(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?
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.
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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