it follows

ItFollows_QuadIt Follows is an innovative indi style horror from director David Robert Mitchell. Jay, played by IT girl of the contemporary horror scene Maika Monroe, goes on a date with Hugh, a guy she knows very little. They have consensual sex and yet she ends up drugged and tied to a wheelchair in a deserted underpass. Her date passes something on to her, a monster that follows its host wherever they go until they either pass it on to someone else or end up dead. Hugh is very obliging with information about the entity that Jay is about encounter because if it kills her it goes back down the line to him (Final Destination style) Only the host can see the entity, it can look like anybody; ‘a stranger in a crowd or somebody you love,’ and from the second Jay is unceremoniously dumped at the side of the road in her underwear until the end of the picture it is a grueling and exhausting race against time for her and us to outrun/walk this nightmare.
it follows carIt Follows is a film built around feeling and impression rather than dialogue, or action for that matter and is a good example of American independent horror’s move towards art house. Whilst the paranoid premise of the film is undeniably conveyed in an original way, the idea that someone has been replaced or taken over by a malevolent copy is a long standing theme within the sci-fi genre. It Follows owes a small debt to films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, (1956, Don Siegel & 1978, Philip Kaufman) The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982) and The Faculty, (1998, Robert Rodriguez) the film itself tips its hat early on to the films of the 50’s in which it has it’s roots, during a scene were the main group of kids sit around a small television watching a late night black and white sci-fi. (if any one can identify the film i would be interested to know) This idea of eating from a bowl of snacks while watching an influential but perhaps overlooked B movie seems to me to be a reference to the other big influence on this film; John Carpenter, the next biggest being Wes Craven.
it-follows-wheel chairFilms from this new wave of young American horror filmmakers like It Follows, or recently The Guest, seem to engage in a kind of neo-postmodernism where they are obviously heavily influenced by those who came before like JC and Argento, but chose to be much more subtle with their references than their 90’s pop culture cousins like Scream. (1996, Wes Craven) It Follows may begin with a girl named Annie running out of a familiar house in a familiar street looking like she is being chased by Michael Myers but that really is as heavy handed as it gets. (aside from the music) This low fi approach may be in response to a culture so over-saturated with on demand TV and film that the traditional ‘water cooler’ moment has been eroded to a point where it is now unattainable for an individual to have a rounded knowledge of popular culture like the geeks of yesteryear. It has become preferential to include small details that audience members can chose to look for without jarring the flow of the narrative for those without the same referential framework.
It-follows-mirrorThe 8-bit, video game style soundtrack is on point yet over the top, verging on distracting, while edging perilously in the direction of style over substance. I like the general idea of the soundtrack and in someways I like the music, but a soundtrack needs to be able to be subtle as well as showy to bring a range of tones to its subject. When someone is simply looking in a mirror and the soundtrack is going hell for leather it becomes almost comical. The sound design on the other hand was really impressive, not just chilling, but one of the only times in a cinema when I feel I have genuinely experienced the fabled ‘surround sound’ experience.
There were a few (I presume) unintentional laughs,the ‘Jaws (1975, Stephen Speilberg) beach moment,’ and the ‘mother as succubus moment’ are a couple of examples. For me this lightness played well against the impressively oppressive terror and added charm to the film. This seems like a good point to breifly mention the recurring use of pretentious literary quotes, that did not fit in at all, but lets move on to the underlying themes of It Follows;
In the run up to its release I heard via word of mouth a lot of people bandying around the idea that It Follows is about the horror of sexually transmitted diseases, and to an extent I a sure that this is the case. On the surface the kids in the film are all quite ordinary, melancholic perhaps, but without any particularly obvious problems. But there is an undercurrent of sexual perversion, abuse, disease, and drug induced mental problems. What follows Jay and the others in my view are the horrors of childhood sexual abuse. We hear about, and at one point catch a faceless glimpse of Jay and Kelly’s mother, but it is not until the end sequence of the film that we become truly aware of the absence of their father. The creature following them goes through  many incarnations but it’s final face (look away now if you think this spoils it for you) is the face of her father. The father is the root of the terror that follows her her whole life and blights her future relationships.
it follows abandoned houseThe effects of what Jay is given include sleeplessness, anxiety, and an inability to get close to individuals. Embarking on a new physical relationship becomes a huge decision and her decision making in general when it comes to relationships has been impaired. The girls empathetic childhood friend Paul twice questions why Jay has chosen to date/sleep with first Hugh and then Greg over himself. If I were to take a guess I would suggest it is because Jay’s self worth has been destroyed and it is easier for her to do the opposite of what might be best for her. Before Jay gets tied to the wheelchair and stuff gets nuts there are two moments where we are given either a first person perspective, or a general opportunity to empathise with the character; in the garden pool, and post coital in the car. These moments could be seen as the equilibrium before the storm, but to me these moments hint that something was already not right before Hugh passes the thing onto her, something that caused her to make the retrospectively bad decision to sleep with someone she barley knew in the first place.
Jay receives a huge amount of support during the events of the film from her sister and young friends. Adults are largely absent from the narrative, the kids must rely on each other. It is a common theme of the films of Wes Craven that parents and authority figures are at worst a threat and at best completely ineffectual in understanding the issues effecting the young people this, coupled with the idea of staying up all night, is why as I mentioned earlier I see Craven as probably the second biggest influence on the film.
it follows swimming poolFrom a horror point of view it would have been best for the end titles to come up over the blood swirling outwards across the swimming pool, but I can understand why the filmmaker chose to clear up a few plot points after that. The ending is in some ways a happy one with an unsettling edge. It is almost obligatory these days to hint that the horror might be inescapable, but in this case it was a necessity. It is a delight to be able to go to the cinema an see a horror film (or any film for that matter) where you don’t know for certain what might happen in the end. I can say with a high level of certainty that It Follows is an instant classic, and will be the joy of film theorists for decades. I fully recommended you see this film.


