It Follows (2014)
Another film I had hankered after, since reading good reviews about it almost two years ago. I tend to avoid American films about groups of teenagers becoming involved in an horrific situation. You can generally assume that the good-looking girl will just about survive, some of her less good-looking friends will be killed, and the solid guy that she didn’t like at first will become the love of her life at the end. The threat will usually be obvious from the start, and all the conventional plot alerts will be in place; musical crescendos, descending into dark cellars, and opening doors to strangers.
There have been exceptions. ‘Final Destination’ brought a new twist to the genre many years back, and felt like a breath of fresh air at the time. Now we have ‘It Follows’. The idea of an unseen entity possessing people is hardly new. It is generally discovered to be a demonic presence, the spirit of a serial killer, or a ghost in limbo. We can normally have a good idea what to expect, with contorted limbs, gravelly voices from Hell, and the ability to fly or crawl around rooms at speed. This film could have been all that, but wisely chose a different path.
For a start, I didn’t recognise a single member of the cast. As I have said before, that works for me every time, as I can put all my preconceptions back into the metaphorical box where they live. And then there is something I really was not expecting. Cinematography. Playing in delicious widescreen, with muted colours, 360 degree camera movements, and sumptuous still panoramas, this rewrites the way such films are shot. Think Terrence Malick, and you will get the idea. The film not only builds slowly, it stays slow too. No nervy jump-cuts, few changes of pace. I could have watched this as film-making, even without a story. But I digress.
So, we have an unseen entity. It possesses people by changing hosts when they make love. It doesn’t take over their body, oh no. Instead, it follows them, shape-shifting into anyone it wants, sometimes familiar to the victim, other times a complete stranger. What makes the idea work so well, is that the entity is slow. It walks, and keeps walking. Drive a hundred miles away, and it has to walk to follow you. But it will follow you. And as in many other films, only the victim will see it, but unlike so many others, the presence and effect of it can be seen and experienced by others too. I am not going to run through the film scene by scene, or even say much more about the group of teens, their interaction, and what happens to them. It would be impossible not to spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it if I did this.
What I liked about this film was that it didn’t bother to cross every ‘T’, or dot every ‘I’. Things happen without explanation. A girl goes swimming in a lake. We are not told why, we have to remember something earlier, and draw our own conclusions about her actions. Five teenagers drive a long way to a remote house by the shore. We don’t see them tell their parents they are going, and we don’t see them collecting toiletries, or a change of clothes. We are presumed to be intelligent enough to have realised that’s what they did. There is no convenient explanation about who or what this entity is, or why it is doing what it does. No worthy professor appears with a dusty bound volume, explaining its intent. Nobody goes to the local newspaper office, discovering the reason in the microfiche archives.
It just is, and it just happens.
So we are left with an exceptionally well-made horror film, in a somewhat familiar genre. The cast is serviceable enough, though none would win an acting award. Some horror standbys are evident. The nerd who loves the girl, the good-looking rougher boy who gets the girl. The reliable sister, and the friend with glasses. But there are no adults. No school principal, psychiatrist, or scolding parent. No world-weary police detectives, or overweight friendly beat cops. No elderly neighbours, reliable uncles, or kindly old men from a corner shop. The teens are the cast, and the only cast. They have to fight this thing alone, and stick together through unbelievable situations, relying on trust and friendship.
Together with the outstanding natural lighting, pulsing electronic music on the soundtrack, the aforementioned first-rate film-making, slow pace, and compelling camera angles, this makes for a very different horror film experience.
I have to conclude that it is actually very good indeed.