Screw the Critics #2: It Follows

A continuing segment in which Lily, intrepid blogger, goes head to head with the most dastardly of foes: Rotten Tomatoes. Group-think be damned! In this segment, we look at the lauded David Robert Mitchell movie It Follows starring Maika Monroe.  Who will win? Hint: it’s Lily. 


 

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: Smart, original, and above all terrifying, It Follows is the rare modern horror film that works on multiple levels — and leaves a lingering sting. Score: 97%

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I watched It Follows when it first came out last year and had little time to form an opinion before I was bowled over by audacious praise for the film, with some critics calling it one of the best horror films of the past decade. I did write a post about a year ago where I called it less of a horror film and more of a thriller and I still stand by that. Recently, I re-watched the movie with my friend (a fellow horror aficionado) who had never seen it, and my earlier lukewarm feelings  returned when I saw that she, too, was unaffected by the film. I debated whether to write about this because almost all of the consensus, from critics, pop-culture sites, and even from Redditors, seem to think that this movie is beyond reproach. But I have to disagree, and not because I’m some hipster who can’t like any mainstream culture. I love mainstream media as much as the next person, but I don’t like this movie. It’s as simple as that.

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Strengths of the movie

Original concept: I like how this movie turned the contagious virus trope into a curse passed through sexual activity. That’s very clever and frightening, because the victim receives the curse through sex and must rid themselves of it through the same means. The film turns a mostly positive act into one that is dangerous  and gives insightful commentary into the side of American culture that is still averse to casual sex. Even though the main character, Jay, only has consensual sex, she is still “infected” against her will, perhaps demonstrating that to some eyes, casual sex is never consequence free. It’s pretty rare that a horror movie creates a unique threat like the curse that David Robert Mitchell originated.

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Musical Score: Arguably, the score is the best part of the film. Without the score, many of the most notable scenes (like the cold open) would be less suspenseful. Note that I say suspenseful because I’m of the opinion that It Follows never reaches a level beyond mild dread and slight suspense. The music is responsible for most of that accomplished suspense and it also has the  difficult job of supporting the film’s more tedious moments.

 

A new world: Where and when does the story take place? Where, if they exist, are the character’s parents? These questions are never answered in the movie and that’s a good thing. I’m a fan of films that create a setting that exists in the “real world,” but doesn’t necessarily fit into a real time period or even a real city. The absence of the parents is also interesting because it creates a sort of Lord of the Flies world where children (or teenagers) are responsible for protecting themselves against danger, solving difficult problems, and fighting against death, all apparently without even the awareness of their parents. There are elements of different eras, like Jay’s high-waisted underwear, her boyfriend Hugh’s old-fashioned car, her friend Yara’s clamshell Kindle (who knows when those existed), her sister Kelly’s knee-high socks/ rollerblading pads, etc. The world David Robert Mitchell has created is not easily definable, but it’s a fascinating one.

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Maika Monroe: Jay is one of the best parts of the film. She’s fierce, intelligent, brave, and charming. She’s a fitting entry into the scream-queen roster, even if she’s not in a slasher film. While I had some problems with the other actors (which I’ll cover later on), she gave a consistent and believable performance throughout the film.

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Beautiful cinematography: The movie is beautifully filmed. Some of the camera-work can get a bit repetitive (like the slow pan…20 times is too much Mitchell!), but the overall effort pops with style and color. Mitchell transforms the suburban landscape; it’s innocent, dreamy almost, but interwoven with abandoned houses, decrepit office buildings, dying fields, and lonely beaches. Some scenes are worthy of being made into photographs.

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Weaknesses of the movie

Plot holes/ inconsistent lore: When you have a new type of monster/curse like the evil STD in It Follows, you have to lay down the internal rules that govern the monster’s behavior. We know that in movies about satanic possessions, holy water and exorcisms usually save the day, and in movies like Friday the 13th, you have to burn Jason and salt the ashes because  like the Terminator, he’ll be back. Mitchell sets out some ground rules for the monster/curse early in the film: it’s invisible to everyone but the infected parties, it’s trying to kill you, it’s passed only through sex, and even though it’s slow, it’s still smart. Cool, but the monster/ curse in the movie doesn’t follow these rules. At times, it has the power to open doors or smash windows, other times, it needs the victim to let it inside. In some cases, it follows the victim and other times, it appears out of nowhere. Jay sleeps alone numerous times throughout the film, but the monster never catches her or even tries to kill her when she’s vulnerable. Even when she’s sleeping outside in the woods, it doesn’t appear. If the monster is supposedly so smart, why doesn’t it kill Jay when she’s sleeping?

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If the monster can only walk at the speed of an average human, how does it follow Jay in time to pull her hair at a distant beach? It’s impervious to bullets, but emits buckets of blood when they shoot it at the pool in the finale. And if you really think about it, the monster isn’t that scary. It can only follow you, quite slowly, so if a victim sees it approaching, the sensible course of action is to go somewhere else. Since it never seems to attack Jay when she’s sleeping or in the least vulnerable, she’d only have to worry when she was in a stationary place. See it coming for you at work? Go have lunch twenty miles away and wait for it to come back. It should take the monster an entire day just to walk back to your neighborhood and by then you’ll be somewhere else. That’s if the internal rules apply, which by the way the monster behaves throughout the movie, is not always a given.

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It’s not scary: For the reasons given above, I didn’t find this monster very scary. I know that scariness is subjective, but besides being an inconvenience, the monster isn’t very frightening. It looks like an average human, albeit sometimes deformed. I think in time you’d grow used to its presence and become adept at avoiding it (like Sam and Dean in Supernatural. They’re experts at avoiding imminent death). And like I said above, the movie doesn’t build up more than a level of slight dread. I was bored at times, but never scared. I think what scared most critics was the overarching concept, but once you get past that, there’s not much left. As a horror-movie lover, that’s where this movie ultimately failed.

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Supporting cast: Boy, these kids were annoying. Their dialogue was inane (why are teenagers portrayed as such idiots?). All they did was sit around and play cards. There wasn’t any chemistry between Jay and Paul or Jay and Hugh or even Jay and Greg. There wasn’t any chemistry between any of the friends and they seemed to have nothing in common. And don’t get me started on the finale. After trying and failing to shoot the monster, they decide to round up a bunch of electric appliances (like lamps and TVs and radios) and throw them in the pool in an attempt to electrocute the monster. Oh, and they decide Jay should go in as bait. David Robert Mitchell apparently said that he wrote this because he thought that it was exactly the type of stupid idea that a group of teenagers would come up with, but I that idea is still too stupid. It’s almost farcical. Plus, Paul was portrayed as a “good guy,” but his solution to everything was to have sex with Jay. Can you understand why she’s a little hesitant about that, Paul? My friend and I were cringing over everything he and the other two girls said.

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Why must they speak?

 

Lily’s Final Consensus: It Follows gets points for its creativity and visual appeal, but it’s not scary enough to be called a horror movie. At best, it’s a unique supernatural thriller. At worst, it’s a superficial, slightly boring  and thoroughly tame horror movie. Score: 70%

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