When it comes to watching horror films, I tend to categorize them into two separate groups: typical horror films and smart horror films. Typical horror films use common tropes and forms of anticipation that may still be effective if you aren’t already aware of what these tactics are. This makes those films “scary” but maybe not necessarily “horrifying.” I may have mentioned this before in a past piece, but back when I took a horror film course at my university, my professor asked the class to differentiate between “scary” and “horrifying.” I felt that something truly horrifying forces you to imagine yourself in the shoes of the main characters and consequently be repulsed by it. I used to think I was only truly horrified by films that had realistic premises, like home invasions and serial killers. However, I realized that supernatural films can create a horrifying sense of dread for the viewers if written correctly. Imagine being followed by a nonentity of evil for the rest of your life, whose only goal is to kill you because you slept with someone who also had it following them–pretty horrifying.
It Follows directed by David Robert Mitchell is seen through the eyes of a girl named Jay (Maika Monroe). Jay is in her early twenties taking college classes in her hometown, while her friends are living it up out of state. This causes her to rely on her younger sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and her sister’s friends, Yara and Paul (Olivia Luccardi and Keir Gilchrist) for company. When she isn’t hanging out with the trio, she seems pretty independent.
There are multiple scenes where Jay is wading in her Intex pool, observing nature around her. I thought this was referring to the idea that Jay is now a young adult, but is still in this limbo state where childhood and adulthood collide. The pool is where she finds safety and comfort, and where she does not have to face responsibility. This isn’t the only indication of the strain between childhood and adulthood that most people in their early 20s experience. I would even go so far as to say that the entire film is about dealing with growing up. It’s funny to hear people’s first take on this film, because it usually goes something like this, “The film is totally about STDs. I mean, come on. What else could it be about?” I would say that that’s taking the film too literally. Yes, STDs are always something to be wary about, but I don’t believe Mitchell’s vision for the film was to simply heighten the experience of STDs. There is too much seriousness to the film for it to be that superficial.
The proof is in the cinematography; childhood and adolescence are constantly referenced to counter the very adult matter that Jay must face–the haunting of a violent, supernatural force that was passed along to her. There are multiple times when she looks up at the sky, like a child. Adults are rarely shown in the film, especially parents. Self-harm is shown metaphorically through visuals. The rule that their parents would not let them go to “the bad part of town” as children is discussed. A girl runs around in high heels but not in that “Hollywood always makes girls run around in heels because patriarchy” sort of way. It purposely looks out of place, as if she is playing dress up. I could go on. This is definitely an intentional film. The dialogue is not wasted, and observational shots that leave you curious are there for a reason.
What I find so impressive about this film, is the lack of a distinct period of time. The fashion itself seems to subtly resonate with the ‘70s, but still has a contemporary feel. The technology used is a combination of the past, present, and future. Yara, for instance, uses a pink sea shell. It looks like it could be a compact mirror, but it’s actually a E-Book-esque accessory. “Whoa, where can I get one of those?!” You can’t, because Mitchell made it up to create a timeless piece free from smartphones. The four friends watch old movies on an old television set. When Jay goes to the movie theater, an organ is seen playing in the auditorium. The cars are both modern and classic styles. The music is synthy, ‘80s power pop, with a twisted edge. You get the gist. The film also tends to zoom into extreme close-ups, which I think is a nod to earlier horror films. Speaking of camera movements, watch out for the 360-degree panoramas–they are absolutely brilliant. What’s also brilliant is the fact that the characters look their age, something that I always appreciate. As you can tell by my “review,” I mostly discussed the directorial choices because I have encountered too many people who completely missed them. It’s a shame because it’s such a smart film that has a solid story and vision. You won’t be scared by overused tropes, like jump scares, but by the original concept–which is quite refreshing.
From Pixar to Studio Ghibli, from Live-action to Claymation, from Wizards to Hobbits, from French New Wave to Horror, from the symmetrical, warm-hued dream of Wes Anderson to the dark, twisted nightmare of Tim Burton, from the bloody, vengeful mind of Quentin Tarantino to the theatrical, contemporary spirit of Baz Luhrmann, 20-year-old Cristina loves it all. Her desire to study film at Seattle University sprung from a childhood of video store rentals and collecting movie tickets (she currently has over 100 tickets and made a mini curtain out of them). Picking her favorite films makes her anxious because she doesn’t want any of them to feel left out. However, she does thoroughly enjoy Amélie, Everything is Illuminated, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Pan’s Labyrinth. Mostly because they stab her in the feels. Yeah, those are good. Hit her up (or creep) on Tumblr: noirness.tumblr.com and Twitter: @cristinarwhal.