It Follows — Film Review

Film ReviewNoelKrista

Noel: Early in the film, Jay (Maika Monroe) asks Hugh/Jeff (Jake Weary) to pick a random stranger with whom he wouldn’t mind switching lives. Curiously enough he chooses a little boy because he envies his ‘total freedom’, going ‘to the bathroom any time [he wants]’ and ‘get[ting] away with that’.

It’s telling that, out of all possibilities, Hugh/Jeff goes for toilet duties. Apparently he yearns for a regressive state in which his ego is not yet fully formed, one in which he is fully dependent on an outside agency. It’s a strange thing coming from a young man on the cusp of adulthood. However this is a theme that runs through the entire film: a sort of coming of age tale in reverse.

The protagonists in It Follows seem to be battling against the relentless passage of time. They are doing things that grown-ups do, including sex; yet they still want to be like that little boy and shed responsibility. By doing so they subvert one of the main tropes of the slasher film, a sub genre which It Follows certainly endorses: sex as a rite of passage from childhood into adulthood.

Jay repeatedly uses the house pool. With our Freudian hats on, the pool becomes an obvious reference to her trying to reclaiming the security of her mother’s womb. It’s her comfort zone and she goes there to be on her own, to feel safe. We never see her share the pool with anyone else.

It is revealing though that when Jay (supposedly) has sex with three men in a boat, she goes back to the pool only to find it broken and empty of water. This suggests that her indiscriminate choice of sexual partners has robbed her of a substantial amount of that yearned for ‘childhood innocence’. She has crossed the point of no return, another manifestation of which is the murderous spectre that is ruthlessly following her.

“The nuclear family has jumped ship. There is nobody to whom the young generation can turn to for advice and they are left to cope on their own.”

The adult world is conspicuously absent. We rarely come across grown-ups and when we do they seem to inhabit a different world. Take when Jay enters the living room garbed in a towel, as her sister and her friends are watching tv. Their mother is at the back of the shot, totally immersed in her glass of wine and phone conversation, visually cut off by a wooden beam and separate lighting. It happens again when Jay is talking to a policeman. The camera is placed very low, giving us a child’s point of view, and the officer is nothing but a disembodied bit of trouser leg.

The nuclear family has jumped ship. There is nobody to whom the young generation can turn to for advice and they are left to cope on their own. It Follows is an anti-coming of age tale because there is no conflict between the young and the old, and without conflict there is no growth.

Krista: It Follows has received widespread recognition making ripples outside the niche/cult horror community. Film critic Mark Kermode commented on its ‘art-house’ distance from genre conventions. Horror films that challenge boundaries are hardly rare; however, few receive such wide recognition. The reasons are rooted in how certain film genres are viewed, which is problematic. This leads to the elevation of films that seemingly transcend genre.

It Follows has won recognition, while embracing its genre-allegiance.

Its quasi-climactic pool scene is reminiscent of the finale in Cronenberg’sShivers (1975). Both films feature a kind of infectious sexual awakening. However, where Shivers is celebratory, orgiastically joyful, the sex in It Follows feels oddly uneventful. Though the climax takes place in a communal pool, it follows the pattern established in the previous house pool scenes—Jay is isolated within the larger pool.

The film’s use of space reinforces this impression of isolation. Though in the vein of coming-of-age movies, the film foregrounds friendship, there is a sense of extended silence, isolation—a space of waiting, never fully breached. As the teacher reads TS Eliot’sThe Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Jay sits at the far end of a long table on her own. This is reinforced in scenes showing expanses of sea and sand and grey, with a slow walking ‘it’ that follows Jay. The slowness of this sinister presence that permeates the film is reminiscent of Hancock’sLet’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) and Blatty’sExorcist III: Legion (1990).

There is anticipation, but as Noel notes, there is no corresponding growth. The film lacks a climax – dread settles, quietly. On the way to the pool, Yara (Olivia Luccardi), one of Jay’s friends reminisces: ‘when I was a little girl, my parents wouldn’t allow me to go south of 8 Mile. And I didn’t even know what that meant, until I got a little older, and I started realising that that’s where the city started, and the suburbs ended.’ The film positions itself in a moment of suspension, never leaving the suburbs, calling: ‘there will be time, there will be time…’ But time for what?


Film ReviewNoelKrista

Krista: I will first get one gripe out of the way. There are two female supporting characters who fit too easily into the binary categories of ‘slut’ and ‘pure’. I’d like to say that it’s a self-aware critique of the way social perceptions entrap anyone, but the women are simply there to either support or motivate the action, leaving boyhood friendship dynamics as the central theme. Unfortunately, the female characters felt expendable.

Noel: The female characters are very much up in the air, shallow, and abstracted concepts that are thinly fleshed out. As you pointed out, they are little more than unimaginative props that work around the murder mystery plot. Thematically, they don’t make much sense and come across as half-baked (at best).

K: Does it work on the crime-thriller level? Being a two-hour film it’s over-long. If it were to rely on the ‘suspense’ of its ‘whodunnit’ plot, the solution is pretty obvious early on, given the shortage of suspects.

