Without a doubt, It Follows was the “It” horror movie of 2015, and possibly even the “It” horror movie of the decade to date. For what was planned as a limited release, small indie horror flick, it garnered tons of early festival praise, leading to much more mainstream exposure and ultimately, hype. In my review, I lauded the original concept, the excellent retro soundtrack, and the overall Carpenter-esque vibe, among other things.
Well, it seems internet culture has done what it does best with regard to It Follows: Backlash. The hype inevitably led to audiences expecting the Second Coming from the movie. The film that would take horror to the next echelon. But there’s a curious way this particular backlash has manifested, or at least a curiously specific opinion associated with it: It Follows is a good movie, but should have been better.
It all started, I think, with Quentin Tarantino’s infamous interview in which the interviewer asked him what recent films (not horror films, but all films) he had seen that made him really excited. It Follows was the first one he named, and his take on it was (paraphrasing) “it was so good I’m frustrated it wasn’t better”. It’s such an odd opinion to have about a small, original horror movie by an unknown director. With almost no expectations in place, how could a film be great, and still somehow disappointing?
It doesn’t stop with Tarantino either. After reading his interview, it suddenly seemed like everywhere I looked people were poking holes in It Follows. Even my beloved Cinemassacre’s Monster Madness jumped in on the nitpicking. So, in light of all this, I felt it necessary to kind of jump to the defense of the movie for the sake of anybody thinking it may not be worth their time this Halloween.
SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING OF IT FOLLOWS… FOLLOW.
Much of the criticism focuses on the “rules” of this monster/villain, and the idea that the rules are internally inconsistent. In fact, it was Tarantino’s sole vocalized beef with the movie. And it’s also the part that baffles me the most, because I don’t understand why people would think this movie breaks its own logic.
A big strength of It Follows is that they don’t jump through hoops to make sure the main character squares off against the monster alone. Jay’s friends actually believe her story (and quickly see the proof of it) fairly easily, and band together to find a way to defeat it. That alone sets the movie apart from most slasher films. About midway through, Jay succeeds in shooting the creature in the neck. Even though it appears to be mortally wounded, it soon gets right back up and resumes its pursuit. Now, this sets up what I think might be the cornerstone of the popular belief that It Follows breaks its own internal “rules”.
In the climax of the film – the infamous pool scene oft-referenced by critics of the film’s narrative consistency – the main characters devise a plot to destroy the monster. A ridiculous, unnecessarily elaborate plot, yes, but intentionally so (these are teenagers after all). They attempt to lure it into a public swimming pool and electrocute it with small appliances. When this plan fails spectacularly, one of the teens manages to shoot it directly in the head, which seems to kill it as the entire pool fills with crimson blood and the scene fades to black. My best guess is that people believe the monster to be invincible based on the earlier shooting scene, and yet they manage to destroy it in the same fashion.
This WOULD be a valid criticism if the movie ended then and there, but it doesn’t. As the characters try to move on with their lives, the film ends on a fantastic tracking shot of the primary couple walking hand in hand, and you can spy a suspicious looking figure far in the background following them. It’s a beautiful, classic Halloween-esque coda that lets you know the monster is still out there somewhere. Can it ever be stopped? Is there any escape? It’s a perfectly chilling loose end, left intentionally loose.
If you watch closely in the earlier shooting scene, when the monster is shot in the neck, it bleeds. It bleeds and even collapses momentarily before coming back to life. When they shoot the creature again in the climax, this time directly in the head from what we can tell, the same thing happens. It bleeds like any other human, and is stunned, hence the blood filling the swimming pool and the belief that it may be done for. Perhaps shooting it in the head puts it down for a longer period of time? The point is, the monster can’t be permanently destroyed by bullets, and that “rule” is entirely consistent given the ending. So where’s the contradiction?
I wouldn’t be so brash as to accuse Tarantino of being wrong about a movie, or anyone else for that matter, but as much as I think about it, I cannot fathom a way It Follows breaks the logic of its own universe. Remember, this is a world that has the cars and fashion of the 70’s, but also non-existent future technology like makeup compact smartphones. This is a heightened reality, with a fantasy monster, and it makes up its own rules. Rules that feel perfectly consistent to me.
So if you’ve made it this far into the year, and into the discussion of It Follows (and in spite of the spoilers you just read), but haven’t seen the movie yet, please do. Don’t let the naysayers dissuade you. It’s an absolute treat for horror fans, and an entertaining thriller for everyone else. It perfectly captures and updates the motifs of the legendary Halloween, and has an unforgettable original premise, so rare in today’s mainstream cinema. Don’t let it pass you up, and decide for yourself whether “it follows” its own rules.