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Teen sexuality in movies has changed quite a bit over time, of course. In the 1930’s and ‘40’s, teens were seen as innocents who got caught up in chaste, but ridiculous romantic misfires (like Andy Hardy).
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, it became a social issue with fears of juvenile delinquency (Rebel Without a Cause), unwanted pregnancy (Blue Denim) and if you’re Natalie Wood, a trip to the loony bin (Splendor in the Grass). And we haven’t even got to those luridly bad, but fun movies they showed in high school about STD’s.
Then finally, with the arrival of such films as Friday the 13th, Halloween and Carrie, teen sexuality became associated with death, with all the bad boys and girls getting theirs after having done the deed and only the virgins managing to survive.
And today, we have yet another version of when teens have sex with writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s new horror film It Follows.
Mitchell earlier gained attention with his low budget The Myth of the American Sleepover. It gained a quick cult following and high praise. I have to be honest and say it seemed a fairly bland film to me, with bland technical values, bland characters, bland actors and a bland, somewhat, unimaginative screenplay, though it really struck a chord with a number of movie goers.
With It Follows, Mitchell has taken a strong step forward from a technical standpoint. The movie looks well made with solid cinematography, stronger directing, stronger acting and a much more interesting basic idea.
But I still think he has trouble when it comes to his screenplays.
It first must be said that no matter the movie’s faults, it is very scary, often very, very scary, even up to its somewhat ludicrous end. Mitchell knows how to build a scene to get the most sitting on the edge of your seats effect from it.
He also has a very nice feel for middle-class suburban life, the neat manicured lawns, a certain lethargy to everyone’s lives, something always going on outside at someone else’s house.
And, as I said, the basic idea is quite clever, even brilliant. Jay, our heroine, has sex with Hugh, a boy she has recently met. He’s a little odd at times, but he’s hot and she’s bored and wants to do it with him. But afterwards, Hugh has some news, and it’s not good.
Now that she has had sex with him, this entity will be coming after her to kill her. It will follow her (hence the title) for the rest of her life until she has sex with someone and passes it on. If this entity kills her, then it will come back for Hugh. He then says, it was great, kid, but I am so out of here.
So basically, we have The Ring with a deadly form of a syphilis.
But Mitchell does do something quite smart here. He doesn’t explain the entity. He explains why it follows everyone, but he doesn’t explain what it is, where it came from and why it’s doing what it does. Which just adds to the terror of what is going on.
So at this point, Jay starts seeing this entity (always in a different form—and this is one of the areas where Mitchell gets his biggest scares—the entity never looks the same twice and is always really eerie in appearance) and she has to figure out what to do. When her friends eventually believe her, they find Hugh again to get more information.
And this is where the movie stops working and I mean, it really stops making any sort of sense.
The movie is called It Follows, but I suggest that it unintentionally has a double meaning. Yes, this entity always follows after its victim, but the plot doesn’t always follow logically from the premise.
In fact, when they find Hugh and he tells them what he knows, I quickly realized that Mitchell hadn’t really thought the rules of the game through. And at this point, starts contradicting them.
Hugh first tells them that he still sees this entity. That’s totally against everything that was set up originally. There is only one entity so it can’t be in two places at once (or if that is Mitchell’s intention, he drops the ball by not telling us and explaining this rule).
In fact, if this entity is supposed to always be walking toward Hugh, the rule gets contradicted in an earlier scene where Hugh and Jay are at a movie theater where Hugh points out someone that Jay can’t see. But he points this character out as if it is not moving toward him. That’s passing Go without collecting $200.00.
This violation of the rules is continued later on when Jay sees a naked man standing on top of her roof. It’s an eerie sight, but if the entity is always supposed to be moving toward her, there’s no reason for it to be on the roof since that’s not in Jay’s path line. There’s also no explanation for how it got up there (the entity is corporal to some degree; it can’t walk through walls and door, but has to break in, so it couldn’t just fly to the roof).
Anyway, Hugh also says he thinks he got it from a one night stand, a woman he met at a bar. If this is so, then how does he know any of the rules? Who told him? If the woman at the bar told him, he would know that it was her and he wouldn’t be wondering about it. But if he doesn’t know who passed it on to him, then no one told him the rules, so how does he know them?
The Ring, on the other hand, has very clear rules and is consistent about following them. Here, it feels as Mitchell started writing them out, but then just stopped and winged it for most of the movie.
