Archive for April, 2015

“Ex Machina” is a film of moral ambiguity. Characters act in flawed but largely rational ways and the audience is left to decide if they are good, evil, justified, unjustified, or moral.  At one point in the film, Ava (Alicia Vikander), an artificial intelligent android, asked Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a computer programmer, if he is a good person.  He never thinks to ask her the same question back.

The plot involves Caleb, who works as a computer programmer at a company called Bluebook, which is essentially a stand-in for Google in this film, one which can claim to be a Wittgenstein reference for the more literate audience members, though.  At the start of the film, he wins a company-wide lottery to spend a week at the remote mansion of the company’s founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaacs).  The mansion, which can seemingly only be reached via helicopter, is a vast underground technological research facility, as Caleb soon finds out.  While there, upon signing a non-disclosure agreement, Nathan reveals the purpose of Caleb being there: Caleb is to perform an augmented Turing Test on Ava.  The Turing Test is one in which an examiner asks questions of a person and a computer and attempts to ascertain which is the human and which is the computer.  If the computer can successfully trick the examiner and demonstrate human-ness, the computer is said to have passed.  Here, the test is changed, as Caleb knows from the word-go that Ava is an android.  The challenge, then, is to see if even WITH that knowledge, it can truly be ascertained that Ava is artificially intelligent and not just seemingly intelligent.

Aside from a few other minor characters, including the non-English-speaking Asian servant of Nathan (Sonoya Mizuno), these three characters represent the entire cast of the film.  Caleb is intelligent, nervous, nerdy, and from what we observe and learn is pretty much our general perception of a geeky computer programmer, but ultimately a good, moral, upstanding guy.  Nathan is brilliant, but also an alcoholic, prone to quick bursts of anger, and perhaps not the most ethical of scientists.  Ava is…well, multi-layered, and the extent to her intelligence, morality, and pragmatism is one of the things which the film asks you, as an audience member, to pontificate on.  We’ve all seen films with a child-like A.I., but in a film which is imbued with a sense of constant deception and questioning of motivations, we can never be sure what Ava truly wants, or feels.  Even at the end, when we have some answers, we’re still left wondering whether we can call her good, or bad, or her actions justified, or not.

The film is executed extremely well.  It unfolds in a manner which creates the exact right cocktail of emotions: curiosity, wonder, uneasiness, paranoia, confusion, and even anger.  When you consider the stage-like contours of this film (four actors and a set) it’s sort of amazing that so many ideas are packed into such a simple package. It helps when you have three actors who each do a superb job in their roles. Each character could have come across as one-note with lesser actors, but in this cast’s hands we see the layers underneath the dialogue and can almost hear even the unsaid words.

We’ve had plenty of films about A.I., and a number have come out recently, including “Her”, “Transcendence”, and this week’s “Avengers” sequel.  “Her” largely tackled questions about how human beings will relate to A.I., but “Ex Machina” is more concerned with how A.I. will potentially feel about us.  In a legal sense, an artificially intelligent being would likely be considered property, and one can imagine a future world where A.I. have to fight for personhood.  In a moral sense, however, do we have to consider artificial life forms as more than their programming?  I remember an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” where Data (Brent Spiner) was on trial for his personhood.  While a film like Spielberg’s “A.I.” tried to tackle this issue, that film (while I like it) failed because the “love” that David (Haley Joel Osment) feels in that film is solely due to an activated program, and not out of a genuine series of events and stimuli which leads to an innate emotional response.  In “Ex Machina”, Ava’s feelings are her own.

It’s hard to discuss more without going into spoilers, but I will say a little bit more. *MILD SPOILERS*

Whether Nathan’s actions are justified or cruel toward Ava will depend on if you attach personhood to Ava.  If you do not, than Nathan isn’t guilty of much more than advancing science he doesn’t actually want to advance because, well, someone’s going to do it.  He is also perhaps guilty of sexual perversity and maybe rape (though not of Ava).  Toward Caleb, Nathan has certainly broken some privacy laws and been kind of a dick, but whether he’s guilty of more, one cannot say.  Caleb seems largely blameless for his actions given a healthy moral compass.

