Monday, March 23, 2015

"It Follows" Review: Tension Runs High In What Is Easily The Most Frightening Horror Film Released In Years


Every now and then a movie comes along that grabs you by the balls and just won't let go. That movie doesn't have to be ground breaking or even great. All it has to do is hit that single nerve, that thing that catches your attention and won't let go even long after it has ended. The new horror film It Follows is just such a film as even as I write this certain images have ingrained themselves into my mind so well that it is almost distracting. They say the best praise any film can receive is when you can't stop thinking or talking about it and in the case of It Follows, I haven't been able to stop thinking or talking about it since the moment those end credits rolled. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: Digital 2D             
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 53 min
Studio: Radius-TWC
Release Date: March 13, 2015

Biases:  
Loves: Scary movies that actually scary you, original imaginative ideas
Likes: The throwback 80's vibe to the whole movie
Neutral:  I want a sequel but I know it will not be as good
Hates: That feeling of wanting more of something good but knowing there isn't any more
Being followed: is kinda creepy.


Explaining what It Follows is about is almost doing it a disservice. Not because it gives any key plotpoints better kept under wraps away. No, simply because the premise just sounds kind of ridiculous and silly when explained as opposed to seeing it actually unfold before you. But despite my best instincts to completely skip a synopsis it does need to be properly set up for you to understand at least the basic framework of the film.

When we first meet our main protagonist Jay (Maika Monroe) she is just a normal teenage girl living in what appears to be a normal household. She has friends and has even started dating a guy who just moved into town named Hugh (Jake Weary). He too seems like just a normal teenage guy, taking Jay on dates in hopes of possibly breaking down her barriers and taking their relationship to the next level. After having intercourse for the very first time though, Hugh reveals to Jay that he had ulterior motives for wanting to have sex with her. What he tells her is at first disorienting, then eventually becomes somewhat laughable and finally, when there is no other explanation for what is happening to her, becomes absolutely terrifying.


Hugh explains to Jay, in great detail, that he has passed something on to her, something far worse than any STD you can imagine. He tells her that something will be coming after her. Something that has the ability to look like anyone, even her friends and family, and uses that as a way to trick her and get in close or simply to frighten her and attack. He goes on to tell her that even though it appears to be other worldly that it is bound by the laws of physics, meaning that it can't pass through walls or do any other supernatural feats, but it can open doors and make entrances when it has to. Most important though, he tells her that it is always following her, walking in her direction without pause and without emotion. It's sole purpose is to find her, get close to her and ultimately kill her.

One of the other key points Hugh tells Jay is that only she can see it. Hugh and anyone who had passed it on before can also see it, but no one else can.  Hugh then continues his instructions by letting her know that if it does end up catching up to her and killing her that it will not only come after him next, but work its way down the line to everyone who had passed it on before until someone is able to pass it on starting the chain once again. Of course while all of this sounds perfectly sane and normal to Hugh who has been living with this thing stalking him for an indeterminate amount of time, Jay on the other is unsurprisingly skeptical on top of which not too happy about being bound and gagged by her now ex-boyfriend while being told these horrifying things.


Hugh finishes by dropping Jay off in the street in front of her house nearly naked and completely freaked out. While everyone around her is fixated on finding Hugh, who has since disappeared, and bringing him to justice for what they believe to be a simple sex crime, Jay knows what she heard and what she saw that night. She knows something is coming after her, but she has no idea when it will arrive, where it will arrive and who it may look like. Imagine being told that something is coming after you, it looks just like everyone else, and all it is interested in doing is ending your life. Then imagine that unless you too decide to pass it on that you will have to live with this curse the rest of life until the day it finally wears you down and catches up with you.

Do you remember the animated skunk character Pepe Le Pew from those old Looney Tunes cartoons? How he relentlessly pursued this female cat he thought was a skunk and no matter how far or how fast she would run, Pepe trotted along taking his sweet time and always caught up to her? The Entity (for lack of a better word to describe it since it is never given a name) is very similar to Pepe in how it pursues Jay, never tiring and never wavering in its sole purpose to track her down and execute its sinister plans. But that isn't entirely true because we don't really know what it wants and to say it has plans is insinuating something we can only assume.


