Friday, August 28, 2015

It Follows

Reviewed in The New Yorker, David Robert Mitchell's horror film It Follows (2014) has the reputation of being an intelligent and thought-provoking genre picture.  In fact, the movie is poorly written, implausible, and strangely absent-minded about its own premise.  It is also completely humorless, lacking the wit of meta-horror films like The Cabin in the Woods.  Like Whedon's picture, the film makes explicit the underlying implications of a hundred other movies of its kind -- sex is deadly.  In It  Follows, the consequence of having sex is pursuit by zombie-like "followers."  The "followers" are, apparently, both material and immaterial -- sometimes they can be killed by gunfire, other times, they resist bullets and walk right through fusillades.  The "followers" seem to have super-human strength and malice aforethought -- if one of them kills a victim, then, the curse reverts to the preceding person in the sexual chain.  The effect is like La Ronde only with zombies.  No explanation is given for this phenomenon.  Commentators on the film laud the movie's refusal to supply explanation as creating "mystery".  But these commentators are pretty obviously fools and the lapses in the script are not explained by enigma but laziness. 

The film is elaborately produced with languorous slow steadi-cam movements tracking characters or revolving in 360 degrees (and, then, back again) across landscapes or dimly lit interiors.  Camera movements of this kind are always gripping and the film creates a false sense of doom and gravitas through these elaborately preordained tracking shots.  The director is skilled in mobilizing off-screen space to create dread and the movie is shot in convincingly dingy middle-class homes and romantically desolate urban wastelands (It Follows takes place in Detroit.)  But all of these effects are not only obvious, but painfully obvious -- an open door suggests the onslaught of a monster and the slow zoom toward that door with jangling-on-the-nerves music enhances that impression.  Whether the monster appears or not is immaterial -- the effect is one of dread but produced by the most oppressively manipulative measures.  None of this is rocket science, just production values applied to hackneyed material.  In general, the comely threatened teens sulk and brood and act in ways that make no sense at all:  in the opening scene a girl mostly naked but in what appears to be high-heels flees from a house.  An unseen zombie is after her.  So where does she go?  To an isolated beach where she sits all alone in the darkness under picturesquely stormy skies until the inevitable happens.  Similarly, the teens stalked by the monsters, of course, retreat to the familiar cabin in the woods for the show-down with the spooks.  The climax of the film in a big rundown swimming pool invokes The Cat People book lacks any of that film's wit or intelligence -- for some reason, the kids think they can lure the monsters into the water and electrocute them.  But the monster outsmarts them -- not hard to do since they are obviously idiots -- hurling the various appliances that the kids were using for sources of electricity at the heroine who stands in the middle of the swimming pool.  This sequence has some showy shots of bullets ripping through the water and a big flamboyant swirl of blood in the monochrome darkness of the haunted natatorium but the entire scene makes no sense at all.  Apparently, It Follows' whole budget was devoted to steadicam effects because the zombies are just naked people or kids in pajamas ambling along at a slow pace with a vacant look on their face -- the monsters would not be frightening at all except for the elaborate camera set-ups and portentous sound-cues that presage their arrival.  Films involving extraordinary and monstrous events that require suspension of disbelief must be scrupulously logical and consistent within their premises.  But It Follows doesn't make even elementary sense.  It's a pretty, but completely vacuous film. 

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