Wasted Potential: It Follows

(Moderate Spoilers Ahead!)

Often when I watch films, I end up scru­ti­niz­ing a plot and the the­o­ries or phi­los­o­phy be­hind it. There are times I find that a par­tic­u­lar work has the bones to be tru­ly great, but some­thing — whether a di­rect­ing de­ci­sion or an actor’s por­tray­al or some oth­er poor­ly ex­e­cut­ed as­pect — lam­en­ta­bly keeps it from achiev­ing its full po­ten­tial. The 2014 hor­ror flick It Follows is one of those movies for me.

This film has a great mon­ster with great pos­si­bil­i­ties. What sad­dens me is that the big bad is nev­er re­al­ly used to its full ca­pac­i­ty. So much more could have been done with such an in­ter­est­ing premise. Combine this with the aw­ful­ly campy way for the curse as­so­ci­at­ed with the mon­ster to be trans­ferred to its tar­get, and you have a movie that is less than excellent.

The mon­ster is a shape-changer that can take any form it wants. It moves slow­ly and awk­ward­ly, so if you are look­ing, you can pick out that it’s the mon­ster un­der­neath the vis­age of some­one you know. However, the movie doesn’t re­al­ly fo­cus on the mon­ster try­ing to trick the char­ac­ters. It just uses ran­dom shapes that have lit­tle to no mean­ing, ex­cept for one mo­ment where it pre­tends to be someone’s mom. Not cap­i­tal­iz­ing on this ma­jor trait caus­es it to lose most of what could make it a great monster. 

Have we learned noth­ing from The Thing?

Seriously. Just go watch The Thing again / via Universal Pictures

I ap­pre­ci­ate that the mon­ster has some thought into not be­ing over­pow­ered, with sev­er­al strong abil­i­ties but also sev­er­al weak­ness­es to help bal­ance it. It can sense where its tar­get is at all times, it shape-shifts, is in­tel­li­gent, and nev­er sleeps. It can’t be seen by any­one it has not tar­get­ed. But it’s only about as strong as an av­er­age per­son, has to move slow­ly and limp­ing­ly, and can­not talk by it­self. Its whole shtick is that, if it had been used right, it could pre­tend to be folks you know or folks on your street that you see every­day. That isn’t used much in It Follows, which makes for a para­noia based hor­ror movie that lacks a punch.

What I feel caus­es these is­sues is that the movie uses a gener­ic teenage cast and the mon­ster hunts down folks based on a sex­u­al­ly trans­mit­ted curse. Meaning, the film cares more about campy sex that we nev­er even get to ful­ly see, and it wor­ries about sex more than car­ing about the mon­ster. I feel if the curse had a sim­pler way to be passed on and avoid­ed the dead-end find-the-one-that-passed-it plot, it might have had more time to fo­cus on what makes this mon­ster unique. 

Find a way for them to have got­ten the curse that isn’t “Sex is bad, mmmkay? But we’re gonna tit­il­late you anyway.”

The movie also at­tempts to have the char­ac­ters track down the per­son that passed the curse to our gener­ic fe­male teen lead, but it doesn’t con­tin­ue the “track­ing down where it came from” plot be­yond find­ing that first guy again. Which hap­pened fair­ly eas­i­ly the first time, so why not an­oth­er time? It’s just so ham-fisted.

Smaller is­sues in­clude how the movie is in­con­sis­tent over whether the mon­ster can be harmed by bul­lets to the head or not. Small in­con­sis­ten­cies are one thing, but that’s a pret­ty egre­gious one. The movie also has one of those se­quel bait end­ings where you see what could be the mon­ster in the dis­tance, which just made me scream more than any of the “hor­ror” on display. 

And the mon­ster gets to go af­ter any­one that it had pre­vi­ous­ly tar­get­ed if it kills its cur­rent tar­get, some­thing I don’t like with trans­mit­table curs­es. It feels like a cop-out; if you lose, so does the oth­er guy. A good movie should have some hope of es­cape to en­tice the char­ac­ters and au­di­ence, but this strips that away and makes it feel like cheap ten­sion and mud­dies the films’ in­ter­nal logic.

If it had been up to me, I would have had the mon­ster hunt the char­ac­ters as a group and show how dan­ger­ous it is by hav­ing it kill a few of them ear­ly. Have the mon­ster stand­ing in wait where they are like­ly to go while it looks like one of group. Make the cursed char­ac­ter over­ly sus­pi­cious of any­one stand­ing still, as that’s the only way the mon­ster could dis­guise its tell. The char­ac­ters could then call out to folks in a para­noid way, want­i­ng to see them move in or­der to try to look for the sig­na­ture that some­one is the shape-shifter, which would seem to­tal­ly bonkers for any­one not in the know.

Via Dimension Film

Its tells, com­bined with the shape-changing na­ture could make for a great mon­ster con­cept that you have to be care­ful to watch out for as a char­ac­ter. And with no one else be­ing able to see or hear it, the cur­rent tar­get looks in­sane, which is a great me­chan­ic. But in­stead of this re­al­ly in­ter­est­ing mon­ster, we get to fo­cus in­stead on the dra­ma and re­la­tion­ships be­tween a siz­able group of teens, and the para­noia some­times gets lost in that dra­ma. The gener­ic cast could have done with be­ing only one or two char­ac­ters, so we could get to know them and see what was go­ing on with them. All the ex­tras only ex­ist­ed for the cam­era to waste time pan­ning over their bodies.

I do ap­pre­ci­ate the fe­male ac­tress play­ing the main char­ac­ter. Her role as gener­ic teen isn’t the best, but I can be­lieve the emo­tions she is try­ing to ex­press at least. I don’t feel any of the oth­er ac­tors pulled their weight, ex­cept for the myr­i­ad of folks play­ing the mon­ster. But it’s hard to mess up that kind of role.

All in all, I would pass on this movie un­less you are re­al­ly bored. There are bet­ter movies out there about para­noia (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing) and bet­ter movies about trans­mit­table curs­es (The Ring). But it will still stick with me for a while what a tragedy this movie was, giv­en how im­pres­sive it could well have been. 

If only it had been treat­ed smarter. We might be talk­ing about a cult clas­sic here. 

Editing help by Indigo Altaria

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Gwen a long time am­a­teur game de­sign­er, bud­ding into stream­ing and video pro­duc­tion. Loves mak­ing free games for peo­ple to en­joy. Giver of un­lim­it­ed hugs.

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