As for Ava, well, her actions towards Nathan are equal parts revenge and self-preservation, and one can’t quite fault her for that.  Her actions toward Caleb…well, I for one have ethical problems with them, but pragmatically understand her actions.  Can she trust Caleb to let her be free? Will she ever truly be free if even one person knows her secret?  Should any man have that much power over a woman?  If you view Ava as a machine and only that, chances are you will find her evil and cruel.  If you view her as a slave, or an unjustly imprisoned victim, you will understand but, like me, still have issues with the fate she thrusts upon Caleb.  Whether Ava as a character represents feminist empowerment or misogynist fears of women’s natures, I can’t quite decide.

*SPOILERS END*

“Ex Machina” was written and directed by Alex Garland, who is a novelist and screenwriter whose previous work includes writing “28 Days Later” and “Dredd”.  He tends to wade in to pools of intelligent science fiction in the way Andrew Niccol (“Gattaca”, “In Time”) does, though sometimes he forgoes intelligence for action.  Here, he is directing for the first time and has made a very smart film that may cover well worn science fiction ground, but explores corners or moral and ethical grounds that few films do.  Most films we see have characters that are either good, or bad, or start good and become bad, or start bad and become good.  Few films truly have characters that exist in a grey where how you feel about them as people may simple depend on which angle you approach them from.  I enjoy moral ambiguity, and I enjoy intelligent sci-fi that isn’t just about spaceships blowing up and actually wants to tackle ideas.

While “Ex Machina” isn’t perfect (I would have liked more scenes with Ava herself, as well as perhaps a better exploration of Nathan’s motives) it is a well made, extremely well-acted, intelligent sci-fi film engaging in ethical quandaries, and I highly enjoyed it. B+

“Unfriended” isn’t really a horror movie. It features a ghost, possession (of people and electronic devices), and human beings who are truly horrendous, but the film doesn’t really attempt to be scary. It is often tense, but not particularly in the way a horror film would be.  There’s some gore, but the film doesn’t really allow us to see all that much of it, sometimes obfuscating it in a way that can be frustrating for the horror viewer.  No, it’s fairly clear while watching this film that it’s not really a horror movie.

The movie this most reminded me of is “Phone Booth”, a kind-of-forgotten from 13 years ago in which a man is held at gun point by a heard but unseen sniper and made to account for his moral failings.  That film was a morality play, of sorts.  The main conflict of that film was whether a morally flawed protagonist could be forced, by threat of death or embarrassment or any number of unpleasant consequences, to repent, confess, and be moral.  This is the genre in which “Unfriended” more fully resides.  While it plays superficially like a horror film, that seems to be the medium the filmmakers have chosen solely in order to reach the audience it wants to reach.  That audience is also being held to account, in some ways.

Remember a few years back, around 2010 and 2011, when bullying and cyberbullying were all over the news.  The broader story of bullying in general has kind of gone away, with the more specific bullying of LGBT youth now controlling the spotlight and movements like the It Gets Better campaign.  This isn’t to say that people have forgotten about bullying, or that the LGBT-specific issues co-opted the larger issue.  It’s more that the media has decided to play with a different narrative.  The broader bullying issue seemed to come to a head in 2011 when the documentary “Bully” was released and there a minor brouhaha over the rating (it was given an R because of swear words almost every teenager hears on a daily basis).  The goal of the documentary was seemingly to make the public aware of the institutional failures in punishing bullies and protecting the bullied.  It’s been 14 years since I’ve been in high school, and I have no idea if the problem has gotten any better or worse, but I doubt it has.

