“It Follows” and Technique

When I first looked at the syllabus for Horror Film class, I had the showing for It Follows (2014) circled right away. I only heard or read rave reviews regarding the film and I looked forward to watching it. Additionally, it kept appearing on critics’ top-10 lists at the end of 2015, the year of its American commercial release. As stated in my entry for Autopsy of Jane Doe, I did not have horror film fans for family and so, I rared for the opportunity to widen my horror film knowledge in this class. And it was fortunate that It Follows lived up to the hype.

It Follows benefits from David Robert Mitchell’s unique style, which dispenses the jump scares for a slower, more psychological burn. Praise has to be distributed to the actors, too. Maika Monroe lends credence to Jay, whose confusion about the events of the film is not limited to the monster that follows her; she capably plays the coming-of-age angle of her character, too. The supporting cast, led by Keir Gilchrist and Lili Sepe, also add a realist touch to a film that is otherwise in the realm of the supernatural. The film also has one of the scariest movie monsters in recent film history with the titular “It”. The monster’s consistent selectiveness for its victims hearkens back to The Ring, but the film layers the portent by making the monster invisible to non-targets. Disasterpiece’s pulsating musical score is another standout, able to evoke ambient tension during frightening moments and a tranquil chill during much subdued ones.

For this entry, I will try something different. I will shift my focus away from dissecting the film’s deeper themes and focus on three individual scenes that set up its unique visual style. The scenes that I will talk about are as follows: a) The wheelchair scene; b) the first beach scene; and c) the ending.

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First in line is the wheelchair scene. This scene occurs directly after Jay’s sexual encounter with the mysterious Hugh (Jake Weary), who inexplicably chloroforms her and ties her up to a wheelchair in a run-down building. What transpires right after is a gorgeous masterclass in camerawork. In the wheelchair scene, it is clear that David Robert Mitchell aimed to kill two birds with one stone; he wanted to explain the rules in the film and he wanted to alienate the viewer. The latter is accomplished by having an unconventional camera technique for the scene. Before this particular scene, the film is shot conventionally, as if it is a straight-up coming-of-age movie. However, this scene overturns filmic convention by placing the camera point-of-view (POV) with Jay. The camera kinetically moves along with each roll of Jay’s wheelchair. This technique manages to meld Jay’s POV and the viewer’s POV into one, with both experiencing the confusion and alienation in a sudden and unexpected turn of events.

As stated earlier, the scene also sets up an exposition of the rules for the monster, only identified as “It”. Throughout the scene, Hugh dispenses information about the monster, which gets more disturbing as each wheelchair roll happens. He states that sight of the “It” only happens through sexual transmission; if someone who sees “It” has sex with someone who doesn’t, then the latter will see the “It”. The stakes get higher eventually, as it is stated that the target is the latest to see (in this case, Jay) and that the only way to delay death from the “It” is to “pass it on”. This exposition provides an additional layer to the alienation caused by the camerawork. Effectively, it becomes a “showing and telling simultaneously” (D’Angelo, M., et. al., 2015), and it is nothing short of immaculate.

The beach scene is yet another standout from It Follows. Preceding this scene, Jay, along with her friends, run away to the beach to escape the “It” from terrorizing and probably killing her. The scene establishes Jay and her friends just having casual fun in the beach, as they sunbathe and swim just as expected from teenagers like them. However, unlike them, the malevolent monster knows no time for rest.

If the camerawork proves to be the MVP for the wheelchair scene, then the editing is the MVP for this one. The camera criss-crosses between two foci: Jay sitting on a beach chair and her friends having fun. When the camera chooses to focus on Jay, it is perfectly still, never losing Jay as the punctum. However, the background contains a speck of movement: that of the “It”. As the film cuts between Jay’s and her friends’ POV, the “It” moves closer as Jay remains still until finally, the monster makes its move.

What is most astonishing about this scene is the visibility of the “It”. In the beginning of the scene, the “It” is almost inscrutable, only seen by most finicky viewers. But as each cut to Jay goes by, the “It” moves closer and the scene gets much more tense. And when the “It” touches Jay’s hair,  David Robert Mitchell decides something peculiar: he changes the POV. As stated earlier, only those like Jay can see the “It”; none of her friends can since the ability to see the “It” has not been “passed on to”. And so, when the “It” approaches Jay, the monster is suddenly invisible. I like this directorial choice since it plays with the knowledge of the viewer about the rules of the film. Mitchell doesn’t resort to jump scares but instead acknowledges the smartness of the viewer to recognize the scare. The build-up feels more organic since the viewer is the one tying the pieces together in this scene.

And finally, here is the ending scene. At this point, the horror film denouement is supposed to be achieved; the monster should have been vanquished and everyone would return to their normal lives. However, the aftermath is markedly different from other horror films. Here, the monster is not destroyed. As with Hugh earlier, Jay only decides to “pass it on” to her childhood friend and new flame, Paul (Keir Gilchrist). Paul then proceeds to pass it on to prostitutes he saw on the road. Consequently, we enter the final scene knowing that the monster is still very much alive and that the characters have resigned to the more pragmatic approach to fending it off.

Here in the ending scene, the camera chooses to have a particular punctum once again. This time, the punctum resides in Jay and Paul, holding hands while walking down the sidewalk. And as with the beach scene, the camera remains stationary but then, the background reveals the malevolent “It” closing in on them. Before the monster approaches, the film cuts to black.

Much as with the beach scene, the ending shows that the “It” does not stop for rest; vigilance is of paramount priority when chased by the “It”. However, there is a stark contrast between the two scenes. In the beach scene, Jay unwittingly let her guard down but here in the ending scene, Jay and Paul willingly let their guard down. They know that there’s no killing or resisting the “It” and their fates. What happens then is a scene that manages to show beauty in the face of doom; Jay and Paul decide to live their lives and keep each other close as their deaths loom close. It does not matter anymore what their fates will be. What matters is that they’re together.

It Follows can simply go the conventional horror film route, as it is armed with a unique premise and a malevolent monster. However, it chooses to go on a less traditional route with the three scenes analyzed in this post. The film manages to show that innovation in mise-en-scene is still possible in the 21st century. And the film also highlights the arrival of David Robert Mitchell as a modern horror film auteur.

Sources:

Clute, John. “The Darkening Garden: Aftermath”. Weird Fiction Review. 7 Nov. 2012. Accessed 1 February 2017. <http://weirdfictionreview.com/2012/11/aftermath/&gt>

D’Angelo, Mike, et. al. “The best film scenes of 2015.” Onion Inc. AVClub.com, 14 Dec. 2015. Web. Accessed 6 March 2017. <http://www.avclub.com/article/best-film-scenes-2015-229365&gt;

“It Follows (2014).” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2017. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3235888/&gt;

Image Sources:

[1]http://i.onionstatic.com/avclub/5647/21/3×1/620.jpg

[2]http://offscreen.com/images/made/images/articles/_resized/It_Follows_2015-invisible_hair_pull_600_251_90.jpg

[3]http://jarviscity.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/it-follows-ending-scene.jpg

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