Unfriended (2014)

I did something today I don’t think I’ve ever done before: I saw a movie in a theater by myself. It was weird. At first I was the only person in the theater, and it would have been awesome if it had stayed that way. Eventually a few other people trickled in, spoiling my fun, but it was cool while it lasted. Also, am I creepy?

What I saw was Unfriended, a laughable title for a mediocre film. Review over!

Okay, here’s more: It’s about a girl who is mocked and humiliated by her high school “friends,” who post a video of her drunk and passed out on YouTube. In response the girl kills herself, and a year later she decides get her revenge via Skype. That’s about it. The entire movie takes place on the computer screen of Blair, the dead girl’s former bestie, as she moves between insipid Skype flirting with her boyfriend and vapid arguing with their circle of dirtbag teenage friends. There’s also some Facebooking and instant messaging and YouTubing, and then people die and it’s over. REVIEW OVER.

Okay, on the positive side, the film is pretty dead-on in its portrayal of teenage stupidity and shallowness. I’m not saying that all, or even most teenagers actually behave this way; what I’m saying is that this kind of scenario, with catty teens jockeying for popularity and bullying people and stabbing each other in the back, is familiar enough from lived experience that the film’s depiction of high school melodrama seems plausible. It’s hyperbolic, but not unfounded.

Unfriended also deserves some credit for making an actual movie out of what is pretty much a typical Thursday night for much of the population of the US (i.e., doing pointless crap on the internet). While the characters are all exceptionally unlikeable and the plot trivial, it still somehow manages to be interesting, largely because of its familiarity. Most of us are familiar with social media and internet chat programs and the like (presumably, since I’m blogging and you’re reading a blog), and watching Blair’s mouse hover hesitantly before clicking to accept the file transfer from the ghost girl’s Skype account, or reading the amateur exorcist websites she Googles when she realizes what’s happening, feels oddly right. I don’t know if this speaks to the filmmakers’ acumen or to the fact that we all spend way too much time on our computers, or both. Simultaneously the movie captures some of the weirdness of those my-computer-is-possessed Creepypasta (e.g., the username: 666 video or Sonic.exe). It would, in fact, be pretty frightening if your Skype conversation was hijacked by an unknown anonymous person, or if the routine actions of posting to Facebook or watching YouTube videos were suddenly commandeered by some external agent. Not that this is a scary movie, mind; but the scenario might be if it happened for real.

Ultimately, though, accurate is not necessarily the same as good. There’s not a frightening moment to be found–unless loud noises and lazy jump scares still get you, in which case, go home, James Wan, you’re drunk. (Incidentally, this is a Blumhouse Productions film, so there actually is an indirect Wan connection.) And the “plot” is ultimately just fluff between annoying teenagers getting offed.

At the end of the day, Unfriended may be worth a watch, but don’t be like me and see it by yourself in a theater on a Thursday afternoon. You’re better than that.

2andahalfscoops

It Follows (2014)

There are several reasons why I’m not a fan of psychosexual symbolism. First, it presents what is ultimately highly subjective as if it were universal truth. Cylindrical objects are not inherently phallic, they’re only phallic in the minds of the people who say they are; yet Freudian symbolism presumes that everybody shares this interpretation, that everyone sees penises and vaginas everywhere they look. As fun as this may be, it doesn’t stack with experience and is ultimately a highly ethnocentric perspective (psychoanalysis is a Western tradition based in Western notions of normative behavior, sexuality and psychology).

(Cigars are just cigars, etc. etc.)

Second, this type of symbolism is necessarily ham-fisted. Everything is a metaphor for sex, and sex is a metaphor for everything. Sex is joy, sex is pain, sex is a weird undead demon thing stalking you endlessly for no apparent reason, pissing itself and waving its boobs at you because of course.

It Follows is a movie about awkward, awkward teen sex. It has a monster, sure, but let’s be clear: it’s about horrendously uncomfortable sex between people who seem way too young for this to be happening on screen. Sex is present in some form–conversationally, referentially, or literally–in just about every scene. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, but it left me wondering if this was a horror film or a PSA for teen abstinence.

