Forenote: The introduction is longer than intended. Excuse me. Maybe I’m getting verbose as I get older, but I like it as written so I won’t redact any of it… I hope you enjoy this review as well as my introduction that explains why I love horror movies.
I’m always on the lookout for good horror movies. My fascination with them began many years ago… I had nightmares as a child and believed that I lived in a haunted house, so I was interested in all things supernatural as well as fantasy and magic. I started with horror comics, and read hundreds of them. I used to look at the pictures before I was old enough to read the words. I started reading books early too, as soon as I was able to do so, and children’s books soon gave way to horror as part of my staple reading diet. When I was eight years old, my school teacher read Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree stories to the class, so I naturally started with Enid Blyton. (Fantasy and magic was what I wanted, but I was disappointed by her other books.) At nine years old I’d read all Blyton’s Secret Seven and Famous Five books, and moved onto Franklin W. Dixon’s The Hardy Boys. But those books soon bored me and I never finished them. After reading a few classics (which was difficult for a child), I discovered Roald Dahl. By age eleven I’d found his darker stories and loved them. At age twelve I moved onto Stephen King, starting with Carrie and never really stopping. He’s still my favourite writer.
Good horror movies remind me of my childhood fears. Both good quality horror and fantasy movies bring back the magic, the sense of wonder I felt as an eight-year old child when the teacher read The Faraway Tree. They allow me to escape and take me to a faraway place of enchantment and sometimes horror. I think that’s where my love for the horror (and fantasy) genres is rooted, although it’s not something I think about so much as I simply love good horror. My introduction to horror movies came early as well. An older cousin had hundreds of them, so I got into horror movies before my teen years thanks to parents who allowed me to watch such movies in spite of the age restriction, and did a great job of explaining that it’s not real to both my brother and myself – I think many parents don’t do this adequately. By the age of sixteen I was well past any kind of fear while watching those movies. I’d invite friends over to watch them and laugh at their reactions.
This means that the bar needs to be set a little higher for me to enjoy a horror movie, because I don’t feel any fear, but do still love the atmosphere in well-crafted horror. This past weekend I found one that was far better than I expected it to be: It Follows. Here’s the trailer:
It’s a slow moving movie, but a good kind of slow, in that it builds up suspense and a sense of dread and despair way better than many higher-budget over-hyped movies. It plays on some of our primal fears, such that the protagonist is not safe anywhere because it follows. She has sex with a new boyfriend, then finds out that he chose her merely to pass it along. Call it an STD – sexually transmitted demon. It can look like anyone, and it walks towards you with single-minded determination… When it gets you, you die. Then it will return to everyone else up the chain, starting with the one who passed it to you.
What makes the movie great is the acting, and the overall atmosphere and tone achieved by the music, the lighting of the ordinary suburban town that somehow becomes a gloomy place of foreboding, the isolation of the characters and a sense of hopelessness and helplessness that comes across throughout the movie, as the monster slowly, steadily and relentlessly approaches its victim.
The movie has some problems, which I’ll mention briefly without saying enough for a spoiler, because I fucking hate spoilers and wouldn’t want to do that to anyone:
- Redundant scenes. There are two scenes that totally don’t belong in the movie. In the first few minutes, the protagonist is walking with her sister, who lights a cigarette. The conversation commences with “Mom knows you smoke”. She doesn’t smoke again for the rest of the movie, and it’s plain to see that the dialogue and cigarette were simply a narrative device used to state that this is her sister. What they should have done is either be consistent, and show her smoking again at other points where it would have made sense (like when the friends are lounging together at the beach), or remove the scene entirely. It really didn’t belong there because there’s some dialogue a few minutes later which reiterates that they are sisters. (Teen smoking is politically incorrect now anyway. Movie portrayal of smoking has become a movie trope that’s generally used to reinforce stereotypes, whether it be a badass good guy, a villain, or a promiscuous “bad” girl. Showing an innocent, good girl smoking, can confuse a viewer who subconsciously associates smoking in movies with the usual stereotypes. It’s like somebody didn’t get the memo.)
- The second redundant scene was most of the way through the movie. The protagonist has driven away from the monster, parked her car in front of the beach, and falls into an exhausted sleep on the bonnet. Then she wakes up in the morning, and as we see a boat with two strangers in it, she strips and goes for a swim. The scene sets up an expectation that goes nowhere. Why is she doing this? Does she want to commit suicide? What has the boat to do with anything? But then it cuts to something else. Sure, we know now she is a swimmer, but that scene was a waste of time. And it could have gone somewhere. The monster could have walked out from under the trees as she approached the water, or while she was in the water, or something along those lines to build suspense and further the sense of hopelessness in her plight.
- Here I will not go into any details… The movie narrative sets up some rules about the monster. It follows. It only follows; it’s not smart or fast but it is persistent and stares directly at you while walking towards you, always knowing where you are and never stopping but doggedly following you no matter where you go or what you do. It doesn’t do anything magical like disappear and then reappear somewhere else, and we wouldn’t expect it to get anywhere that isn’t in a direct line towards the victim. Then it breaks those rules a few times, in terms of the behaviour of the monster. Not too big a deal and those moments do improve the creepiness factor, but they really should have stuck to their own rules.
- Again, details would spoil too much so I will spare you… Even after you’ve passed it on, you can still see the monster. Towards the end of the movie when they try to deal with the monster in a group, where only she can see the monster, it would have made sense to ensure that she was not the only one to see it. Maybe… considering that this is not something you’d want to wish on your worst enemy, let alone someone you love. But maybe anyway. (I watched the movie with my mother, and she thought it was funny when I suggested to her that they have an orgy. One guy and three girls… If I were that guy, I would’ve at least tried my luck.)
- The plan they come up with to try dealing with the monster makes no sense. I won’t tell you what it is or how it turns out because I’m not including spoilers, but I know what I would’ve done: The monster is some sort of supernatural curse, sure, but it is also physical, though invisible to everyone besides the victims. So the monster can’t be stopped or killed, but surely it could be trapped? For example, a cemetery scene where the monster is trapped in a tomb or buried in a coffin? But that’s just my idea – it didn’t happen.
I found a review that quotes Quentin Tarantino, who watched the film, enjoyed it, and pointed out what he would’ve done differently. (He seems to agree with me, although he didn’t mention the unnecessary scenes.) Spoiler alert; don’t read that unless you have already watched the movie.
So it wasn’t exactly an instant classic, but it was more than just a good movie; unlike Tarantino I’d say that it is a great movie, and certainly the best horror movie I’ve seen in several years. In fact it’s hard to believe this is an indie movie. Director/writer David Robert Mitchell is someone we should watch closely for future projects. This was only his second movie and I predict great things to come.