N: I loved the bits where the film became a sort of Carry-On Demon. I loved the scene with the doctor and the nurse. These moments were funny, poignant, and had a point to make. They reminded me of early John Landis films: light, campy, and with something interesting to say, extremely tongue-in-cheek.

K: The premise is inherently comical and the film embraces that for a while. It then seems to swing between bitter-sweet sentimental extended flashbacks and the ridiculous. The tone feels unsettled. The film was at its best when it was indulging the ridiculous streak. I wanted more of the shamelessly over-the-top parts and less of the cringe-inducing Richard Marx doing Hazard vibe which firmly entrenched the woman in a sentimentally teary haze. The more delightful parts reminded me of Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981). In that film the community-pariah was excluded for a crime he didn’t commit, revenge transformed him into a monster. (On a side note: the soundtrack features a great music selection.)

N: The film started off well but then it didn’t seem to know where to go next. It resorted to a clichéd approach—seemingly, director Alexandre Aja’s preferred way of doing things. He started off as one of the bad boy French directors—High Tension (2003) was daring in many ways. Few films had dared to empower women with so much savagery as he did. Then he embarked on two remakes that are more miss than hit, Mirrors (2008) and Piranha 3D (2010). Both of them share the run-of-the-mill, textbook scare-by-numbers approach as Horns.

K: Verdict? Like you, I enjoyed the over-the-top aspect interrupted by the over-earnestness in the overly extended flashback sequences that were too drastic a change of tone.

N: I see it as a missed opportunity. This film could have been really good if only the filmmakers had the guts to pursue its campy, mischievous premise.

K: Agreed.


Afflicted — Film Review

Film ReviewNoelKrista

Noel: I was surprised to see that Afflicted was a vampire movie. From the trailer I gathered that it was going to be a contagion film. Vampires and pestilence share a common history but I was thinking 28 Days Later (2002) rather than The Addiction (1995). Unfortunately, despite finding it entertaining, it hardly broke any new ground in terms of vampire lore. Apart from its use of shaky-cam film-making, we’ve seen it all before.

Krista: Speaking of vampire lore—one highlight for me was the ill-fitting conversation referencing ‘traditional’ vampire lore (‘Well you should have the ability to turn into mist.’) which contrasted with that attempted ‘realist’ style. I’m actually impressed that they didn’t fall into the usual US stereotyping and made it happen in some ‘mysterious’ backwoods of ‘Old Europe’, but chose Paris as a hub of civilisation.

N: However the filmmakers still kept the vampire at arms’ length, making the monster foreign. As you pointed out, it’s not Transylvania or the Yorkshire moors; but it’s still an American who got infected by a European.

K: I also liked that despite their attempt to be innovative, they weren’t pretentious and even included traditional jump scares. I liked the first-person perspective (fpp) during the run—kind of game-like.

N: His heightened perception and supra-human powers reminded me of Chronicle (2012). It was fun but I wouldn’t want to watch it again.

K: The film spends a while setting up the friendship, so I’m not sure why it was ended early. It was a brave move and foregrounded isolation but the ending fell flat for me. I was disappointed with the half-hearted fight sequence and the cringe-worthy moralising and sentimentalising. That vigilantism could be an interesting parody and critique of institutionalised ‘justice’, seen in many ‘revenge films’. But here it just brought it back in line with conservative morality.

N: The moralising was a shaky-cam version of Louis in Interview with the Vampire (1995). Even if we had to isolate Derek’s crisis (the main character) and take it for what it was, it’s still not that interesting. It reminded me of a bad Pepsi Max advert, highlighting thrills and shallow been-there-done-that moments. On another note: what do you think about the found footage? Is it overstaying its welcome? I think so. I’m finding it tedious and boring for an entire feature-length film. Get a tripod!

K: I’m surprised that found footage has outlived its ‘novelty’ factor. I was kind of sceptical about that but several films, including V/H/S (2012), have convinced me there’s still life in it. I have three main reasons: (1) its DIY possibilities, which gives a new lease to indie directors without the backing of glossy production; (2) its proximity to some fpp video games—disorientation, chase; (3) it seems to be associated with the horror genre. Other genres borrow it as a device; horror embraces it. I’m not sure why exactly but ‘found text’ is found in horror literature, from Bram Stoker to Mark Z Danielewski, it’s an established device.

N: So, final verdict? I recommend Afflicted if you’re looking for an hour and a half of harmless entertainment. A camp-fire story for the tech-savvy generation.

K: Perhaps more of a ‘teen adult’ horror; it references a horror tradition, but doesn’t add much that’s new, perhaps more rewarding for less ‘seasoned’ horror fans.

Cockneys vs Zombies — Film Review

Film Review_NT

At a site in East London, two construction workers inadvertently unearth the tomb belonging to the late King Charles II. Upon entering the crypt, they are assaulted, bitten and unkilled by former plague victims. Meanwhile, brothers Terry (Rasmus Hardiker) and Andy (Harry Tread- away), with their cousin Katy (Mi- chelle Ryan), are planning a bank heist. The trio concoct this heinousness with a noble intent: saving their grandad’s (Alan Ford) retirement home from be- ing demolished by heartless property developers. But of course, everything goes pear-shaped when the entire neighbourhood is invaded by hordes of the undead.

