Film Review: 'It Follows'
March 27, 2015 2:37 a.m.
KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews the new horror film, "It Follows."
ANCHOR INTRO: KPBS arts reporter and horror aficionado Beth Accomando says It Follows is one of the best horror films in years. So she can’t understand why the studio has been delaying the release and making access to press materials so difficult. Here’s her review.
In 1996 Scream served up a meta-horror comedy that ridiculed the tropes of the genre.
CLIP Do you like scary movies? What’s the point they are all the same. Some stupid killer stalking a big-breasted woman who can’t act and is always running up the stairs when she should be going out the front door, it’s insulting…
Horror took a hit after Scream. The film scored at the box office and with many horror fans, and ushered in a generation of filmmakers who couldn’t take horror seriously. They seemed to think that every scare required a punch line. It’s been a long road back to serious horror but recent films make my heart race with excitement about a new generation of horror directors dead serious about scaring us. People like Jim Mickle with We Are What We Are, Jennifer Kent with The Babadook, and now David Robert Mitchell with It Follows.
Mitchell sends up genre tropes as much as Scream did but in a wildly different manner. Instead of the smug superiority of the Scream franchise, It Follows critiques genre clichés by embedding them in the story and making us see them in fresh ways. Let’s dissect the opening scene from It Follows. First cue the music…
CLIP music (which will play under the whole description)
It announces the tone by creating an initial sense of unease, and then ramps up to build tension. Next, set the scene. The camera slowly and objectively begins a 360-degree pan of the suburban neighborhood. The sun is going down and everything seems quiet and calm. As the camera continues to pan it picks up a panicked young woman running out of her house. She looks like the big-breasted, stiletto-heeled slasher victim we’re familiar with but she’s not screaming. In fact, she tells her dad and a neighbor not to worry, everything’s fine. But she’s obviously terrified. The camera its 360-degree move allowing us to scan the entire area and conclude that there’s nothing unusual to report. The woman gets in her car and speeds away.
And Mitchell has us hooked because he has created a sense of anxiety. We feel tense, we’re worried about the girl but we can’t figure out what could possibly be out there. And that’s the scariest thing, the unknown, something that our imaginations are free to create in details that reflect our own individual fears.
It Follows work so well because Mitchell draws on his own fears, fears that date back to his childhood. When he was 10 he had a recurrent nightmare about something relentlessly following him. Now he passes this terror on to the character of Jay.
CLIP What’s going on? There’s nothing in the house Jay… I saw it… open the door and we’ll figure this out, there’s nothing out here.
But of course there is. And in another clever tweak to horror tropes, the only way to get rid of it is to pass it on through sexual intercourse with someone else. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot but I do want to say that what Mitchell goes for in It Follows is something old school and that’s a sense of dread.
CLIP more music
Dread’s different than horror. Dread plays on anticipation coupled with great apprehension while horror is more in the moment and about experiencing fear. We feel anxious throughout It Follows and that anxiety extends past the end of the film as you’ll catch yourself looking over your shoulder or in your rear view mirror after you leave the theater. Mitchell understands that dread is something that builds up. He says it’s not in any one particular shot or moment but rather how each one after the other builds a feeling of accumulated dread. And it’s a delicious feeling if you love being rattled and terrified.
Scream broke a key rule of horror, which is that it didn’t care for its characters. If a film doesn’t care for its characters then why should we and if we don’t care then how can we feel tension or suspense about their fate? Mitchell cares about his characters and so do we, and that keeps us on the edge of our seats as we worry about what happens.
But Mitchell is smart. He knows which rules to follow and which to break, and how to riff on a genre without ever disrespecting it. It Follows is not just one of the best horror films in years but also simply one of the best crafted films of any kind. I hate to weigh it down with too many superlatives because one of the pleasures of seeing it was that I knew nothing about it and had no expectations. But I will say this, It Follows makes this horror fan scream with absolute delight.
Beth Accomando, KPBS News.
TAG: It Follows finally opens in San Diego this weekend in select theaters. You can read more of Beth’s interview with the director on her Cinema Junkie Blog at KPBS-dot-ORG.