At no point during It Follows extremely brief 90 minutes do we know anything more than the characters themselves, and they know very little aside from the details mentioned above. They investigate a little but never really learn anything new. As a matter of fact, the more they try to do something other than what Jay was already told what to do (which was to pass it on) the more they fail. But even when the time does arrive where Jay gives in and does what she must, the results aren't exactly full proof and end up torturing Jay even more as she slowly descends into the morbid reality that she will never be free of it.

It Follows breaks very little new ground here, as the relentless pursuer antagonist has been done plenty of times before in many different incarnations (The Terminator, Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc.). But where it does mine new material to scare us with is in how it sucks all the supernatural and science-fiction out of its antagonist and creates a whole new kind of terror, one based on the simplest of fears, being followed. Those other iconic horror figures all had some semblance of a personality or consciousness either by way of a traumatic past, programming or otherwise given divine powers. But the Entity in It Follows has no pattern, no purpose or reason to do what it is trying to do. It simply is, and something that cannot be explained is more frightening than anything with an axe or mask.


You may be wondering at this point how any of this is actually scary and the answer is quite simple. It feels real. The setting (which is a very appropriate 80's style throwback), the characters and more importantly the rules that are established early on, they all feel real. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell cleverly uses these rules and setting to his advantage which on the surface seem somewhat arbitrary at first, but are later revealed to be the things nightmares are made of. Take for instance the setting which eliminates modern devices such as cell phones and computers, things we rely on to help us feel more secure than we really on. By taking those crutches (and many more) away from our characters it puts them in a place where they constantly feel isolated from the rest of the world and in turn makes them much more vulnerable.

The film preys on our insecurities with a vengeance, as we watch in anticipation of when and where the Entity will arrive. It becomes a game of Where's Waldo after a while, as you sit there and examine each from for anything that looks out of the ordinary. As a character talks we see one, maybe two people in the distance walking towards them. Is one of them the Entity? Perhaps neither is and it is coming from a whole other direction? Once again the unknown becomes our ultimate undoing as, just like Jay, we sit there waiting hopelessly for the inevitable to happen and when it does we will be helpless to do anything other than run away.

We know, just like Jay knows, that it is coming for her. It won't simply stop at the house when it gets there to formulate a plan, it will simply go up to the front door disguised as whoever it wants, try to open it and if it doesn't open it will break a window and come in that way. Like a machine or evil energizer bunny, it keeps going and going. If it hasn't been seen for a few days it doesn't make you feel better either. As a matter of fact the longer it takes to show up the more dread sinks in and the entire film is soaked in dread. Just like the Entity itself, it never lets up, even moments of levity where our character is in what usually is considered a safe place, all she can do is sit there looking at the open door wondering when it will show up.


Even after the final frame, which offers little insight into the fate of our characters, that dread follows you home. It may be a little on the nose, but the film does in fact follow you home as it is almost impossible to go about the rest of your day not looking over your shoulder or trying to spot strangers out of a crowd that may seem to be heading straight for you. By that point it has seeped into your subconscious fear of the unknown, the fear that at any point something or someone can just be around any corner ready to reach out and do some unspeakable evil to you.

That is how It Follows is scary, it gets under your skin and that feeling of despair and fear lingers well after it is over. This isn't a gore fest, aside from a few key moments there is little to no blood at all in the film. It relies on the simple idea of how someone walking across a field, fixated on you, may in fact be this thing that wants to kill you. You don't know why it wants to do it and it doesn't matter. What matters is that it is coming for you and all you can do is keep running or pass it on. But even then, there is no guarantee it won't kill the person you passed it on to or ten people down the line and eventually make its way back to you. Once it has you, it will never let go. Patience is its weapon and it wields it well.



FINAL THOUGHTS:

It Follows may well be the scariest movie I have seen in years. This isn't jump out of your seat scary, but more of a psychological scary. David Robert Mitchell has crafted a tremendously terrifying experience that any horror fan worth his/her salt needs to see. Early I mentioned that something that grabs your attention doesn't need to be ground breaking or great. Well, this is ground breaking filmmaking and a great time at the movies. Above all else though, this is horror done right. Prepare to be scared!

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