Cockneys and zombies: that’s what the title promises and that’s exactly what it delivers. Given the self-conscious- ly schlocky title, you would expect a crudely-made, amateurish production,

the likes of which litter the internet. The truth is, thankfully, very different. Cockneys has quite a high production value. It’s not World War Z but footage of London enfolded in chaos and may- hem is rendered in good quality CG, as are the close-up shots of carnage.

Still, one problem with comedy zombie flicks is that they will forever be in the shadow of Edgar Wright’s masterful Shaun of the Dead (2004). Shaun was a perfect storm of comedy, horror, excellent production, inspired casting, and fortuitous timing. Just as everybody was trying to get his/her head around the seemingly dubious merits and immense popularity of tor- ture porn horror films (Saw and The Passion of the Christ were both released in 2004), in waltzed Messrs. Wright, (Simon) Pegg and (Nick) Frost who made everybody’s sides split with laughter.

Luckily, even though Cockneys vs Zombies is nowhere near as brilliant as Shaun, it still can hold its head high. Director Matthias Hoene and writers James Moran (Severance, 2005) and Lucas Roche touch upon, but don’t expand much, on the zombie-as-meta- phor angle. They just want to play it for laughs and get more hits than misses. The scene in which poor old Hamish (Richard Briers) is being chased by the notoriously slow-moving zombies is pure gold and West Ham United sup- porters can put their mind at rest that, even after death, the feud with Millwall still rages on. In an inspired scene, we are at last shown that even infants are not immune to a zombie infestation.

Cockneys is no (early) George A. Romero and does not aspire to be. It just wants you to relax, pop some corn, sip on soda, and enjoy a zombie-tour around the streets of East London.

Maniac: Two films. Two reviewers.

Film ReviewNoelKrista

Noel: I recently saw William Lustig’s Maniac (1980) and Franck Khalfoun’s 2012 remake back-to-back. The latter is rather faithful to the original’s spirit. Frank Zito (played by Joe Spinell [1980] and Elijah Wood [2012]) is more of a textbook psychopath, and more brutal in Khalfoun’s film; but still remains faithful to its source.

Krista: I thought the first’s ‘rawness’ was more brutal. The second had a polished style despite the first person perspective. The 1980 film was grittier.


N: True. The remake looks slicker. For instance, the murder scenes are meticulously choreographed, operatic even. Lustig’s film is truer to life, scarier too, because in his lucid moments the killer acts normal.

K: The first person perspective didn’t convince me. Eventually I even forgot about it till it suddenly jumped to the fore again. It was inconsistent and uneasy without being very unsettling. It reminded me of Peeping Tom (1960), which made better use of the first person perspective.

N: Agree, but it didn’t distract me.

K: I hoped it would be more ‘distracting’. It would have been preferable if the first person perspective had been more defamiliarising, puncturing the viewer’s comfort zone — rather than just being ‘naturalised’.

N: The subjective point of view didn’t help me to get closer to the killer. I only saw this technique being used effectively in Enter the Void (2009). I find it a bit distracting because it can turn into a weird game (Spot the reflection in the mirror!). That said, in Maniac they were well aware of this and tried to have fun with it. The moments when the film veers away from the first person perspective, it sort of clicks into another gear.

K: Good point about the first person perspective being the default here, and the veering away from it becoming a ‘moment’ in itself. It calls to mind Bret Easton Ellis’ book American Psycho (1991).

N: I liked the fact that the remake created a deeper relationship between Frank and the mannequins. They are more than just a manifestation of his childhood trauma — a dysfunctional, promiscuous mother. The restoration of the mannequins is a genuine labour of love which underscores the affection that he nurtures towards the photographer (Anna, played by Nora Arnezeder). She is a mediocre artist unable to hold her camera properly. Frank is the real deal, getting his hands dirty.

That’s a well-noted criticism of the photographer. In the first movie, I couldn’t really ‘judge’ whether she was a good artist or not — there wasn’t a focus on her art, instead they showed the world she moves around in, which made me think she was a budding artist. In the second one she’s portrayed as an underwhelming artist. She tries to use the mannequins to underpin her art and to somehow appropriate his by projecting an image of her face onto their blank heads.

N: Besides Anna, two other victims in Khalfoun’s film are a dancer and an agent. In both murders the director abandons the first person perspective, suggesting that either Frank is seeing his actions as a form of art, or that we, the audience, should see Frank himself as a work of art.

K: Yes, perhaps even perverting the sublime into the brutally grotesque. Yet ‘getting his hands dirty’ is counterpoised by the film’s stylishness.

N: So which is better?

K: Both films ultimately do different things. This is down to stylistic differences, enjoyably the remake doesn’t try to ‘replace’ Lustig’s film.

N: Totally agree. They’re like brothers sharing one (hell of a disturbed)
mother, similar yet so different.