Sunday, 10 May 2015

IT FOLLOWS (2015) Film Review

Check it out... if you seek a horror film which successfully hearkens back to horror classics of old, those of which feature tension, underlying hostility and subtlety at their core

Skip it... if you are solely intrigued due to the quantity of unwarranted appraisal heaped at the feet of this very good but somewhat lacking horror fare  

It Follows poster
"It Follows [is] a harrowing, versatile and tension-ridden horror venture that successfully enchants the audience"

Much as The Babadook defied expectations and accumulated an immense cult following in record-breaking time, It Follows has hypnotised a horror-deprived culture and thus amassed dedicated fans willing to champion their new-found treasure as one of the finest films of the year to date. In situations of this like, sensationalist headlines deter opportunities for a more critical analysis of the film in question, and delighted cinephiles proclaim the feature as a masterpiece. It is a common occurrence. And whilst I oft-time agree with the mass consensus, in my experiences, these kinds of films underwhelm. It's not that they're bad; it's just that they do not meet the expectations. Even when dismissing the value of my anticipation entirely, one still encounters numerous faults. Director David Robert Mitchell, whose previous venture, The Myth of the American Sleepover, received critical acclaim but underachieved in terms of mass recognition, returns to cinemas to provide It Follows; a harrowing, versatile and tension-ridden horror venture that successfully enchants the audience.

Young Jay has sex with a young man. Through the act, this young man passes onto her something. Neither know exactly what it is. But it follows. And it will not stop following until you are dead. How joyous. So Jay must avoid this thing at all costs. But it will find her. It can present itself in any human form, as explained to Jay by this young man, and it will not relent from its path. Wherever she runs, hides, drives; ducks, weaves or dodges; wherever she goes, it will find her, and it will kill her.

There are other details in relation to the general plot, but I shan't spoil them. The general gist is that Jay has to find a way to escape the clutches of this methodical being. For what it's worth, the film is genuinely terrifying. I'm someone easily scared though, so there's that. All the same, Mitchell has successfully constructed a tension-filled horror fare that manages to hearken back to the days of subtle scares. The same kind of suffocating, aggressive and foreboding atmosphere that permeated Ridley Scott's original Alien and Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining can be found in stretches throughout the feature, much to my delight. There are also periods where jump scares pervade and, to an extent, diminish the value of the established mood. Sometimes the film just plain isn't scary. But when the film does instill dread into the heart of the viewer, it's an absolutely exhilarating experience.

The film's horror is namely a result of the meticulous and systemic approach towards the cinematography and editing, all of it feeling controlled, relaxed and hostile. Wide shots from afar are the norm, and they implant an underlying sense of being watched, or the opposite; watching someone. Jeff Cronenweth's work within last year's Gone Girl is reminiscent of Mike Gioulakis's cinematography in this context, both films utilizing frame size, depth-of-field and carefully orchestrated viewpoints to evoke a sense of perpetual dread within the audience member. Long takes that last up to multiple minutes, slowly following the protagonists, much as the creature does, stun one with the sheer audacity of the endeavour. It's clear that Mitchell and Gioulakis had a specific visual style they wanted to exploit within It Follows, and they incorporate it masterfully.

But whilst the visual component astounds, the audio overwhelms and ruins many a sequence. The utilization of a retro, 80's-vibe synthetic score was bound to garner immediate critical and mainstream appraisal. General audiences seem to commend any score within context, and It Follows is no exception. Whilst I will admit that some scenes benefited from the grating electronic pulsations composed by Disasterpeace (responsible for the score to FEZ), much of the film suffers greatly from his droning implementations. Obtrusive is an understatement. Does blatancy within the musical element instantaneously register as a positive for the mainstream; for if so, it is truly a dark day. I can appreciate good sound design, but a certain amount of subtlety is warranted for me to do so, and what Disasterpeace has provided contains none of such. Jay's primary leitmotif is so overwhelming and inconsiderate it ruins scenes which should be unruinable. Scenes where she's simply putting her make-up on. The music thuds above the tame actions and assaults the senses. It's excessive and foolish. I listened to the score outside of context last month, and I was dissatisfied and irritated by what I received. It is as terrible inside the film as I was dreading. To see a positive example of effective sound design composition, seek out Blade Runner, Steven Price works or even the recent Ex Machina, by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow; all are overtly superior works in comparison to this drivel.

The film also finds concerns in terms of its climax, the character's making foolish decisions that seem unwarranted. Their plan to combat the creature is as far-fetched as it is stupid, and it takes one out of the tension of the picture. That said, the finale is one of the finer horror finales I've seen as-of recently, Mitchell finding a convincing way to both naturally conclude the tale, whilst also leaving us with a sense of overwhelming alarm. It's a gorgeous and ingenious way to end a film.

What most impresses me is perhaps the approach towards the teenagers in the feature. They all feel appropriately crass, intelligent and relatable, all characteristics which prove to be rarity's within the horror genre. Lead actress Maika Monroe, fresh off her role in the surprisingly entertaining The Guest, in particular delivers her strongest performance yet, her convincing portrayal of a confused and terrified nineteen-year old suitably affecting. There is a naivety in her eye that we see explored within early scenes that is shed as the film clambers ahead, Monroe adapting her performance to aptly suit the requirements of the petrified young protagonist. She is the nail in the coffin, and without, I may have awarded the film a substantially lesser rating.

It Follows is not the game-changing masterclass in film composition, narrative development and pacing that many would have you believe, but it is justly impressive all the same. This film serves as Mitchell's entrance into mainstream recognition that he sought with his previous feature but never wholly achieved. He presents a unique and enthralling story with technical competence and prowess, rare in someone with such little experience. It is clear that the director possesses a talented eye and a knack for visual flair, and this makes me excited for his subsequent cinematic ventures. If he can discard musical ineptitude for something less blatant and more compositionally varied, we could have a world-class horror filmmaker on our hands. I for one am very much excited to see where he can go from here onwards.


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