Rating: 5 (of 10)
I really love when a film scares the piss out of me.
This is an extremely rare occurrence. Alien. Blair Witch. Gamork from The Neverending Story with his horrible wolf face peering at me through the darkness. But those films were ages ago. My pants have been completely dry for over 15 years.
Last week when I was getting ready to see It Follows, I thought the drought might finally end. Based on the marketing and word of mouth leading up to its release, I had near Exorcist-level expectations for the film. It was continually and effectively billed as the best horror movie in years. The trailer was chilling and its rating was through the roof on Rotten Tomatoes before it even came out (it’s sitting at an incredible 95% right now). I was even jazzed by the casting of Maika Monroe, who had a great turn in one of my favorite films of 2014 – the horror/sci-fi thriller, The Guest. I truly believed I needed to double up on the boxer-briefs before watching It Follows.
But even with all the hype and the solidly foreboding atmosphere that the film manages in its 100 minutes, It Follows is nowhere near as good as the Tomato people would have you believe. Not even close. Not even ketchup.
The movie is certainly suspenseful. It has a good cast. The music is great. It has a really interesting premise about a stalking, supernatural entity that can be transferred to people through sex. But what this ultimate STD doesn’t have is a smart script or any real grasp on how the monster operates.
Maika Monroe plays Jay, a completely uninteresting young woman who seems like she’s on the verge of a relationship with handsome Hugh. But after they have sex in his car, everything starts getting weird. He drugs Jay, ties her up in a wheelchair and tells her that he has knowingly transferred a malicious being to her. It can look like anyone and it will stalk her relentlessly. Its only purpose is to kill her and then start killing whomever was tied to it previously, all the way down the line. Hugh shows Jay exactly what she’s dealing with in one of the film’s more sinister scenes. We see a naked woman methodically sauntering toward them in the darkness with singular, homicidal intent. Hugh wheels Jay to his car, peels away and deposits her on the street in front of her house where she’s left to contend with this unknown evil on her own.
Sounds spectacular, doesn’t it?
It was. Unfortunately, soon after this excellent beginning the script falters and the characters become so ludicrously unintelligent I felt compelled to jump in the film and sleep with someone just so I could solve their problems.
But before I do that, here’s a little bit of what happens next… After moping about and mostly hiding herself away in her house, Jay sees the entity at her school and freaks out. She asks her friends to spend the night at her place to keep watch. Soon after the slumber party assembles, the entity comes for her again. No one can see it except Jay, making her chums completely useless, but she manages to get away. After the encounter, she decides it’s time to get proactive. Jay and her friends, along with the obligatory bad boy, band together to figure out what the hell is happening. They think Jay is nuts, but they all go along because they want to have sex with her. Well, except maybe that girl who farts once for laughs and then does nothing else for the rest of the film.
Jay’s plan? Track down Hugh, who turns out to actually be a dude named Jeff. Even though Jay never visited his pad, she knows where he was holed up, because she tells the police she does. The local law enforcement, of course, has zero success finding her assailant even with that information. Fortunately Jay and her scoobies are on the case. They go to Hugh/Jeff’s squat house, which has a sophisticated warning system of cans tied to windows, and they find a photo of him from high school inside a porn mag; a photo the police apparently could not find, even though there are exactly six items in the house to search. The scoobs locate Jeff in a neighboring town or a block over (take your pick) and then curiously hang out with him in the park so he can tell them more about Jay’s dilemma. We learn that the entity always walks toward its host, and that putting distance between it and her will buy Jay time. Time that Jeff suggests Jay fills with doing the nasty. But she would rather learn how to shoot a gun, so everyone turns off their brains and they drive to the beach for target practice.
Okay, so here’s where I have to stop the summary for a second and ask a few important questions. Knowing that the entity only WALKS toward her and that greater distance means greater time, why would Jay not go as far as possible to formulate a better plan than “Hey, let’s shoot some bottles at the beach!” And why wouldn’t she just punch up Google Maps and let it calculate the distance and time it would take for someone to walk from Point A to B? Or, if you believe the film is set in an earlier time period (the movie’s era seems intentionally ambiguous, although a “shell phone” suggests it is modern), just make the calculations the old fashioned way. In either case, figuring out when to expect evil is pretty simple math.
