For 19-year-old Jay, fall should be about school, boys and weekends out at the lake. But, after a seemingly innocent sexual encounter, she finds herself plagued by strange visions and the inescapable sense that someone, or something, is following her. Jay and her teenage friends must now find a way to escape the horrors that seem to be only a few steps behind them. (From Radius-TWC’s official synopsis)
Postmodern horror didn’t die when the Scream series and its imitators ran out of steam at the end of the ‘90s. Post-millennial horror connoisseurs, like Rob Zombie and Eli Roth, continued stirring pot-fulls of horror pastiche; mumblecore horror founders, like Ti West and Adam Wingard, continued staring at the genre through the spectrum of their own navels; and, every once in awhile, someone like Drew Goddard comes along with a movie like Cabin in the Woods (2010) and satirizes the genre’s most prevalent tropes in a genuinely creative manner. David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows (2015) is a more cerebral form of postmodernism – splitting the difference between homage horror, mumblecore, and satire – and references familiar elements as well as the social metaphors they’ve come to represent. In this case, those metaphors are sexual-transmitted diseases and the stigma of sexual promiscuity, though Mitchell leaves enough leeway for it to also be about the terrors of social anxiety. It’s not a judgmental statement on either phenomenon, but is a rather a cynical one.
Mitchell (whose only other feature-length film was The Myth of the American Sleepover , a somewhat referential look at ‘coming-of-age’ tropes) keeps the story fresh by also exploring the sort of urban legend/false mythologies that make so many enduring horror franchises work (like Wes Craven’s original Nightmare on Elm Street, from which Mitchell borrows parts of his booby-trap laden climax). In addition, the ‘passing of the curse’ elements play with the conventions that Japanese and Korean horror movies have worn thin over the last decade. This thoughtful dissection of narrative clichés is a difficult proposition – one that can lead lesser filmmakers into the realms of intellectual ouroboros. Mitchell’s problems relate less to over-thinking themes and more to a lack of structure. He’s definitely interested in scaring his audience with unexpected switch-ups in mood, but the film’s clever concepts are sometimes lost in dreamy visual asides or the malaise of a group of not particularly interesting characters, who, of course, make traditionally bad horror movie choices. The film also runs out of steam at the end of the second act and I suspect that Mitchell wasn’t sure how to end this story. The ambiguity of the final few minutes works, but the lead-up is anticlimactic.
It’s difficult to fault It Follows’ deliberate pace and illusory tone, because it helps differentiate the film from the stuff that inspired it, even the similarly indulgent (but much less watchable) mumblecore anti-epics. And the unusually stoic imagery is a beautiful canvas for the genuinely frightening scares. Mitchell bucks a lot of current trends, specifically the obsession with found-footage and pseudo found-footage cinéma vérité, opting instead for a cold and aloof kind of beauty that recalls the work of Stanley Kubrick during the latter part of his career. Like Kubrick, the director stages a lot of the film in still, wide-angle shots with one-point perspective and steady, relentless inward dollying (sometimes even with a steadicam). This standoffish framing can make it difficult to connect with the characters, but fits the paranoid themes. The camera becomes either ‘It’ or the victim’s view of ‘It’ and, like in John Carpenter’s seminal slasher, Halloween, the killer can spring from the blackened background or the blank peripherals of the frame. With one exception, ‘It’ also murders its victims off-screen. This might bother the gorehounds in the audience, but the casual carnage is even more foreboding in the context of Mitchell’s motifs. Even if It Follows isn’t the savior of horror some particularly excited critics and fans may have described it as (I never thought horror needed saving, anyway), it is a smart and beautifully made take on familiar themes. It might even be the best variation on the slasher format since Final Destination (2000).
The production specs for It Follows states that it was shot using both Arri Alexa and Red Epic digital HD cameras. That super-clean HD footage is presented here in 1080p, 2.40:1. As mentioned in the body of the review, Mitchell and cinematographer Mike Gioulakis shoot a lot of wide-angle and medium shots, which leaves a lot of information in the frame. The high amount of detail is beautifully represented with tight elemental separation and deep blacks. Yet, the qualities of the digital media keep textures plush and color nuances incredibly smooth. It Follows is also a very dark movie, which could wreak havoc with a more compressed transfer. The soft highlights do not disappear in blackness and the shifts in gradation do not band or ‘step’ aggressively. Colors are rich and sometimes quite vivid, though the harshness of the shadows sometimes dulls their impact. Only occasional uptakes in noise during a handful of the absolute darkest sequences and some minor sharpening effects throughout the busiest backgrounds impair this mostly fantastic transfer.
It Follows is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound. The sound design is cool and collected, serving the stoic and eerie images with as little incidental noise as possible. The dialogue, which is well-centered, is often mumbled or whispered, but rarely lost, due to the low volume levels. The stereo and surround channels keep busy with basic natural ambience, but rarely bust out with any aggressive cues (aside from a couple of gunshots and the sounds of a thunder storm). ‘Chiptune’ composer Richard Vreeland, aka: Disasterpeace’s electronic score is appropriately intense or dreamy when called for and tends to fill the aural void left by directional sound effects cues. The music throbs and flows into the speakers and sometimes even wraps around the entire room in a spinning pattern.
Critics’ commentary – This roundtable commentary is hosted by The Nerdist’s Scott Weinberg and features a who’s who of geek culture critics, including Eric D. Snider (MovieBS), Britt Hayes (Screencrush/Birth.Movies.Death), Samuel D. Zimmerman (Shock Till You Drop), Alison Nastasi (Flavorwire) and Eric Vespe (Ain't It Cool News). It’s a full-bodied discussion that sometimes veers off track in the same way movie podcasts sometimes do (I admit that I skipped around quite a bit while sampling this track, in part because I wanted to keep my review from being too influenced by what I heard).
A Conversation with Film Composer Disasterpeace (5:00, HD) – A brief interview with the composer on his career in chiptunes, videogames, and now movies.
Poster art gallery
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