Monday, March 30, 2015

[Review] It Follows

It Follows is the best horror film I've seen since The Babadook. I know, The Babadook just released not more than a year ago and there haven't even been many major horror films in between that time, but my point is that there are still good horror flicks emerging if you look in the right places. For the record, I still like The Babadook a lot more, but It Follows shares a somewhat similar approach. This is a disturbing, atypical teen drama that mixes in physical and psychological terror.

Following a twisted prologue, we meet Jay (Maika Monroe, The Guest), a typical suburban teen girl. After a first-time sexual encounter with her boyfriend, Jay begins seeing various incarnations of an evil being that only the people infected by "it" can see. The narrative can be considered as ambiguous, and many reviewers have chalked it up to an STD cautionary tale or the perils of teenage sex in general, but I gathered differently. "It" becomes less of an STD metaphor, and more-so a representation of the trauma from sexual abuse and its pervasive and lingering nature.

Jay's initial encounter is clearly consensual sex, but a subsequent act she experiences (I won't go into detail) IS sexual assault, and it's a bit surprising that more reviewers aren't considering it as is. THAT is the exact incident which triggers the terror (the very next sequence is when Jay first sees a creepy being approaching). Afterward, she's dropped off in front of her house, shivering, barely clothed, and confused. The police show up, and Jay tells them that everything was consensual, but she doesn't sound fully positive, which might speak to the unfortunately large number of unreported sex crimes. There's also the fact that none of Jay's friends are able witness what she sees, let alone even believe her at first. An oblivious neighbor asks, "Is this some game?" But it obviously isn't.

The film thrives on an unnerving mood and atmosphere. The clear-eyed lens captures both strikingly beautiful and strikingly ugly imagery within the mundane settings. Some clever camera movements extend the uneasiness. At times, a 360 pan or a long take create paranoia as our eyes dart in every direction on the screen where a predator may be lurking in a crowd of people. Other times, it takes on a voyeuristic and stalkerish angle, building an unaware dread for the protagonist. The static-y, synthy musical score (John Carpenter will come to mind) ups the discomfort, brewing an intense sense of trapped helplessness whenever Jay spots an approaching intruder. This is a huge turn in genre and tone from director David Robert Mitchell's previous outing The Myth of the American Sleepover, but it still provokes a biting nostalgia from an "it's a teen's world" point of view. Monroe's impressively delirious performance is also worth noting, as she's creating some significant indie waves.

The plodding stretches where not much happens in the way of fright might make some viewers impatient, and the lack of a major payoff will probably leave some people dissatisfied. But like The Babadook, It Follows brings on a more substantial brand of horror. One that is jarringly real, and more terrifying than a jump scare.


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