A Trip To The Movies – Review: “It Follows” 4.4.15

After last year’s highly acclaimed but ultimately disappointing “The Babadook” I was really looking forward to the second of this year’s first two good looking horror releases after “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” (which as you can see by my review, I wound up really liking) and then this one, which I essentially knew nothing about other than that saw a trailer for it before the aforementioned film. A trailer that looked like it showed great promise. Also, coincidentally, a movie that got great reviews, which is rare in this day and age in films of the horror genre. Let’s face it, the genre in and of itself seems to be a bit of a dying one. As there are countless retread and remakes of older classics that seem to be churned out one after another. A sure-fire sign that Hollywood, hell even independent horror films, are a bit of a dying breed. One thing I realized back in October when I did my “Top 5 Favorite Horror Films of the Past 5 Years” section, is that I really could only come up with one single horror film I liked on average per year. To augment that statement, rarely does a horror film wind up landing on my end of/best of the year lists (one of the only films to have done so was in 2011 – when Ben Wheatley’s “Kill List” wound up being my favorite movie of that year). The only other horror film to have come out that landed a spot on my top 10 came out 6 years ago and that was Ti West’s “House of the Devil” (2009). It seems like it’s nearly next to impossible these days to come out with something that’s truly original and innovative enough to separate itself from the rest of the bunch coming out of the genre, and only once in a blue moon does a horror film come along that I truly feel breathes new life into the genre. So going into this one, while having heard great things via word-of-mouth, I have to admit I was slightly skeptical that it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. But even still, despite my skepticism, my level of anticipation for this one was rather high.

The movie begins with a young girl screaming, running from something, of which we can’t see. A few hours later, she winds up dead on a beach. We are then introduced to the film’s central character, a young teenager by the name of Jay, who’s romantically involved with another character, an older guy named Hugh. After a trip to the theater, things start to get slightly odd as Hugh claims to be seeing someone who Jay is convinced is not there. Jay winds up having sex with Hugh, but you see, this is much more than just sex, as without trying to give away any spoilers, Hugh winds up passing something along to Jay, something in which she is now afflicted with. It is through this pivotal sexual encounter that the story begins to unravel, as Jay and her neighborhood friends try to stop the evil curse that Jay has unfortunately found herself with. I’m going to stop there, because the less I tell you about this film (if I haven’t told you too much already) the better (similarly to how I felt about Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s “The Cabin in the Woods” (2012) ). Like that film it’s one of those rare films that come along every so once in awhile that really needs to be seen before it should be explained.

As mentioned the less I talk about the film’s content itself the better. What I will say is the film met my expectations and then some as it truly was an exercise in something that felt totally unique and original. And succeeds mostly in its execution on a lot of levels. It’s genuinely unnerving and tense throughout. While also being cerebral in that if you’re not paying close enough attention you might not have a clue as to what’s going on. It’s very much a “thinking person’s” horror film. You actually have to do quite a bit of work to formulate what it’s about (but it’s all there if you’re paying close enough attention). It does a great job penetrating the audiences psyche, and creates a certain tone and atmosphere that had both me and should have any other movie goer wide-eyed and transfixed by the images that are being shown on-screen. And while although I wouldn’t necessarily call it “violent” (not a deal breaker for me with horror as I like my horror to be more psychological) per say, it certainly is equal parts disturbing, shocking, very creepy, and startling. In fact, I was so immersed in it that my “holy fuck” meter was at about an 8 throughout the entire duration of the film from start to finish. The film itself felt influenced by “j-horror” films (Japanese horror) like “Ju-on: The Grudge” (2002) and “Ringu” (1998). Both of which most Americans saw in their English remakes “The Grudge” (2004) and “The Ring” (2002). It was also reminiscent of early horror films that came out of the mid seventies to mid eighties in terms of feel and tone. Films such as “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1978), “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984), and what I found to be its most direct influence – 1987’s “Prince of Darkness” which all acted as reference points. I also thought it shared influences with more contemporary films like “Timecrimes” (2007), “Triangle” (2009), and “The House of the Devil” (2009). The latter of which it seemed like it took quite a few notes from as a throwback piece to older, more classic horror films. The music was also integral to the film as it contained a great menacing, pummeling, synthesizer score by the group Disasterpiece. I honestly can say I don’t know if I would have enjoyed the film half as much as I did if it weren’t for the score. It elevates the tension and pacing of the film quite nicely throughout, never giving up steam, and seemed to fit perfectly. If I were to throw in one or two minor complaints of the film it would be that it loses a tad bit of momentum in it’s final quarter. As Jay and her Scooby Doo rag tag team of neighborhood friends take the action to the 8-mile section of Detroit. The events that transpire after this, particularly towards its grand finale, come across as somewhat underwhelming compared to the nerve wracking tension the audience had been privy to prior to this shift in location. But that was just my opinion and my fellow film goer didn’t necessarily feel like that portion of the film detracted from it. With that said I also felt like it ended on a bit of an anti-climactic note. However, despite these two minor criticisms aside, this is as close to something that resembles a masterpiece in the current horror landscape from first time writer/director David Robert Mitchell. Who hits most of the right notes with this highly innovative, singular, and by all accounts terrifying piece of film-making, and has already positioned himself as one the freshest new voices in modern day, American horror.

