Halloween Every Day (for a Month)
By Andrew Neil Cole
Day 18: It Follows (2014).
Writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is one those rare modern American movies that pulls off a cinematic trifecta of sorts, in that it succeeds as a work of narrative art, as a work of cinematic art, and as entertainment. Its narrative artistry manifests itself in the telling of a multilayered story that utilizes allegory and metaphor without being heavy-handed or pedantic. It works as cinematic art because it revels in creating a nuanced visual style that amplifies the screenplay’s manifold recurring themes and concepts, and, in so doing, encourages and rewards multiple viewings. And it works as entertainment because it’s freakin’ cool as hell.
It would be reductive to think of It Follows as simply an allegory for STDs, even though the story of a sexually transmitted “demon” of sorts does certainly encourage that particular interpretation. But what these characters really seem to fear is the pain and misery of growing up and becoming adults (and having sex is probably the one act that most clearly represents the transformation from carefree youth to the unending concerns of adulthood). Consider the way in which Jay, our main character, prepares for a date with her new boyfriend in one of the film’s early scenes. Dressed in a sexy outfit, she stands in front of a mirror applying lipstick. When she finishes, she takes a long, disappointed look at her reflection. Her expression suggests that playing dress-up for a pretend date as a child is much more fun and less nerve-wracking than actually dressing up for a real date as a young adult. Much of this exact sentiment is repeated a few moments later in a monologue delivered by a melancholy Jay right after having sex in the backseat of her boyfriend’s car, while she playfully strokes a sprig of tiny flowers that has sprouted out of the surrounding concrete. This is just one of many beautifully executed, subtly symbolic sequences in the film.
I wouldn’t dare instruct viewers as to how they should interpret It Follows. But, for anyone who hasn’t seen it or for anyone interested in giving it another look, I would suggest that you turn off your phone, get comfortable, and pay close attention, otherwise you’re not really giving the film a fair shot. I would suggest listening closely to what actually is being said in the dialogue scenes. Also, pay attention to the use of color (particularly red); take note of the ways in which water is used, what the characters are named, the significance of photographs, the use of technology (and lack thereof). Consider the womblike safety of an old above-ground pool and what it means when that pool is eventually trashed. I’ll stop there, but I could go on for pages.
It Follows is a film that has caused much debate among horror fans. I know that a lot of people don’t like this movie, and they are certainly welcome to their opinions. But it is also possible that a lot of horror fans, particularly younger fans, are simply not used to seeing the kind of horror that requires active viewing. Granted, if exploding zombie heads and disembowelments are your cup of cinematic tea, It Follows is most assuredly not for you. And that’s okay. We are all aloud to like what we choose. It is possible, however, that many people are judging the film for what they want it to be (something more horrific, something more overtly graphic both in its depiction of violence and its narrative intentions) rather than what it actually is (an artfully rendered, thoughtful, deeper cinematic expression). Not all horror films require a body count and extreme violence to make an impact, in the same way that not all comedies should require gratuitous raunch and fart jokes to get laughs.