Watch This: It Follows

11

March 30, 2015 by Laird

I am frequently asked, what scares you? Or more recently, what’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you? People might expect me to say something about blizzards, or falling through the ice, or getting lost in the wilderness, or doppelgangers. While all those things have a foothold in my mind, among the most dreadful experiences I’ve had is a recurring nightmare of walking along an endless sidewalk in a Seattle neighborhood. The dream has haunted me for twenty years.

And the scenario is always the same: It’s late and overcast. Dead leaves cover the wet lawns and clog the gutters. Streetlamps ignite a murky twilight haze and my shadow stretches before me. Something awful trails me. I don’t know what it is, or where it is, except that it’s malevolent and that it only emerges between glances over my shoulder, inexorably closing the distance. I wake before I make it to my door and the sense is that moment of awakening is the moment of my death.

Today, I went to a matinee of It Follows. My only company in the theater was an usher who patrolled the walkway every twenty minutes or so like a shark cruising the shallows. I’m not going to say much directly about this film. Hype aside, director David Robert Mitchell doesn’t reinvent the genre so much as take a nightmare and filter it through the lenses of John Carpenter and James Cameron. This story isn’t shiny or new. The threat isn’t breathtakingly original. No, we’ve met it before; we’ve known it all along. It is old, and scaly as our darkest hind-brain. It lurks within the clammy, clumsy first embrace with a stranger; it lurks between the lines of the story of The Birds and the Bees, and it lurks at the overheated core of the North American horror tradition. That unpleasant, inevitable familiarity is precisely what makes It Follows affecting.

Mitchell gets it so right because he takes on the relationship between category horror and sexuality. He sets our terror of intimacy and pleasure within the confines of an inescapable nightmare powered by its own illogical and contradictory progressions. He’s accomplished a devastating takedown of Judeo-Christian-inflected horror and its insatiable preoccupation with hedonistic sex and nubile youth and a corresponding compulsion to punish and destroy that youth.

Walking back to my truck after the show, I glanced warily at a guy shuffling across the lot. It occurred to me from the ache in my arms, that I’d been white-knuckling for an hour and change. Of course, I chuckled ruefully and moved on. Been a while since a horror movie got into my head and much longer since one has inhabited my subconscious to the degree that I swim up from a nap to type out a few sleep-drugged thoughts on the experience.

Mitchell’s film took me back to my nightmare wasteland of deserted Seattle streets and the sense of being stalked by some incarnation of malevolence. My baggage is unique and what disquiets me will leave another shrugging. Most of us understand the nightmare, though. Most of us share it, in some form. Mitchell certainly does, and It Follows taps that primordial vein.

11 thoughts on “Watch This: It Follows

  1. Jonathan Sprague says:

    I concur. It Follows is horror on a human scale as opposed to the usual, exaggerated gore fest with the usual superhero scream queen. The movie depicted young people confronting, with all their human imperfections and limitations, an implacable threat — one that cannot be exorcised, or eradicated or blunted with irony. It Follows is an existential horror film — much like Babadook. In Babadook, the monster is a metaphor for grief. In it Follows, the monster is a metaphor for sex.

    Plus, the It Follows’ great, shoegazy electronic score is on par with John Carpenter’s legendary Halloween score.

    This great, creepy film deserves a wide audience.

  2. Laird says:

    Good analysis. Yes, and that soundtrack!

  3. I just got back from seeing this at U Film Society here in Minneapolis. I think your commentary was spot-on and don’t see anything I can argue against. I’d like to add a couple of things. The weird timelessness of the production design is an awesome part of the flick. There’s nothing to pinpoint the time of the telling. The e-reader is a modern touch but is far outnumbered by anachronisms and dated tech. This was as unnerving as many of the moments with “It” around.

    Honestly, I am torn about “It”. I wonder if we needed to know more about the background. Just a little. We knew a little about Michael Myers by the end of Halloween. We knew the important parts of Sadako’s past by the end of Ringu. Just enough detail to make the thing feel more real. I suppose there’s no answer to that one, just like the enigma of the movie itself, but it’s worth thinking about.

    • Laird says:

      Yes! The tech was so incongruous I had to wonder if the opening sequence took place after the rest of the film. Have to watch it again. The narrative circles in on itself again and again–a nightmare.

  4. oshvat says:

    I saw it today and thought it was a really weird movie. That was a good thing, though it had the shocking opening it was the creepiness that got me. The music really did it for me as well using a more atonal scale, which to most of us is so out of tune. Then that ending really made it for me as well, and I know if someone had been following me I would have lost it. Reminded me of Lovecraft, Vandermeer’s Annihilation and what I have read of your work where it’s the creepiness of a seemingly normal situation and what you three authors and other weird writers are able to do.

  5. I’m glad to hear this. At first glance the trailer looked like the usual teenage horror movie fare, however something about a subsequent quote by Mitchell I read made me think that assumption was wrong. I don’t remember the quote or where I saw it but it got me thinking, ‘what would it look like if someone with some real talent and a legitimate love of horror set out to make one of those teenage ‘you have sex you die’ films but made it good? Visceral instead of just broadstroke entertaining? I’ve been hoping since that It Follows might be exactly that. After your take I will be seeing it this week.
    Incidentally, a movie called Starry Eyes just went streaming on Netflix and I would be curious what you think of it. There felt like some of your influence in the writing, a certain quiet horror that reminded me of Catch Hell and more specifically perhaps The Siphon. I enjoyed it quite a bit.
    Thanks for posting this.

  6. Laird says:

    I plan to watch Starry Eyes tonight. Definitely check out It Follows. The best horror movie I’ve seen in the past seven or eight years is Sauna. It Follows is in the ballpark.

  7. […] nicht allzu langer Zeit schaute sich (der von mir verehrte) Laird Barron einen Film an und schrieb einen kurzen Blogartikel darüber. Er erzählte dort auch von einem Albtraum, der ihn seit 20 Jahren […]

  8. EL Greiff says:

    Comment to pingback above: I translated your dream for my german speaking readers, hope that’s okay. I have a very similar dream, also for 20 years. Great movie.

  9. Laird says:

    No problem. Yes, the movie has stayed with me.

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