[B+]

A Trip To The Movies – Review: “The Babadook” 12.27.14

As we enter the new year I’m going to be making some more changes to the site. Some feedback I’ve gotten is that my reviews have a tendency to be a little bit too on the lengthy side. So rather than give descriptive overviews of what I like about a director or actor I’m going to trim that section down to make it a bit more accessible for the reader. I will still continue to give a brief summary or synopsis of each film, hopefully without giving away any spoilers, but moving forward you will see more of an emphasis on the aspects I either liked or disliked about the film, with just a short explanation of why I decided to see a film, my thoughts on the director or actors previous efforts, what the “experience” was like for me, etc. And try to come up with something that reads like more of a somewhat traditional movie review than an essay.

The anticipation was high for Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent’s new horror film “The Babadook”. Knowing little to next to nothing about it other than it fell into the horror genre, was garnering a lot of attention and gaining a great critical reception reflected by its high scores and good reviews, on top of the fact that the godfather of horror – director William Friedkin (1973’s “The Exorcist”) himself called it and I quote “the scariest movie I’ve ever seen”. Quite a dubious endorsement indeed by one that horror fans worldwide heard and took note similar to that of myself. So with that being said I made plans several weeks in advance to see it, at the smallest and most intimate theater here in town, in hopes that I would be paired up with a sold out audience (which turned out being the case) where it would be so quiet you could hear a pin drop (which didn’t happen to be the case). Though truly the only way to see a horror film such as this. But more to come on that further down.

The story starts off showing the turbulent relationship between a recently widowed mother Amelia (played by Essie Davis) and her son Samuel (played by Noah Wiseman). Samuel seems to be obsessed with ghosts and other supernatural things that he swears he can see but his mother begrudgingly cannot. Samuel has developed such an obsession that he has constant temper tantrums and acts out incessantly, which distances both he and his mother from the local townspeople, the school which Samuel attends, and Amelia’s family. As his excessive talking about evil spirits and ghouls turns most everybody away from the mother and son. One day though, Amelia receives a strange velvet red what appears to be children’s book titled “Mister Babadook”. At first it just seems cautionary, as there are several warning signs within it, similar to that of something out of Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” trilogy (1981, 1987, 1992) or Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” series (1987-present) where opening up the book is like opening up some kind of Pandora’s box. But then Amelia starts to see images that apparently her son has been seeing all the time, and starts to get convinced that maybe the two of them are experiencing some kind of similar supernatural spirit, one that has the ability to take over a person’s mind and body. The stakes get higher when Amelia receives a “second” “Mister Babadook” book. Except unlike the first book, this one contains a much more grisly tale that actually maps out the future of both the mother and child with very alarming predictions. It is at this point where a paradigm shift takes place in the film, and to continue to discuss it any further would require me to divulge important plot details.

My filmgoer partner and I had only one word to describe the film when the house lights came on and the credits rolled – “underwhelming”. We also both agreed that while disturbing and a bit unsettling at points, there was absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, that was even in the slightest bit remotely scary about this film. What we also agreed on is that if you set out to make a true modern-day horror classic it has to be at least scary to hold any sort of credibility. Almost the entire last row in the theater was laughing throughout most of it. Which I at first found annoying, but then I thought to myself “wait, the outrageousness of it all was actually pretty funny”. So that gave them reason to laugh. Sure it serves up some chills, particularly in the performances of its 2 leads which I thought was the best thing about it. Other than that I thought it wore its influences on its sleeves, paying equal homage to movies like Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1981) which mirrored 2 of the relationships in that film. I also think it owed quite a fair amount to Takashi Shimizu’s “The Grudge” (2002 and 2004) in terms of its images and execution of the horror. It also can’t be discussed without discussing 2013’s far more scary and terrifying – James Wan’s “The Conjuring” containing within it a far superior better tale of demonic and supernatural possession. It also owed just as much to Scott Derrickson’s “Sinister” (2012) in terms of the creature department, Bernard Rose’s “Candyman” (1992) (replacing name chanting for silly knocks), and finally, another Sam Raimi film – 2009’s “Drag Me to Hell” which this film’s ending almost reflected exactly how that one did. But enough with the comparisons – I just really had a hard time getting into something that didn’t feel even remotely original. What I will say is is that writer/director Jennifer Kent does a pretty good job here in creating a creepy mood, tone, and atmosphere as I was slightly captivated by some of the shots and the use of lighting. However despite that I never thought its psychological tone ever really took off and brought me into the territory that only some of the best psychological horror films do. For your average Joe this would be a worthwhile rental when it comes out on DVD. For others I know who are pretty seasoned horror fans I’ll finish by saying this – “don’t believe the hype”.

[C+]