Saturday, March 28, 2015

It Follows

If you have been reading my reviews for some time then you’ve probably noticed that I almost entirely ignore horror films. There might have been some childhood experience that I’ve long buried that accounts for my taste, but if so I’m not remembering it any time soon. But since I’m possessed of an above average memory - I can still remember the opening shot of Star Wars from seeing it in the theater - the idea that I’m repressing some scare of my youth seems unlikely. As an audience member I’ve never enjoyed being scared, and as someone who thinks critically and writes about film I have never known how to think about a genre the pleasures of which depend on the execution of certain tropes.

So where does all that history leave us with It Follows? Writer/director David Robert Mitchell has scored the first surprise hit of 2015 with his low budget story of a sexually transmitted haunting. Mitchell begins with a stand-alone sequence in which a Detroit teen (Bailey Spry) is pursued by an unseen menace. Cut to Jay (Maika Monroe), whose life of community college, swimming, and hanging out with her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and their friends is brightened by the prospect of a date with Hugh (Jake Weary). After a strange trip to the movies - Hugh says he sees a woman that Jay can’t see - the stakes are established when Hugh and Jay have backseat sex in the shadow of a blasted out Detroit building. (The empty houses and abandoned industrial spaces of Detroit complement the action as opposed to distracting from it.) Hugh tells Jay he has passed a curse to her: She will begin to see an apparition, which can take the form of anyone, following her. She can only free herself by having sex with someone else, but if she is caught by the spirit then she will die. It’s important to note that It Follows isn’t a parable about the dangers of teen sexuality, and Jay’s encounter with Hugh isn’t her first experience. We learn later that she has a prior history with Greg (Daniel Zovatto), the neighbor who offers himself in order to free Jay of what’s pursuing her.

It would be unfair to reveal too much about what comes next, except that Mitchell has orchestrated a series of well-done set pieces that reward close attention. It Follows is a film where danger can come from anywhere in the frame, and what Mitchell doesn’t provide in “gotcha” scares (the kind I don’t like) he more than makes up for by maintaining a complicated mood. There’s a melancholy to Jay and her friends, a sense of being trapped by circumstance, and if Jay’s haunting “represents” anything then I think it’s to do with the fact that a decade from now they could very well still be drinking on front porches together. It’s significant that the climactic appearance of Jay’s haunting is in a form she recognizes, but Mitchell wisely doesn’t overexplain the meaning. It Follows is also refreshingly character-driven. It feels like Jay’s friend Yara (Olivia Luccardi) has always been reading Dostoevsky aloud and that the most innocent member of the group has always been Paul (Keir Gilchrist), the one male. We’re only as far ahead of Jay and her friends as the amount of time it takes for Jay to see her next follower, and it’s almost possible to feel Mitchell figuring out the film as things break down. My previous reservations about the horror genre haven’t changed, but I enjoyed It Follows both for the exuberance of its originality and for the way it wasn’t everything I expected.

No comments: