Saturday, April 11, 2015

It Follows

She Don't Look Back
Imaginary Friends (with Benefits)

It begins innocently enough. We see a nondescript neighborhood at dusk. The camera slowly circles in an arc until it comes upon a house. A woman runs out, into the middle of the street. A man (presumably her father) runs out after her, yelling after her inquiring what's wrong. She yells back—nothing's wrong. But there she is, in the middle of the street, looking worriedly around. The camera follows her as she walks at a brisk pace down the opposite sidewalk and back into the house. It is only temporary. Soon, she is running back out of the house and into a car, squealing away from the house, leaving her parents perplexed.

She ends up at the beach in the dark, her back to the waves, looking back at her car, no longer running, but the lights on. She takes out her phone and leaves a message for her folks (after all the running around and strange behavior, you'd think they'd immediately pick up!) saying she's sorry and she loves them.

Cut to the morning, and her body lies on the beach, mangled and broken.

It Follows, the second feature of film-maker David Robert Mitchell (The Myth of the American Sleepover) couldn't be more simple in story-line—a girl, Jaymie (Maika Monroe)—although everyone calls her "Jay"—goes out on a date with a new guy, Hugh (Jake Weary, appropriately) she really likes. The date doesn't go all that well, because of some unexplained behavior on his part that resembles a panic attack. The next date goes better for a time—to the point where Jay sleeps with him in an impromptu session of back-seat making out.
Then the date goes horribly sideways. Hugh goes to his trunk and while Jay is musing in post-coital bliss, he slides over her and chloroforms her.  

Not good.
Jay wakes up handcuffed to a wheelchair in a long-abandoned garage (It Follows was filmed in Detroit), groggy, in her underwear, and no one around. She starts freaking out, understandably, abandoned and vulnerable. She starts screaming. But, she is soon hushed by Hugh, who's wandering around with a flashlight.
He starts by apologizing, but he needs to do this (not a good start to any explanation). See, Hugh is being followed—he doesn't know what "it" is, but it takes on the form of dead loved ones, to reassure and calm the intended. He thought he was safe, but the girl he passed this curse onto (by having sex with her) has just died, and so "it" goes up the chain to the previous person and he is being hunted again. "It" is going to kill him, unless he passes "it" along to someone else. Nothing personal, but, "tag, you're 'It.'" But, he's doing things differently this time. He tells Jay about how they follow, how they only walk, or crawl or climb. They're going to be someone you knew to distract you so you don't run away. But, run...or "it" will kill you and the curse comes back to him.
You can't kill "it"—the only thing you can do is pass along the curse by having sex with them...and hope they don't get caught and killed.
Then, he attracts "It" with the flash-light, lets Jay see "it" and "it" see Jay, and then wheels her back to his car fast, and drives her home and dumps her on the front lawn, where her friends (Olivia Luccardi, Keir Gilchrist) and sister (Lili Sepe) are hanging out and see the whole thing. Jay is incoherent, babbling and in shock, the police are called (but "Hugh" has disappeared), she spends the night in the hospital with a vague feeling of dread, like it was all some weird nightmare. Her friends are concerned and maintain a vigil of sorts around her, reassuring, but not sure what she is talking about...
Then, "it" starts showing up—at her house, at her college, down her street—and her friends become really concerned. Where is Jay running off to? And what is she seeing that is causing her to panic (one of the things about "it" is nobody can see "it" but the victim) and pretty soon her friends become the "Scooby-Doo" gang to do two things: 1) find this guy "Hugh" and try to keep this "thing" from getting to Jay. They and their friend Greg (Daniel Zovatto) are going to protect Jay by any means necessary.
You know what it reminds you of—the 70's slasher films like Halloween and Friday the 13th. There's some twitching, thrumming string vibration of those films in this one, although the directorial hand of Mitchell is much more controlling and assured, less dependent on the shaky, creepy perspective of a hand-held camera.  The '70's slashers had a nervous victim's POV, but Mitchell takes the higher, steadier road of being a dispassionate witness. Eventually, his carouseling camera will catch the point of focus. In the meantime, we're searching, linked to the victim by mutual interest: look for the "follower" who doesn't fit in, an audience's version of "where's weirdo?" Even when the camera is under control, the world is not, and not depending on any camera's instability to communicate it.
The other common denominator with '70's movies is they're the perfect AV to show in any abstinence class, for the implication of threatening consequences for any person in the movie after engaging in  any kind of sexual activity.

No.  Really.  
In the '70's slashers, the fastest way for a character to take a dirt-nap is to sleep with another cast-member. It usually happened in some grisly fashion that almost completely nullified any warm and cozy thoughts (or horny) thoughts the love-making might have produced. The equation is simple—Sex equals death and the same theme runs through It Follows: in this, sex passes on "the curse" and one can imagine all sorts of metaphors linked to it from stigma, pregnancy, or STD's.  Once you've done "it," life is short, so you better start saying your prayers.  It's funny. For all the sex and/or nudity (and It Follows has some, but in unexpected places) the attitude towards commingling characters is lethally puritanical.* Have sex and you're doomed, and the message is driven home in ways far more effective than descriptions of fire and brimstone bloviated from the pulpit (although It Follows is far less blunt than the machete-guttings of the 70's).
Isn't that what horror movies, in their purest form, are all about? They're cautions about the dangers of messing with God and Nature and The Rules and the consequences of such sacrileges. Horror movies are morality tales, and It Follows for its simplicity and focus may be the purest of the pure.

* I see the same thing in the raw and ribald films of Judd Apatow.  For all the hi-jinks and low humor of his films, their "messages" of fidelity, family values, and settling down just might have got them approved by the Catholic Legion of Decency.

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