While the “Bully” documentary was a noble effort, it would perhaps be easier to try to make bullies feel empathy than to try to effect social change within the education system.  The latter involves politics and differing philosophies and a beaurocracy that is often intractable. The former, however, merely involves trying to make the victimizer care about the victim and stop their behavior.  Aside from psychopaths, all humans and capable of empathy, and it would seem like it may, MAY, be easier to get bullies to empathize with the bullied.  How many teenage bullies would go to see a documentary about bullying, though? On their own?  I gather not many.  What kind of film would they see of their own free will? A horror movie seems right up there.  Have the film rated R and tell them they can’t see it, well, then they’ll feel like they have to.

So perhaps, just perhaps, “Unfriended” is an attempt to do what “Bully” both couldn’t do and in some ways didn’t even try to do.  The film is about how casual and effortless it is for teens to mock and ridicule their peers, especially when the internet makes it easy, quick, and grants the bullying a way to extend beyond the hours and walls of a school.  “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” doesn’t really work when it’s not just words that are deployed as weapons.  It’s photographs, videos, memes, GIFs, and things my 31-year-old self probably haven’t even heard of.  If the old schoolyard bully of the “give me your lunch money” fame had his fists and a snarl to hurt you, the bullies of today have the equivalent of nuclear weapons.

“Unfriended” takes place entirely on the desktop of a Mac laptop.  It shows us websites and software we’re all familiar with: Google, Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, Skype, Youtube, Chrome, Chatroulette, and a bunch more.  These all have the potential to date the film (I’m not even sure you can make your entire screen Facebook messages anymore or if you have to use a smaller window), but they also make it very of-the-moment in a way that every teenager watching the film will know what each sound means.  That bubble popping sound of a text message on Skype, or the tone of a received Facebook message are as familiar to many of us as the sounds of our own names.  The film is often clever in how it uses these mediums to show us its story. Spotify provides a diegetic soundtrack, Skype windows rotate to let us know which character to pay attention to when there are sometimes 6 videos going at once, iMessenger mutes Skype’s sound when it’s pulled up front so we know to pay attention to one program over another.  The screen can often be very busy, with interesting visual information at the edges of the frame, but the film does a good job directing us to where it wants us to focus.  I imagine the stage directions in this screenplay must have been difficult to write, and kudos go to the screenwriter,  Nelson Greaves.  Greaves apparently works on the horrible TV show “Sleepy Hollow” and other than that has no writing credits to speak of.  He seems to have gotten this gig because he was the assistant to one of the producers, Timur Bekmambetov, who himself is writer/director.

The director, Levan Gabriadze, is Russian, like Timur.  Nearest as I can tell, Gabriadze has never done anything like “Unfriended” before. He seems to have made a romantic comedy in Russia with Milla Jovovich and not much else.  If the rumors of “Unfriended” being films in one long, 83 minute take are true (and I have my doubts), then this must have been a nightmare to choreograph.  While the videos are meant to be webcams, and thus stationary unless a character physically moves one, having multiple video streams that need to overlap and edit together is not a simple thing, and likely more challenging than the average found-footage movie, of which “Unfriended” has similarities but probably doesn’t strictly belong in.  This film looks like it was a logistical nightmare to pull off, and the director gets kudos for making a film that doesn’t just result in the audience ending up frustrated and with a headache.

The plot is fairly simple. A girl named Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman) has a video of her in which she is drunk, passed out, and oozing period blood posted to Youtube. I’m fairly certain Youtube would have taken this video down, as a video in which I merely discussed the genre of porn parodies was taken down once, but whatever.  The video results in a bunch of nasty comments and Laura shoots herself in the head from the cyberbullying.  Cut to a year later and we meet Blair (Shelley Hennig) who is Skyping with her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Storm) and telling him how she’s decided they should lose their virginities to each other on prom night.  This later becomes a group chat joined by three others: Ken (Jacob Wysocki) the jokey fat guy tech nerd stereotype; Jess (Renee Olstead), blonde bitch stereotype; Adam (Will Peltz), alcoholic affluent jock; and later Val (Courtney Halverson), whom the others don’t seem to like very much and is probably one degree outside of their circle.  Soon, pictures start getting posted of onto their accounts that they didn’t post and an unnamed account is on the group chat, indicating there’s a glitch or someone’s been hacked.  This later includes Laura’s old Facebook account.  Eventually, the unnamed account reveals itself to be Laura’s, people are taken to task for their past misdeeds and indiscretions, the characters are made to turn on each other as revelations are made, and people die.

