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.


“6 Souls”


Group shots on the cover/poster are usually a good indicator of the relative degree of suck.

6 Souls is another head-scratcher. It could have been–ack, no. Just, see it, I guess. Or don’t. But either way, what it could have been isn’t really relevant. What it is is… meh.

Cara is a psychiatrist whose father, also a psychiatrist (or are they psychologists?), introduces her to an exciting patient: Adam, a guy who is apparently suffering from dissociative personality disorder (or whatever). She reluctantly sits down to question Adam, who was brought in by police and apparently remanded to Cara’s father’s care (do they do that?). Fortunatley Cara has a bag full of Rorschach blots and similar dohickeys, with which she eventually determines that Adam suffers from an acute case of TISWGO (There Is Something Weird Going On).

So, we ultimately learn that Adam is host to a bunch of discarnate souls, and that he was a bad person in a former life (or something) and this is his punishment, and he goes around, I dunno, collecting new souls, or something? And people die, and skeptical Julianne Moore comes to understand the folly of her skepticism, etc. etc.

The first three quarters of this movie aren’t bad. It’s a slow-paced but intriguing supernatural thriller, and I rather enjoyed it (though, in the interest of full disclosure, there may have been generous amounts of wine involved). Julianne Moore is predictably good, if not great, as the lead, Cara. In fact, the whole cast gives pretty good performances all around, from a wonderfully Dale-like performance by Jeffrey DeMunn (he’s Dale from The Walking Dead), and a surprisingly good (if very familiar) crazy/possessed bit by Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

One complaint is that–and I’m going out on a limb here–I’m pretty sure this is not how anything works in real life.

Let me stop for a minute. That’s a hard thing to say when you’re talking about a supernatural thriller. I mean, if you’ve got ghosts and magic and whatnot, it’s difficult to support claims that other things seem “unrealistic” (I’m not making a statement of belief here, just acknowledging the general attitude towards these things in Western societies). But the reality is that going into a horror film (or whatever genre it is), you have certain expectations. You know, for instance, that there will be ghosts. That doesn’t mean the stuff that actually connects with your lived experience–the structure of US society, the laws and daily observances on which the country functions (for better or worse)–can just be ignored. I’ll accept ghosts, for example, as part of the narrative. I have a harder time accepting that practicing psychiatrists are able to run around all over the state breaking into people’s houses for information about decades-old crimes, faith healers from the early 20th century, and Appalachian granny magic, all with the blessings of the police.

All I’m saying is, a little bit more procedure would be appreciated. The Ring did it pretty well, I thought. Naomi Watts’ character was an investigative journalist who had a fair amount of freedom in terms of her job, but when she started to get out of line her editor reamed her out. She ignored him, of course; but the filmmakers at least gestured to the realities of social responsibility that would tend to get in the way even in the face of actual supernatural events.

All of that is really minor, though–and in fact is a complaint I could make against the majority of horror films. The bulk of 6 Souls is reasonably enjoyable. It’s not great, but it’s certainly better than the preposterous 4% it currently has on Rotten Tomatoes.

It could be the formulaic nature of the supernatural content to which critics reacted negatively. A few paragraphs ago I threw out a somewhat dismissive “etc, etc”, and that’s not an unfair assessment. As always, the protagonists are whitebread Americans who, though in this case nominally Catholic, are mostly skeptical to the supernatural. They must turn, in the end, to “the folk” for answers. This time around the folk are Appalachian hill people, and granny magic is the supernatural tradition du jour. On a certain level, I understand the frustration this kind of situation causes some critics. As with The Possession, the only novel thing here is that it’s referencing an under-explored, but genuinely existing, supernatural belief system (though I can’t comment on whether it does so accurately or not).


Don’t go in there, Julianne Moore! Don’t you watch horror movies?! THERE ARE SCARY DRAWINGS ON THE DOOR!

It could also be the weirdly pro-Christian thing that comes through in the end (although I suspect this makes sense in the context of granny magic). There’s definitely something a little off-putting about that subgenre of horror/supernatural thrillers that basically tell you that God is not only real, but doesn’t approve of your shenanigans, so shape up or this shit will happen to you.

Or maybe it’s the fact that the bad guy, whose origins are clear enough, is apparently going around collecting souls (or some shit) for no clear reason. His motives are really not explained, and that’s particularly frustrating in a film that goes to great lengths to make sure we understand the cultural milieu from which its ideas (supposedly) spring.

There’s also a lot of incredibly cheap, sound-dependent jump-scares that just suck. I’m so sick of those. You can’t throw in a bunch of high-gain door-slams and generic squeaky-violin noises and call it a scary movie. Christ, please stop doing that, everyone. Thanks.

I swore to myself that I wasn’t going to be influenced by the negative reviews on RT. Despite that, I just talked myself out of giving this film a better review. Really though, I felt as though the first chunk was pretty good. Watch that part, maybe, and tell me what you think. Then, in the last half hour, take a break, drink some wine, then watch the rest. Then get back to me so we can compare notes.