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It Follows (2015): Review, part 3

Here is part three of a three-part review of David Robert Mitchell's It Follows (2015). Part one examined much of what works about the movie; part two, what didn't. Three shall examine the thematic implications, as well as why the movie is still worth your time, despite not being "perfect."

It Follows works best, in the darkness. Despite being invisible, its monster paradoxically withers, in plain sight—that is, when people are aware of and pointing at it, or where it should be. This effect is perhaps most strongly felt when the teens drape a piece of cloth over its head, lending it the unintentionally silly appearance of a ghost wearing a bedsheet. 

I don't want to look down on bedsheets; anything, including those, can be scary. John Carpenter made it work in Halloween (1978), with "Bob" wearing a bedsheet to scare the girl in the bed. Except here, it's not Bob, it's the Shape, pretending to be Bob, pretending to be a ghost. The scene works because the girl isn't in on the joke, and her discomfort grows as she (and us) wait for the shoe to drop. Except it doesn't. Instead, the tension builds and builds. First, it's silly. Then, it's not. Then, she dies.

In It Follows, there's no tensionon the beach, or at the pool. They're moments of pure climax, not suspense, and everyone onscreen is aware that the cat is out of the bag at this point. In other words, placing a sheet over the monster's head once the bell's been rung doesn't unring the bell; it just looks odd. As a result, It Follows' greatest strengtha nebulous monster, as well as vivid, strong cameraworkare sometimes its greatest weakness.   

Had the movie played to these as strengths, I'd have easily listed it as one of my favorites of all time (and it still sort of is). Instead, it remains a strong-but-somewhat flawed outing. A good movie should both grab you with a solid opening and mark you with a memorable ending. If there's any room to flounder, it's in the middle, but, in truth, this shouldn't simply build towards something else; it should be enjoyable in and of itself, too. Alas, such is not entirely the case, with It Follows. It has one of the strongest openings and first acts that I can think of, but undermines its own sterling example—up until the very end, when it rebounds handsomely. 

It Follows  loses steam, partway through, before regaining in the closing shots some of the mystery it lost, earlier. These shots mirror earlier ones—except now we're not sure if the monster is dead, whereas before we knew it was alive. Instead, we're left looking at its everyday disguise and can't tell the difference. Could we ever?

We see Paul and Jay holding hands, as they walk down the street (very much in the same, slow, dream-like fashion Laurie Strode did, in Halloween). The cameraman faces them, walking backwards to reveal what's behind the couple: no one. Everything is hyper-focused, meaning nothing in the back, middle or foreground is blurred. Next, we cut to a point-of-view shot of the cameraman, walking behind them; then, back to the earlier vantage point... except now someone is  behind them—far back, but not too far back. 

Is this person a stalker or a killer? It's never said. He walks in an oddly-mechanical, straightforward manner—much in the same way Nick Castle, as the Shape, walked, as instructed by John Carpenter, who told him, "Just walk." It may seem like a minor detail and yet it was something no one after Castle in any of the Halloween sequels ever managed to replicate, and they tried. In It Follows, the way the stranger walks might be a clue. Then again, maybe not; human locomotion, or ambulation, isn't always favorably described, my favorite slight on it being "a series of controlled falls." 

Likewise, sidewalks are meant to guide us along straight paths. To this, is the person walking towards them doing so because he's on a sidewalk, or because he's actually walking towards them, regardless of the sidewalk being there or not? Who knows. In any case, I felt haunted, precisely because I wasn't sure if the monster was dead. There'd be no way to know if it were. Likewise, the point-of-view shot changes meaning once we know someone is behind them. It's no longer the cameraman and it could  be the killer.

As Greg finds out, at the end of the second act, the moment you feel safest is you at your most vulnerable. Here, the young couple feels their most vulnerable. It doesn't matter if they actually are: I saw the creature die; I'm still haunted by what is effectively its ghost—the ghost of a ghost. This sense of doom might not be logical, but neither is fear. In any case, the ending is perfect, because no confirmation is given, either way as to what I'm looking at. 

At the same time, I liked thematic material, here. Jay has become potentially radioactive, a walking thought experiment in the tradition of Schrodinger's Cat: neither dead, nor alive. On one hand, the men in her life let her down. Her father is ostensibly dead or divorced; Hugh abused her trust, as did Greg and potentially Paul. The monster almost feels like a fuse, a waiting period for the inevitable shoe to drop. It's not simply a metaphor for sexually-transmitted diseases, but the potentially-lethal emotional turmoil following any messy breakup. 

Meanwhile, Jay sinks deeper into her shell, self-absorbed while those around her whom she sleeps with effectively walk into brick walls—the biggest casualty being perhaps Paul, himself, who legitimately cares for Jay. Alas, for her, the activity has become mimetic and instinctual, is now "no big deal" and perhaps never was. By the end, Jay is technically with Paul, but still aloneas much she was, at the offset: swimming in her pool while, from behind the fence, the neighborhood kids invasively studied her nearly-nude body.

Thus, Jay and the monster aren't that different, anymore than Hugh and it were. Both have sex to survive, and each spreads heartache and deathmuch how everyone else in the movie does: obliviously. 

In other words, on the beach, the creature is invisible. Yet, people run, bicker and fight, decimated until two remain. To this, it's not a terrible stretch to imagine there never having been a monster at all, that these people are driven to fragment and self-destruct purely because of their own socially-provided interests; they can't recognize these things as concretely monstrous because a) it makes up what they are and b) comes from everything around them. When Paul hits the monster with the lawn chair, he actually hits Kara, though he cannot see her. He doesn't realize he is, nor that he's attacking something monstrous that looks like his friend. The symbolism may seem laterally cross-pollinated, here, but really the effect is not all that different from The Thing (1981), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) or Forbidden Planet (1956). In each, the monster is a mirrored, extension of our darker selves that cannot always be distinguished as completely removed or separate from us, because we are it as much as the other way around. 

To its credit, It Follows puts a somewhat unique spin on the concept. Much of the second and third act are action—which, for this movie, is its weakest link. However, the actual  ending ties things up perfectly. It's a sort of open-ended bow that resumes the movie's initial existential dread—the kind felt within relationships, and life in general, from unwanted sexual attention. To this, It Follows  is, at times, more fun to think about, than to watch. And yet, the first act, part of the second, and the end (following the pool scene) are rock-solid.

I will admit: it's hard not to separate the less-effective moments from the more erudite ones. Given how loud the former are, they leave something of an unfortunate aftertaste in one's mouth—a shame, considering this is an otherwise thematically-rich, well-made horror film.

The sheer audio-visual talent on display throughout is exemplary, too. This is doubly true nowadays simply because current horror films are so damn loud; they generally shy away from tried-and-true old-school techniques, instead favoring more ostentatious, visual effects-heavy spectacles. As a result, they contain too many edits to bother framing shots or otherwise taking their time. Instead, they need to realize a good part of the fun is waiting for the bomb to go off, not actually seeing it explode.

I find this somewhat ironic given that this shortcoming—watching the bomb go offis what checks It Follows more than anything else. All the same, much of it isn't idiotic, and the action onscreen signifies a great deal. Better yet, a good portion of it is actually fun to watch. If all of it had been fun, this would probably have been my favorite horror movie of all time. Instead, it lives in the shadows of older classics, rather than eclipsing them. However, it does so with style, showing us that being relegated to second-best isn't necessarily something to pout about.


About me: My name is Nick van der Waard and I'm a Gothic ludologist. I primarily write reviews, Gothic analyses, and interviews. Because my main body of work is relatively vast, I've compiled it into a single compendium where I not only list my favorite works, I also summarize them. Check it out, here!

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