Thursday, October 22, 2015

Throwback Thursdeath: It Follows

There's probably some other dimension where Netflix hasn't made the leap to streaming yet and is shipping only VHS rentals to customers' mailboxes. I bet it's that dimension where Doofus Rick and everyone else like to eat their own shit.

Usually on Throwback Thursday, I randomly pull out from my desk cabinet--with my eyes closed--a movie ticket stub I saved. Then I discuss the movie on the stub and maybe a little bit of its score, which might be now streaming on AFOS. Eh, I don't have much to say about the movie on the stub I drew this week. So in its place is a different movie I have more to say about, although I actually didn't see it in the theater.

As a teen horror flick, It Follows, director David Robert Mitchell's second feature film, is more creepy than scary. Mitchell has said in interviews that while making It Follows, he wanted to evoke the dread he experienced during a recurring nightmare he had as a kid: a shape-shifting monster kept stalking him, much like the shape-shifting, non-verbal entity that, without any logical explanation, stalks a Detroit college student named Jay (Maika Monroe) and proceeds to make Jay's life miserable, after she swings an episode in the backseat with Jeff (Jake Weary), another college student. If you're expecting frequent jump scares from It Follows, it's not that kind of teen horror flick.

Here we see what has to be foot fetishist Quentin Tarantino's favorite scene during It Follows.

And if you're also expecting the murky and confusing mythology of the titular creature (is it an STD or is it an invisible alien that feeds on post-coital energy?) to make a lick of sense and to be wrapped in a tidy bow by a pipe-smoking and extremely expositiony scientist character who knows how to stop the creature, say goodbye to those things too. Much like David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, It Follows is open to interpretation and operates on dream logic, and in case you've forgotten what dream logic is all about, nothing makes sense in a dream.

Quentin Tarantino seemed to not be aware of that, which explains that odd Vulture interview where Tarantino nitpicked Mitchell's movie ("It's one of those movies that's so good that you start getting mad at it for not being great") and complained that Mitchell violated his own mythology "left, right and center." Much of the allure of It Follows is due to its decision to not over-explain the creature with a backstory or a set of rules about its behavior (when Jeff tells Jay that he infected her with the creature when they had sex and that the best way to get rid of it is to bang someone else, the movie indicates that his solution is a bunch of hogwash and not even he knows exactly how to defeat it, which ties into an aspect of the climax I particularly like: none of the characters are scientific geniuses, so they're never certain if their tactics for fighting off the creature will work). Would those rules about the creature's behavior and the rules of how to stop such a creature make any sense in a dream (the rules of how to kill it would also probably contradict each other in that dream)? If Mulholland Drive came with a set of rules for how its strange universe operates, it would be a much less interesting movie. Like someone once wrote about that Lynch movie, you don't need to understand It Follows to enjoy it.

Cleanup on Aisle 666.
There's a lot to enjoy about It Follows, whether it's the performances of its largely unknown teen actors (the most familiar face is Keir Gilchrist, who played Toni Collette's gay son on United States of Tara), the striking cinematography by Mike Gioulakis--it's nice to encounter a horror flick where the visuals are driven not by found-footage shakiness but by stillness, a la one of my favorite Johnnie To action flicks, The Mission, which is full of moments of stillness that are somehow as energetic as the moments of gunplay--or the unsettling synth score by Disasterpeace, a.k.a. video game composer Rich Vreeland. I'm no musician, so I have no idea how to explain whatever Vreeland did to achieve the dissonant sounds that accompany Jay's post-coital despair, but those sounds are so mesmerizing--did he sample the noises of a deep fryer?--that I'll be adding them to rotation during AFOS blocks like "AFOS Prime" and the annual Halloween evening block "Buckets of Score." Vreeland's It Follows score has been compared to the instrumentals of John Carpenter and Goblin, but in It Follows, Vreeland carves his own musical identity without being too derivative of either. In fact, Vreeland isn't even familiar with Carpenter's work as a composer.

Vreeland's score is a key part of the movie's most intriguing element outside of its dream logic: its sound design. This is a thriller that was made to be watched with headphones on, just to pick up the various little touches Mitchell does with sound. Never has something as mundane as the rippling of water sounded so threatening and alien. (Why is Jay so often immersed in or surrounded by water, by the way? Is this a nod to Monroe's past as a professional kiteboarder?) The sound design nicely enhances the isolation and loneliness Jay and her tight-knit group of friends--which includes her younger sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), Yara (Olivia Luccardi) and Paul (Gilchrist), who shared his first kiss with Jay and is smitten with her--are either too timid or too sad to elaborate on in regards to their adolescent lives in suburban Detroit (like in Better Luck Tomorrow, the main characters' parents are interestingly never seen, except for Jay and Kelly's alcoholic single mom, whom Jay and Kelly appear to be slightly estranged from and whose face is kept obscured in her only scene, and the quick shots of a couple of other single moms).

Mitchell's roots are actually in coming-of-age material rather than horror (his first feature-length directorial effort was the 2010 summer vacation flick The Myth of the American Sleepover, which I now regret not catching when it was available on Netflix streaming). That explains both Mitchell's knack for illustrating the close bonds between Jay and her friends without ever resorting to any overwritten dialogue (I particularly like how the movie has no use for a clichéd moment like any of Jay's friends expressing to Jay their doubts about the existence of this creature only she and Jeff can see) and It Follows' uniqueness as a coming-of-age story about mortality (as well as the sadness over no longer being a child and being tainted by adult things like sexual abuse or deceitful sex partners), wrapped in the body of a horror flick. Like Antonio Whitehead astutely notes over at his blog Oy with the Articles Already, screw the STD metaphor--It Follows is really about the fear of getting older.

In its first couple of scenes, It Follows appears to start out as a typical slasher flick that punishes women for their sexuality, but it turns out to be an entirely different and more thoughtful (and thought-provoking) animal, like when Jeff is seen confiding to Jay about his longing to be a boy again or when Yara--whose unusual clamshell e-reader is a nifty little incongruity in the middle of the movie's late '70s/early '80s-ish milieu--is later seen in the hospital reading aloud from that e-reader a passage from Dostoyevsky's The Idiot about the moment of death. My theory about the creature and (SPOILERAMAYANA!) the film's ambiguous ending--perhaps the 70 millionth It Follows theory to appear on the Inner Nets since the film's release--is that the unidentified being is none other than Death itself, and the contagion Jeff passed on to Jay actually heightened their senses and has given them the ability to see the invisible Grim Reaper take on corporeal forms. Strolling hand-in-hand while a distant male figure is either following them or not following them in the film's final shot, Jay and her new boyfriend Paul no longer fear the Reaper and have chosen to accept its presence in their lives. As long as they're together, they won't be afraid of It. Maybe It should now be worried about the possibility of being followed by Them.

'I like tinsel/Or a good riddle/But what I like is My First Kindle.'
(Photo source: Tumblr)
What's she doing playing around with one of the three seashells from Demolition Man?
(Photo source: Tumblr)

Selections from Disasterpeace's score to It Follows will be featured during "Buckets of Score" at 5pm Pacific on October 31 on AFOS.

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