve heard it all before. Then there’s the weird Post-Modernist mishmash of time periods; there’s modern cars but all the television sets are Cathode Ray, the TV’s themselves are constantly showing old movies but some of them have compression artefact, the local cinema is showing “Charade” with Audrey Hepburn, all of the characters are dressed as if they’ve been dragged through a charity shop, and weirder still there’s a mobile-phone-cum-compact-mirror in the shape of a sea shell. So either this is the past, an alternate dimension present, or maybe a future where three seashells aren’t just used as a substitute for toilet paper, they’re now used as mobile phones too! So leaving the bad joke about “clam-shell phones” behind, all in all the setting is uncertain and dubious; I guess if this film was set in an obvious present day, one of the characters would make a quip about clicking “Unfollow”.
This juxtaposed style carries on throughout the entire film; Jay’s friend Yara reads Dostoevsky on her mobile phone-shell-thingumabob, the white board at the School-slash-College Literature class reads “metaphors vs. similes” (something surely taught at Sixth Grade) but the Lecturer recites T.S. Eliot. Hell, in this topsy-turvy knowledgeable yet foolish world, nothing really makes any sense, and as the plot becomes run-of-the-mill, you begin to question some of the peripheral aspects of the film; the 1492 house number for instance, the “X” tattoo on Jay’s middle finger, the CGI ant on her arm, and the 1940’s “Old Maid” cards, but the more you think about it the more you realise this isn’t an intellectual Kubrick-esque movie with clues and hidden messages, and this isn’t a Villeneuve-esque open-ended film either, it’s just an overrated and superficial, wannabe kitsch Horror flick.
Considering all the elements of the movie, you begin to wonder what “It Follows” is really trying to convey. It isn’t a metaphor for disease (like some vampire films) and therefore it’s not a cautionary tale concerning sexually transmitted disease, it’s not pro-promiscuity, and it’s not anti-promiscuity, and it isn’t pro or anti-chastity either. In fact the ending is so ambiguous that you wonder what the point of the whole thing was. Maybe since Maika and Keir walk hand-in-hand wearing white at the end of the movie, the piece is pro-marriage or pro-virginity, but since the two characters have had sex (and there’s someone walking toward them in the background) that isn’t clear either. Then there’s the obvious and less complicated solution of prostitution; I mean if you want to “pass it along” in a quick and efficient way, going to a prostitute (rather than going on a date to the cinema) is surely a quicker way of deferring the spirit? If you pay for sex, after a day or so the “follower” would be several steps away from you; when Hugh was toying with the idea of renting a house with a fake name, pointlessly buying porno mags, wouldn’t the idea of going to the closest red-light area and paying to get rid of his affliction come up? But like everything else in “It Follows” this idea is also skirted around and then left hanging without delving into, without condemning, and without promoting. This movie is surely one of the biggest missed opportunities in contemporary film-making, maybe if Writer/Director David Robert Mitchell attended the “Metaphors Vs. Similes” class at Jay’s College, he might have come up with a reason for all his stylised inanity.
So why the hell was this film so highly praised? I remember Claudia Winkleman and Danny Leigh almost cumming on themselves as they told us “It Follows” was the scariest thing since sliced “Brood”. They acted like this was the Horror film of its generation, they made it sound like an edge-of-your-seat, shit-yourself, super-dooper, “Breakfast Club” of the Horror world. God knows what they were smoking, this has to be the tamest shit I’ve watched in recent years. If you enjoy cryptic movies you’d be better off with something like “Enemy”, if you enjoy Horror movies (as in movies which actually scare you) “It Follows” will definitely disappoint, you’d be better off watching something by James Wan. Regardless what the Critics said last year, this film isn’t eerie, it isn’t spine-chilling, shocking, or horrifying; in fact you’d be better off viewing something much more terrifying, like an STD pamphlet.