Box Office Democracy: It Follows
Much like the slow moving menace that stalks its protagonists, It Follows had a slow, steady walk to being a cult horror hit. The kind of movie, if recent surprise successes in the genre are any indication, could lead to a rush of imitators looking to get a piece of quick horror cash. It Follows is refreshing in how different it is than the mainstream of the genre these days but it is also so arrestingly scary that it easily ranks among the least comfortable movie going experiences I’ve ever had. It’s also maddeningly opaque with how it dispenses exposition or even meaning to the events of the film.
Horror films in recent years have fallen in to a predictable pattern and I don’t just mean they’re overwhelmingly about demonic possession hitting young families. The way they choose to scare you always feels like the same jump scare. The music shifts to a faster tempo and the camera movements get slower and then something comes out of nowhere and is accompanied by a big string hit on the soundtrack. It’s effective but it’s boring and worse than that it’s obvious. I know nothing of consequence will happen in a movie like Annabelle until the last 10 minutes. It Follows has a different, more of a throwback, style of generating tension. They still kick the score in to high gear, they might even do it more but the tension comes from static shots, from first person perspectives of some flowers or the morning sky. Most of the time nothing happens and it doesn’t matter; I’m still zipping up my hoodie and looking at the ground. It gives all of the effect with none of the cheapness that comes with a cheap thrill for a child’s toy falling out of a closet. It feels more earned even if it might not actually be.
I hate when movies hold my hand too much, when they keep telling me things that would be so easy to show me. It Follows certainly doesn’t tell when it could show but also doesn’t tell when it refuses to show. There’s a very brief explanation of the rules for the monster in this film and then we never get any more information. We never get any why or any how. We’re just given a menace that slowly walks toward its victim and then kills them in a nondescript way that leaves a terribly mangled corpse. Then at the climax that stops and we get a suddenly much more clever whatever it is capable of evading the trap that our heroes have set with no indication that the trap would be successful. When the film ends, as all horror movies do, by teasing us with the possibility that the danger is still out there it isn’t the least bit surprising because I had no sense that this thing could be defeated as easily as they dispatch it in the previous scene. I was plenty scared in the moment but it’s the kind of movie that unravels as you pull at the threads in the hours and days that follow.
I want more horror movies to be like It Follows but I know that even by wishing that I am destroying the chances it will ever happen. Horror is so reactive I’m sure there have been dozens of conversations in Hollywood over the past month or so about how to capture this lightning in a bottle and get three movies just like it out by this time next year. None of them will get it right though, they’ll take the wrong things. Maybe one studio will think the secret is teenagers, or the speed of the ghost, or the techno-throwback music. The way studios saw Paranormal Activity and thought everyone wanted a bunch of found footage movies. What I want more of is the earnestness and the experimentation and even the flailing attempts at finding an underlying philosophy that give It Follows its charms. Oh well, see you all back here next year for a harsh review of Stuff Will Eventually Get You.