At this point, the forward momentum slows a bit since the set up basically doesn’t have an out. There is no suggestion that there is a way to get rid of this entity. Then something happens at a remote location that does hint at a promise of a solution: the others realize they can know where the entity is by throwing something like a blanket on it, and also that it gives out a weird energy (when someone attacks it, it thrusts him away leaving marks, like an electric shock).
But even with this, the forward momentum doesn’t really pick up the pace that much.
Then one of the characters, Paul, comes up with an idea, an idea that leads to one of the more ludicrous and at the same time terrifying moments of the film. They gather at a swimming pool with all sorts of electronic appliances and devices and will try to get the entity into the pool and then electrocute it to non-existence.
Now why they think this will work, I don’t know, but hey, it’s something.
But things don’t go as planned and Paul ends up shooting the entity in the head (yeah, there’s a gun, it’s part of the story, but I’m not going back to explain how). Whether this kills it or not is ambiguous, and that’s fine. It does lead to a creepy ending and allows for sequels.
However, as I said, this scene is perhaps the most ludicrous one in the movie, for several reasons. The first is that the electronics they plug in are not just the usual suspects of hair dryers, but also the sort of TV no one has seen in the suburbs for like ten years, as well as other things that no one really has any more, like bulky electric typewriters.
You see, one of the oddities of this movie is that one of the characters has a tablet type reader (it’s kind of cute; it’s in packaging that looks like a compact), but no one has cell phones, or computers, or modern TVs. It’s quite distracting, in fact.
But perhaps the most mind-boggling turn here is that one of the characters gets shot in the leg and ends up in the hospital. And Jay and Paul are just sitting there with her, in her hospital room, keeping her company.
I’m sorry. This character was shot in the leg and is in the hospital and Jay and Paul are just sitting there keeping her company.
Where are the police (all gunshot wounds have to be reported by a hospital to the authorities) and once the police and parents got involved, just what in hell did the three tell them about what happened and why they had a gun and why they took all these electronic devices to the pool, etc.
In fact, except for a few perfunctory scenes at the beginning, adults are conspicuously absent.
I just didn’t know how to react to this scene. It’s so completely…well, I don’t have a word for it. Like much of the movie.
The acting is perfectly fine and the roles are played by Keir Gilchrist as Paul; Maika Mona as Jay; and Jake Weary as Hugh.
Right now, the movie is more style than substance, but I’m not sure that ultimately works to the film’s advantage here.
In a small French town, Marc, a tax inspector, misses his train to Paris. While figuring out what to do, he meets Sylvie and they have a connection and end up walking around town all night talking about themselves.
If you feel that these two had not just a connection, but a huge, spiritual, merging of two souls and fall deeply in love, so much in love they can’t live without each other, you might find the rest of the movie emotionally involving.
I’m afraid I didn’t. I saw two people meeting, having a nice time, but nothing that earth shattering. And because of that, the rest of the movie seemed much ado about nothing.
The plot twist is that Sylvie and Marc arrange to meet the next Friday in Paris. Sylvie even leaves her boyfriend. But Marc has a mild heart attack on the way there and misses Sylvie. Sylvie returns to her boyfriend and they move to the U.S. for the boyfriend’s work.
Not long after, Marc runs into Sylvie’s sister Sophia and the two fall in love and get married, Marc having no idea that Sophia is Sylvie’s sister. So now, what will happen when Sylvie finds out about Marc and vice versa?
The plot is not that convincing. It takes a lot of manipulation, and of the tortious sort, on the part of the writers to make sure that Marc never once sees a picture of Sylvie until he gets in too deep with Sophie, and it’s not particularly persuasive. But what’s a bit hard to buy is that once Marc does find out, why doesn’t he tell Sophie about the meeting?
Well, if you buy in the first scene this spiritual connection that is so powerful it dominates everything else that happens, then you might find this turn believable and intriguing.
But I couldn’t. I couldn’t even take it that seriously. So the movie goes on and on and on and on as you wait for everything to play itself out. And it takes quite a bit of time to do so.
It’s one of those movies that really should be over in about thirty minutes, but goes on for almost two hours.
It’s a dream cast and everyone does what they can. Charlotte Gainsborough (of such Lars Van Trier films as Nymphomaniac and Melancholia) is Sylvie; Chiara Mastroianni (of Love Songs and Bastards) is Sophie; and Benoît Poelvoorde (perhaps after all these years most memorably known as the serial killer in Man Bites Dog) is Marc. Catherine Deneuve plays Sylvie and Sophia’s mother; she doesn’t have that much to do, but she is the great Deneuve.