The Guest

Guest poster here to helpAn 80’s B movie influenced thriller with horror elements from Your Next (2011) director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett. The Guest is a big departure for Downton’s Dan Stevens as “David” a soldier returning from duty who stops to pass on a message to the family of his dead comrade. David claims to have instructions to look after the Petersons, but the still grieving family are letting themselves in for more than they bargained for by letting David into their home and lives.
The Guest is a mixed bag of genres with about 2/3 small town thriller and 1/3 slasher movie. The initial suspense surrounding David’s intentions trickles away quickly as bad things start happening to the films supporting characters. The lack of tension is made up for with heaps of visual style, although personally I am a bit sick of pink and blue as a color scheme, (Only God Forgives, Hummingbird, Drive) however Wingard  couples this with an impressive and innovative soundtrack which elevates proceeding to what can only be described as ‘modern Argento,’ where visuals and sound combine to create a surrealist, dream like atmosphere.
adam solidierThe most interesting thing about The Guest is that despite the sinister aspects of David’s presence in the home David actually brings something important to each individual family member. For the mother he fills the position in the family left by her dead son. This is of course also what initially unsettles daughter Anna and her father. Mr Peterson is quickly won around as he needs someone who can act as a soundboard for his inadequacies in the work place. David is happy to sit silently and drink beer with him. David teaches the Peterson’s son Luke who is bullied at school self defense (or maybe self preservation) Thinking that he has found a ‘friend’ Luke is perfectly happy to become a mini David. Anna is harder to convince. She is suspicious of David from the start. At a party David attempts to win her over by assimilating with her friends, partaking in recreational drug use, and when he drives her home he tells her that he likes her taste in music and wants her to make him a mix tape.
the guest halloween influences
It is clear that each family member is lonely and needs someone that they can confide in who will listen without judging. (This is a fascinating comment on a society where whole groups of people can have a conversation where everyone is talking about themselves but no one is listening, just waiting for the next cue to speak) We could perhaps presume that the dead older son used to fulfill that role (or perhaps not) either way the families lines of communication are broken and each individual is quick to put feelings of what might be called intuition to one side in exchange for what David offers them. When Anna is making her playlist we can see that she is starting to fall hard for David. But the next day she overhears him talking mysteriously on his phone and her suspicion is reignited. Things must come to a head.
anna and lukeI get the impression that David on some level does genuinely care about the family , and wants to make things better for them, but he is also driven to react in the way he does by forces beyond his control. David is an emotionless character (played brilliantly by Stevens) so it is hard to say whether things, like desire, are things he feels or things that others project onto him. This is illustrated by his sex scene . When he sleeps with Anna’s friend Kristen she suggests that he isn’t into it and then all of a sudden he becomes very ‘passionate.’
THE GUESTAnna is a very restrained person like David is. At one point we see her on a set of swings with her boyfriend. She is reluctant to show emotion about her dead brother and pulls away when her boyfriend tries to show her physical affection. Anna and David seem to share a connection deeper than with the rest of her family, even the girl he sleeps with means nothing to him. The emotional psyche of the characters is played out through the films soundtrack choices with a host of songs about whether or not people are sharing genuine emotions. Even at the end after some truly terrible things have happened it is as if Anna and Davis still share their connection.
The GuestThe Guest is disjointed and is intense rather than tense, but I enjoyed it in spite of or maybe because of these reasons. The film didn’t quite grab me around the throat in the way that Your Next did, but I am still thinking about the deeper meaning of the piece which is an important quality for a film to have. Wingard is good with actors and, in partnership with Barrett, he is very competent with bringing out the intimate family drama in a piece as well as some really great moments of black comedy. If there is anything that bothers me its that I would love to watch a film from Wingard solely based on the last sequence of The Guest because as a concept for a slasher film it was so tantalising. But I suppose it is best not to get pigeonholed.
guest david halloweenThe Guest is also filled with some great references to classic films as well as Wingard and Barrett’s earlier work. The Guest is set in the run up to Halloween, so for much of the time it looks like the set of a Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) sequel, (preferably to six) there are a couple of references to Halloween 3, at one point we see some of the extras wearing the animal masks from Your Next, and there is a great cameo near the end from AJ Bowen. When Anna’s boyfriend gets arrested and her father wont listen to her it is reminiscent of A Nightmare on Elm Street, (Wes Craven, 1984) and the horror maze at the end is very the Man With the Golden Gun. Plus the android in Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012) is also called David and the UK trailer for The Guest was definitely riffing on the Prometheus viral ads for David 8.
All in all The Guest is a very fascinating and enjoyable movie, I am glad it got a wide release, and I look forward to seeing what Wingard and his team come up with next.