At this point I get that Jay and company aren’t entirely sure what’s going on and it’s possible one could make the case that they just weren’t thinking clearly. But this is the same group that tracked down Jeff when the police failed, so I found it baffling that none of the characters were savvy enough to use the information they spent time gathering.
After an unsurprising encounter at the beach it becomes clear that the entity is physical. It can be touched, hit with a chair, shot. It bleeds. Not only that, it moves like the undead with less shuffling. It’s basically a shapeshifting invisi-zombie that seems to have Wolverine’s healing factor. But the important part to take away from this scene is that even though Jay is the only person who can see it, it’s not a ghost. It has mass. And yet, after they realize this, no one ever thinks to have Jay just spray paint ‘ol Slow-Walkin’ Sally to help the supernaturally challenged see its form. Instead Jay winds up in the hospital after crashing the car. When she wakes up she decides to have sex with the bad boy, who doesn’t actually believe what’s happening and therefore exercises zero caution. Not the smartest move when he lives across the street.
At this point I was really annoyed by all the characters and decided they deserved to die. Just from the limited knowledge Jay acquired it was clear to me that getting rid of this monster would not be a herculean task for anyone of average intellect. When Hugh and Jay had sex, they had to wait for the creature to walk to them from wherever it was previously. It doesn’t just pop up at the point of penetration. So, why not just book a flight to China and sleep with a dude over there who has no chance of ever leaving the country? Tell him about what’s happening and that based on rudimentary calculations he could possibly be murdered in 200 years, give or take however long a zombie needs to walk to China via the ocean floor. Then just go the fuck home.
Can’t get to China even with all those credit card company offers flooding your college mailbox, Jay? Then leave your friends and family behind and move to California. From the Detroit suburbs (where It Follows takes place) to San Diego, it takes roughly 750 hours to walk without pause, according to Google Maps. Or 31.25 days. After a month of margaritas on the beach, make the following plan happen: Travel back home, do the sex with your bud, then head back to Cali. A month later your pal can come visit you. Make the sex again. Then tell him to go the fuck home. Repeat until you figure out how to kill the entity or you die.
Or instead, like the characters in the film, create a hasty plan to trap the entity at the local YMCA and electrocute it by kicking appliances into the water… even though there is absolutely no evidence, discussion, or lore presented in the movie that points to electrocution as a viable remedy for a relentless, sex-powered fiend. Not to mention this scheme seems infinitely more dangerous to the stupid humans who concocted it.
Call me crazy pants, but if you’re going to attempt a trap, drive to another state and make it count. Make the time to plan for every contingency. Narrow and limit the entry and exit points so it actually gets trapped. Don’t play with your life half-assed inside an enormous building with a giant pool that you can easily fall into. And never bank on killing a monster when you know next to nothing about its abilities. After the beach scene, Team Jay confirmed it could be slowed down physically. The goal then should be to hinder its movement and prevent it from, you know, following. Killing can come later when you know how to actually do that. Maybe while you’re enjoying the sites in fucking China.
With a whole month or possibly 200+ years that I’d have to wait on this thing to finally show up on my doorstep (per my superior plans), I could set up an amazing trap. But even if I had to wing it for whatever dumb Hollywood reason, I could come up with something way better than waiting for Sauntering Sally to wade into the deep end. I’d only need a can of spray paint, a cement truck and a fine stout to immobilize this horror. The stout being used exclusively as a celebratory beverage after I lured the creature to any number of unfinished construction sites in the Motor City, painted a target on it and signaled Fart Girl to drop some Fast-Dry on its head from a hidden perch.
Instead, Director Robert David Mitchell gives us one of the most vague, unsatisfying conclusions I’ve ever seen. It has nothing to do with electrocution… or sex… or anything at all really. The only purpose it has, I guess, is to set up a sequel. The ending is the one scene I won’t spoil in this review because it’s so bad it isn’t even worth ripping apart.
How It Follows passed the script phase is beyond me. Does anyone even edit these things? Maybe the producers knew they didn’t have to. Maybe they knew they could get by on the hype machine alone. It sure hooked me and lots of others looking to piss themselves in fear. And now with its 95 tomatoes score the producers won’t need to bother following any kind of quality control procedures for the sequels. That’s a shame, because despite all the praise heaped on this movie, the only thing It Follows is a long list of badly written, underachieving horror films.