The idea is, there’s this monster thing, which can take the form of any person, and which you “catch” like an STD after having sex with the person it’s currently stalking. Then it turns its attention to you, and it will stalk you–and if it catches you, it will kill you–until you sleep with somebody else. Then it moves on to that person. But fooled you, if it kills that person it’ll turn around and start following you again.

Jay is a young girl living in Detroit with her sister and negligent mother. She’s dating a guy named Hugh. On the night they furtively consummate their relationship in the backseat of Hugh’s car, Hugh follows his breathy, disappointing performance by chloroforming Jay. She wakes up strapped to a wheelchair in an old highway overpass or parking garage or something. Hugh explains to her that he’s doing this for her own good–never a good thing to hear–and tells her that the thing she’s about to see is real, and that it will follow her until she passes it along to someone else. He wheels her to the edge of a little hill, where she sees a naked woman slowly walking towards them. This is the film’s monster, which appears in various human guises and relentlessly walks. Walky walk walk. Probably a sex metaphor in there, too. Hugh (whose real name, we later learn, is Jeff) then deposits Jay in the street outside her house and speeds off.

The rest of the film is spent trying to get away from, and then to pass on, the weird psychosex monster thing. (And it unquestionably is a psychosexual thing: when we finally see it kill somebody, it appears to him in the form of his own mother, and it literally screws him to death.) Jay enlists the help of her sister and a few friends, and the greasy neighbor kid from across the street, and they, I dunno, go on a road trip? There’s the usual “nobody believes me” bit for a while, but Jay’s friends are forced to believe her when the monster–invisible to everybody but the people who’ve “caught” it–grabs Jay by the hair while they’re hanging out drinking on a beach.

I realize that I’m the odd man out here, but–in case you didn’t get this by now–I didn’t really care for this film. It featured a cast of unlikeable characters doing mostly unimportant things. I recognize that the film is attempting to generate fear by linking human sexuality to inescapable danger, but for me this simply didn’t work. Effective horror–even just effective scenes in otherwise lousy horror–frequently takes everyday situations and makes them frightening. This is Freud’s uncanny, and while I generally resist psychoanalysis, a lot of films have used this concept to good effect. Think of The Grudge, generally a crappy movie, and that one scene where the lady hides under her blanket but the ghost is in there with her under her blanket holy shit. Or what films like Poltergeist or The Ring did with televisions. But It Follows didn’t achieve this in my mind. Instead it came across as a vaguely Puritanical condemnation of sexuality. I’m sure this wasn’t the intention, but that’s what it felt like to me–very much like the awful, but at least humorous, Teeth. Although it lacked that film’s bite muahahahahaha I AM SO CLEVER.

I tried to avoid reading reviews before seeing it, but it was hard to miss the buzz calling this the scariest horror film in ages. I didn’t find it frightening at all; it was just loud. The throbbing, blaring 80s synth soundtrack was an annoying distraction, and while some will undoubtedly appreciate its classic slasher vibe, I found it more laughable than atmospheric.

Also, what the hell was the point of the pool scene with all the small appliances and whatnot? Bullets didn’t stop it; why did they think electrocution would? Did I miss something?

I saw It Follows with a group of friends, and I seemed to be the only one who really didn’t like it. As with everything–including the value and meaning of symbols–it’s subjective. This is an important distinction: I’m not saying this is a bad film, I’m just saying I didn’t like it. And as my pal Greg of Open Letters to my Enemies pointed out, the film has some cool cinematic techniques and competent acting. I also really do like the conceit of the implacable, totally unstoppable creature endlessly stalking its victims (though I could do without the heavy-handed sexual fluff). I just didn’t find its narrative as seductive as some people apparently did haha I CONTINUE TO BE CLEVER BECAUSE SEX.

2andahalfscoops