Monday, December 28, 2015

The Last Horror Fan to Watch It Follows?

I'm late to the party, which isn't unusual for me, but I finally watched It Follows, and what follows are my thoughts on the film and some examination of the themes. There are spoilers aplenty, so if you haven't yet watched this fine film, refrain from reading on (and do yourself a favor--watch It Follows!).

I like to go into a movie with no expectations. I prefer not to see the trailer, read any reviews, or even look at the synopsis if I can help it. Not such an easy thing to do with people posting their thoughts on Facebook and Twitter and whatnot. I've learned the fine art of ignoring (which, consequently, is also great for cat memes and political nonsense). That being said, I had seen a lot of posts about how good It Follows was, but I didn't read about the film any further than that.

A few days ago my wife and I watched It Follows and we loved it, plain and simple. Better than Babadook, Cabin in the Woods, all the gross-out horror films from the past decade and just about anything I've watched in recent years. That's my opinion. You may disagree.

There's so much to like about It Follows. Like any great horror film, you're pulled into the plot right from the get-go and the movie doesn't let up until it's done with you. The credits roll and you're thinking, shit, that was crazy. I was left thinking that I'd finally seen something new that made me feel what I'd felt after watching horror films when I was a kid, what made me fall in love with the genre. Even movies I've enjoyed in the past decade or so leave little impression. Yeah, Strangers was good, but I don't remember a damn thing about the plot. Was that the one with people terrorizing a couple in a house? Were the killers wearing masks? Was it that one? Yeah, I liked Sinister, but I don't really remember the plot. Was that the one with the people who hanged themselves in a tree in the backyard? Does it have something to do with reel to reel film? I can't remember, because the impressions were so faint. It Follows, however, left a fucking pothole on my mind, and that's a damn good feeling. That's what great art is all about.

I found myself thinking about It Follows while at work the day after watching it. I have so many questions about so many elements of the story that weren't tied up and pretty like a Christmas present. And I like that. Why should all the elements be so neat? Life isn't neat? We die with things unwrapped, undone, unfinished, so why should a movie have to be so goddamned neat? The other night over drinks my wife and I had a great discussion on the film and we came up with some interesting speculation on potential themes.

To put it in a nutshell, so to speak, It Follows is a metaphor for sexually transmitted disease. I don't know that the writer took that into consideration while dreaming up this idea (it did originate from a dream, but I'll get into that later), but it's fairly obvious when you think about it. The person being followed can only stop the thing from following by having sex with another person who then carries the burden of being the one followed; however, if the current person being followed is killed by the follower, the follower goes after that last person and will continue down the line, killing all who have been infected. There's no beginning, no one knows where this thing comes from or why, it's just there, and it can only be transmitted through sex. And it will find you no matter where you run to. It's worse than AIDS. Kind of makes you wonder if wearing a condom would prevent it from being passed along.

Another element of the story that intrigued me was the time frame. My wife and I were both confused as to what decade this film was supposed to be in. I assumed, while we were watching, that it was intentionally filmed to have no recognizable era, kind of like Donnie Darko and Blue Velvet. It's a method that can be jarring at times, but also charming. My wife did a quick search and found out that the director purposely blended generations to give the film an ambiguous, dreamy sort of feel. You watch and wonder why the car is an old station wagon, why the characters are always watching black and white sci-fi movies on an old television, and what kind of reading device the one girl has that is shaped like a sea shell compact (the director said that he was inspired to create the so-called shell phone from a shell shaped makeup compact that was popular in the fifties). The director also said that the idea was inspired by recurring dreams of random people following him for no apparent reason. He wanted to preserve that dream-like theme and general ambiguity of the villain by creating a familiar world that doesn't really exist, and I think he achieved that. Well done!

There's also an element of paranoia at play, which is best shown in the character who passes on the, for lack of better term, disease in the beginning of the film. When the afflicted girl tracks him down, he's shifty and frightened about everyone around him. That's the beauty of the bizarre permutation that stalks the infected. You never know who it is and you have to assume it can be anybody. This element of the story creates a sort of viewer paranoia. I found myself watching the background and wondering, is that the follower? Is that? By the end you're kind of mentally exhausted, but in the best possible way.

I used to have quite a collection of horror movies on VHS. I still have a lot of them, but my collection has been thinned out over the years. I still have a VCR and I still watch movies on it. I will until it breaks. That's just the way I am. I love old horror films. I'm a sucker for sixties and seventies horror film, but don't discriminate the good ones from any generation. That being said, as I get older, I like what I see much less. As I mentioned above, most of the films I've seen in the past decade are ultimately forgettable, even the good ones, and I certainly don't get that feeling I used to get that causes me to want to buy a movie and watch it over and over again. Part of this is due to getting older and having a shit-load of responsibility that prevents me from sitting on my ass and watching old movies all night, but it also has to do with lost interest.

I'm going to buy It Follows. It will be the first modern horror film I've bought in a loooong time, but hopefully not the last.


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