Saturday, July 11, 2015

"It Follows"- the Scary Movie of 2015?

    Ghost and What a Witch recently ventured out to see a new indie horror film “It Follows," and what followed was one hour and forty five minutes of pure suspense and terror.
The story centers around a girl named Jay who has been 'infected' by a horrific and deadly curse after a sexual encounter with her date. The curse is an entity that creepily follows the victim and, if it catches up, will kill the host. The remedy: pass on the curse to the next person by having sex with him/her.

     This whole movie serves as a PSA to remind us once again that STDs are terrifying.
The scares in this film are few and rarely the kind that makes you want to jump out of your seat, but that, is a good thing. The tension that comes along with the slow, tension building pace and eerie, at times ear drum-popping music only makes those few jumpy moments more intense. The film's cinematography, complete with an overall 1980’s era vibe succeeds in bringing out an ambience that is even more cold and menacing. The Witch and the Ghost sat down to discuss their thoughts on what has been called the horror film of 2015. Possible spoilers may be discussed. 

What do we think of the villain in this movie, the body shifting, slow moving nameless, background less entity?

What a Witch: It’s vagueness, combined with its relentlessness, makes it very, very unnerving. Are they one creature? Are they minions? Of whom? Why does it sometimes look like dead people, even when they are taking the form of someone who is alive in the story, and at other times, appear as a normal person?

     The vagueness and lack of back story makes this whole story very Carpenter-esque. Remember that before "Halloween" became a franchise, developing the story that Michael Myers was Laurie Strodes brother- the original movie was about a random evil killer, setting his sight on a random girl. The only connection being that she lived in the same town as he did as a child. I couldn’t help but think though, what if, instead of always walking, they took public transportation? I would, If I was a murderous supernatural entity that had to walk to get my victims.

Ghost: The last scare of the movie for me is the inevitable sequel, and what I fear will, as my good friend the Witch mentioned, be a lesser sequel trying to explain the monster more. Because I do not want to know more about the monster. I do not want the kids of a sequel to be shown finding the weaknesses of the monster on Google. Mystery equals terror, it always has, from "Halloween" to "Psycho" to "Aliens" to the original MGM monster movies-- and explainations make that terror less, and for a film like this would pull the rug out from so much of it's punch. Becuase, simply, this monster works. Yes whatever it is follows some odd rules, and shape shifts, but the execution is stellar, and the commitment this monster has to stalking its victims is frightening. I loved that this monster could take on so many different forms and be scary. At one point in the film, I thought we were going to get some kind of back story having to deal with the briefly mentioned abandoned psychiatric hospital, especially when so many of the monster's forms appear to be patients in such a hospital-- but we were never told. Which worked so beautifully for me. 

What about the music?
What a Witch: This is certainly another nod to Carpenter. The music sounds a lot like a vintage score crafted by John Carpenter with sinister synthesizer tunes similar to Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13.  
     The music terrified me. It provided its own jumps and scares for sure, but in the movies slow moments, it also created a sense of dread and tension.

Ghost: The music is an absolute love letter to John Carpenter. And I loved every note of it. Any critic who tries to dismiss the score as too much like Carpenter is having the point sail over her or his head. I want this score on viyl, and to play it this Halloween for trick or treaters. 

Was it scary?

What a Witch: Yes! This movie felt like an actual nightmare to me – what scared me was not the mindless terror but the notion of mindlessly trying to escape the terror. The evil was unrelenting, and even if you can manage to shake it, you always run the risk of it coming back for you.
     The lesson in this story is of course, that you should only have sex with really smart people who can keep passing it on and avoid their own demise.
     The few times the movie did provide a seat jumping scare, it was absolutely horrifying, especially with some of the scenes revealing the entity early on in the main characters experience…specifically, super tall guy in her bedroom!!!!
Ghost: Absolutely agreed, this was truly a scary nightmare of a film. You don't even feel like you've woken up from the nightmare once the credits roll. I would much rather be constantly unnerved by the atmosphere of a film, and occasionally jolted to fear, than any other experience horror can provide. Every scary in this film is worked for, and none are cheap or explotive in an era when the genre is oversaturated with such attempts at scares. 

What about the retro vibe of the film?
What a Witch: I loved the 80’s look of the movie- and the fact that there was hardly any modern technology (save for the super awesome compact/ clamshell shaped e-reader that I hope becomes an actual thing!!).
     And admittedly, I have a bit of an obsession with Detroit as recent movies like this one and "Only Lovers Left Alive" have somehow made the city’s urban decay sexy, hip and mysterious.  
     The cinematography in this film highlights Detroit’s mass scale degeneration and lack of inhabitants. And although it is filmed beautifully, the city becomes a menace of its own in this film. A place so large yet comes off as a secluded wasteland…and so, so stuck in it’s long ago and long past glory.

Ghost: The retro-vibe in here should win an Academy Award, seriously. Is that possible? It truly helped make the film for me. I don't think I will go as far as saying that in a modern, post 2015 setting, horror isn't as effective, but when you take our smart phones tracking our every move, and set us back in simpler times, horror thrives. Would John Carpenter's "Halloween" have been as successful if Laurie Strode used her smart phone to call Sheriff Brackett when she was trapped in the closet with Michael Myers outside? Would the chase to catch up with and destroy Count Dracula in Bram Stoker's novel be as thrilling if Van Helsing, Jonathan Harker and company were checking in at Transylvanian rest stops on Facebook every step of the way? I think not. 

      And that's what's so brilliant about this movie. It's like a dream. We see kids gathering around a small black and white TV to watch a scary movie that's being shown, and using phones with cords to call each other. They stop over at each other's houses instead of texting each other. And yet the one character has some kind of (primitive, futuristic, both or neither?) e-Reader. We don't know what time we are in, but we have known like times, and it takes us back to a scarier time, maybe the 1980s, when you were more isolated, alone and helpess when the mysterious other comes to terrorize you. I feel seriously sorry for children growing up today who won't know-- or can they?-- the frame of reference of growing up in a time before the Internet, when the world had so much more mystery to explore, and terrify. 

      But back to the movie. "It Follows," plays the retro-vibe up-- in setting, music and tone so perfectly. I'd watch it over and over again if for nothing else than the atmosphere. 

What, in the end, does the curse means?

What a Witch: Perhaps an allegory about sexually transmitted disease?

     Or maybe it is about death itself? The movie ends with one of Jay's friends reading aloud a grim Dostoevsky quote about the moment of extinction. Perhaps it is about the fear that we can never outrun or escape our inevitable demise.
Ghost: To paraphrase a quote from an artwork on roughly the same scale as Dostoevsky, the film "Mean Girls:" 'Don't have sex, or you will die.' 
      I think this is, at heart, the basis of the curse. But it's so much more than that. The now retro films that "It Follows" so expertly harkens back to-- "Halloween." "Friday the 13th," "Scream"-- so often boiled down to a cast of sexually active teen characters being killed by a killer who can never seem to catch the virginal character. "It Follows," remembers these films, and expounds on the concept with something deeper. There are few things in the world more primal, and occasionally frightening, than death and sex. Marrying the two together, and having these characters we so easily root for possibly spending their lives out running sex and death is something much smarter and more affecting than most-- well, nearly all-- horror films today have to say.