It Follows – It’s Not Shit
It’s about time I featured another horror movie, my most beloved of genres, on It’s Not Shit. It’s been almost two years since the last one. And that one was nowhere near as gripping as It Follows.
Which is almost as gripping as a big, strong man holding you down while putting chloroform in your face before giving you a lecture on a hell demon he’s just given you via his penis.
TL;DR Genuinely terrifying, It Follows is every bit as good as you’ve heard. It’s the Mad Max: Fury Road of horror movies. Meaning that it’s a throwback stylistically, and a surge forward thematically. And it’s just pretty fucking scary, you know? 4 out of 5 stars.
See, Ouija? This is how you do it.
The plot is simple enough: teenaged Jay is a girl just looking for love in her sleepy hometown. What she finds, instead, is a sexually transmitted murder demon. Together with her sister, neighbour, and friends, she must seek out the truth behind her pursuer, and desperately fight for a way to outrun it. After some failed efforts to stop It (and a gruesome lesson in what happens when you get complacent), Jay and the gang defeat It in a final showdown. By shooting it in the head.
Why can’t all horror movie teens be this pragmatic?
I watch a lot of horror movies. And by mere overexposure (and the fact that a lot of horror movies are shit), I rarely find myself sincerely scared. I’m happy to praise a horror movie for its technical merits, or for moving some pieces in the right direction, but I can’t really recall the last time I was afraid while watching a horror movie.
Well, I don’t have to scratch my head anymore. It Follows is scary, baby.
And that’s special.
Why I DON’T hate this movie:
It would be enough for It Follows to be only scary to earn my praise, but it also manages to be technically impressive, too. What really makes this movie stand out is the classic way it’s directed. The wide framing and lingering takes remind me of the original Halloween in the best possible way. And the electronic score could be straight out of an 80s slasher movie. It seems so simple, but the strength of It Follows’ style raises the story up the whole way through.
The story, too, is effectively simple. If there’s a sequel, I suspect we’ll slog through an exposition-heavy explanation of It in the most excruciating of minutiae. But for this film, It is left largely unexplained. Hugh, Jay’s not so knight in shining armour, lays the basic ground rules (It follows. Don’t let It get you), and the characters learn by experience the rest they need to know to function. But that’s it. Just a bunch of likeable teenagers trying to keep ahead of an unstoppable killbot.
When I said that It Follows is progressive thematically, I was talking about how it approaches sex. Cherry Falls is over a decade old, so it’s not like It Follows is the first movie to outwardly play with the “sex is death” rule of horror thumb (and, of course, let’s not forget Scream). But its honesty with sex, particularly with a female character who wants sex, is commendable. Hugh doesn’t rape Jay. Yes, he needs to bang her to pass on It, but she is down for the D. The chloroforming is non-sexual.
Using sex to pass along It also serves as a major source of conflict for Jay throughout the movie. She eventually has pragmatic sex with Greg the neighbour, which leads into another progressive element of It Follows’ approach to sex: Greg’s death.
Greg is killed by It while it’s posing as his mum. And It kills Greg by raping him to death. The movie presents this as exactly as horrifying and cruel as it needs to be, joining Gone Girl in the equal opportunity sexual assault club. Touché.
It Follows pulls a kind of Jawbreaker by having a timeless feel to its production design. The locations, clothes, and styling could put this movie anywhere between the 70s and now. The only piece of conspicuous technology is an e-reader one of the supporting characters has, but it isn’t obtuse.
Shots are not only wide and long, but also fucking steady for once. That’s been sorely missing from horror movies of late.
The beach scene, where It gradually creeps up on Jay while her back is turned, is the most frightening scene I can remember in a horror movie for years.
Oh, and the ambiguous ending, where Jay and Paul are walking down the street and someone appears to be walking behind them, left me with chills.
But it’s not all good:
The end of the movie is where It Follows’ story almost falls apart. The movie does such an incredible job of building its world and characters, and then it feels like it had no idea where to go for the final act. What we get lumped with is some bizarre scheme cooked up by Paul offscreen that involves Jay getting into a pool and the gang (except for poor, dead Greg) hooking up household appliances around it. When It catches up, they intend to electrocute it or something. I didn’t really understand how that would work. Wouldn’t there have been a huge danger they’d electrocute Jay, too?
The ending is also where It’s rules lose their consistency. The entire movie, all It has been built up to do is walk after you, and maybe smash a window or a door to get to you. But when It hits the pool edge, it decides to start throwing the appliances at Jay, instead. Since when was that in its repertoire? The girl who dies at the beginning slightly foreshadows this by using the ocean as a safe zone, but it was disappointing that It switched up its abilities just to facilitate the ending gambit.
And if It is so opposed to getting in water, why not just move overseas? Or go to live in Hawaii? Would It just wait around and catch a plane? Or if you’re intent on not leaving mainland America, and It only ever walks after you, why not just road trip every couple of weeks so It has to chase you? I saw Wild. I know how long it takes to walk up and down America.
There were a couple of things left ambiguous that grated on me. Paul, after having had sex with Jay following the pool showdown, gets a brief scene where he cruises some streetwalkers. I get that the movie is trying to show that he could be passing It on, but, like, rude.
There’s also a scene where Jay appears to possibly go hook up with a group of guys on a boat or something. But it kind of just happens, and then is never followed up on.
Kelly’s friend (who I dubbed Fart Girl. For obvious reasons) is an unnecessary character.
Wouldn’t It get hit by cars a lot?
Oh, and after they shot It in the head twice at the pool, did the gang not stick around and wait to see if It would reanimate? Were they just like “Good show, chaps. Let’s go live moodily ever after.”
Just like Mad Max, who knew it would take a breath of old air to achieve a breath of fresh air? I’m sure nothing will stop glossy studio tripe from being churned out (and glossy studio tripe isn’t always for the worse), but I can only hope that It Follows may precipitate some kind of classic horror/slasher fad. Because, you know, it’s not shit. 4 out of 5 stars.