When a lauded horror movie comes out, I latch onto it. I occupy the genre completely, turning into a vampire attempting to ingest every juicy media morsel and leftover information I can on the subject: I do my best to become the film’s number one fan before seeing it. That, friends, is a disservice to any movie.
I learned this as a child when I got overly buzzed about The Blair Witch Project. I read a lot about the film online and in magazines and, at this pre-Internet time, somehow avoided spoiling the ending. I became a super fan, dedicated to the film and all news about it, so excited to see the movie that it was impossible for the film to be enjoyable when I actually saw it. It was a let down. I was just so underwhelmed because it wasn’t as scary or thrilling or as exciting as I had hoped. This is due to my research, an error that prevented the film from being “the scariest movie” ever to me. It was simply a new take on something—Filmmaking? The genre? Publicity?—bumped it out of being only for horror fans: it became a phenomena.
This is exactly what is happening with It Follows. The film is highly lauded and gathering many comparisons in quality to last year’s The Babadook. Why? Because it is a good, inventive film that, while technically “horror,” appeals more to the non-horror moviegoer. As I heard people say in and out of the theatre, it is basically The Virgin Suicides plus the Fez soundtrack plus STD scares. That’s it. Well made? Yes. Great story? Absolutely. Scary? Meh. It is this-first-half-of-the-year’s movie for people to watch and talk about feelings.
I tried to love it, too. I went out of my way to not Blair Witch myself by bundling up in hype. I started this process of preventative measures nearly a year in advance, since reading about it doing well at Cannes. I thought, “Fuck: I have to see this.” and I did everything I could to read nothing about it but monitoring Metacritic for quality. There aren’t really any “spoilers” in reading about the movie, which should have been a red flag that this movie isn’t exactly horror since there is always something to spoil with a horror film. The fact that the content of the film has been released in every conversation about it ruins it in some regard because there is no sense of discovery, no newness for a viewer who even read a sentence synopsis.
Most frustrating, unlike The Babadook, director David Robert Mitchell holds a casual hold on the audience. It isn’t an urgent film despite it literally being about a chase. Instead of asserting you to look at it, he instead sits next to you, asking you to take a walk with him into this unique situation. “This is weird, huh?” he asks. “Don’t you think this is weird? Let’s talk about it.” It plays out as more therapy than mania, which it desperately needs. Jennifer Kent’s approach in Babadook is a no holds barred attack on the viewer, one that makes you uncomfortable and unhappy and frightened for people. It Follows makes you casually worried, only half-invested in the issue because everyone is so relaxed about it. The questioning of the situation is so minimal and there is a lack of build up of fear, extreme humor, and logically illogical thinking. There is no satisfaction as a viewer: it does horror wrong.
It’s a beautiful film, though. Is that a good thing? Not necessarily because it’s a horror film. It’s a film made for the Wes Anderson audience that applies film school snobbery to the least pretentious arena of film: it’s a shame. Things like Yara’s oyster reader are distracting and truly horrible: it’s a mark masquerading as genius when it takes you out of the film, trying to know where this device came from. The concept is so brilliant too—but it just doesn’t have as much fun or frights as it can. The beach scene has that—and that is it.
It Follows is a great movie but it is not a great horror movie. No one will scream or jump or lose sleep from watching it and, if they do, it’s probably because they don’t watch very many horror films. I am all for praising new entries in to horror and It Follows deserves a hat tip. Yet, it is absolutely not the big wave of frightening films it is heralded to be: proceed with caution.