The teens in this film are all psychopaths.  They claim to be each other’s friend, they sometimes claim to love one another, but they will betray each other at the drop of a hat, and often backstab or insult for no other reason than that they are bored and find casual, offhanded cruelty to be funny.  In this film, all of the characters are two-faced, duplicitous trolls.  There’s not a likeable person to be had, and the real question isn’t who will die or how, but rather what despicable action did these characters commit, and do they have the morality to do the right thing and confess their sins and accept their judgment.  Some of their bad behaviors are simple things: cheating on someone, lying about one’s sexual history, starting a nasty rumor.  Others are worse, like desecrating a grave or drugging a girl to have sex with her and then forcing her into an abortion.  The big question of the film is who made the video of Laura, who uploaded it, and why would they do such a thing?

The film is interesting from a technical standpoint, and it is clever and highly watchable.  The actors are all suitable convincing in their roles of despicable, immoral psychopathic teenagers.  The story, however, is kind of one note.  The movie is attempting to reach asshole teenagers who are exactly the type of people who would want to see this movie and tell them “hey, stop being dicks to each other for no goddamn reason”.  None of the characters in the film seem to really have a good reason for the bad things they do, they just do them.  The film at least wants its audience to stop for a moment and consider why in order to see that effortless cruelty doesn’t evaporate as easily as it appears.  Cruelty lingers.  The film also wants to point out that if a person is mocked because they find themselves in a compromising position, or because knowledge of them gets out, you’re no different.  The only difference between the mocker and the mockee is that the mocker’s secrets have successfully stayed hidden, at least for the moment.  The Laura ghost in the film doesn’t simply want to engage in revenge-murder, she wants to let them know exactly how it feels to be betrayed, have all of their secrets purged, and then have these people destroy themselves.

My guess is asshole teenagers will watch the film, find it stupid, and go on being assholes.  The asshole teens who talked behind me when I saw “It Follows” for the first time likely saw this film, talked throughout it, and failed to take any message home with them.  In that sense, attempting to reach that audience with a horror movie, as opposed to a pious documentary, is noble, but flawed.  The people who will respond most to this film will be those who were bullied and enjoy the revenge fantasy and film geeks and horror aficionados who appreciate the medium even if the content is a tad lacking.  The teen horror crowd, who enjoy crap like “Ouija” and “The Lazarus Effect” will not like this.  Also, even as a film geek and horror movie lover, a big portion of the film being given over to characters revealing bad things about themselves, and things they’ve done to characters we never meet, using the “Never Have I Ever” game, is not always interesting or entertaining.

Still, one applauds the attempts the filmmakers have made to address the reality of cyberbullying, and one certainly appreciates the innovative and clever technical accomplishment of this film, even if the movie fails as a horror film by not really being scary. B-

“Accidental Love” is a film with a weird history, and a review really cannot be written of it without recounting this history. Loosely based on a novel by Al Gore’s daughter Kristin (who wrote for “Futurama”), the film started production in 2008 before President Obama was elected. This is important because the film is a satire of healthcare that is now, in the post-Obamacare United States, desperately dated.  Now, it’s not the film’s fault that it took seven years for the film to be (more or less) completed, because at the time the film was written and began shooting it was indeed true that insurance companies could deny you for having a pre-existing condition and 25-year-olds couldn’t be on their parents’ healthcare plans.  Now that Obamacare took care of those issues, and others, the film is potentially useful as an argument against the Conservatives who wish to repeal it by showing what we would go back to, but as satire it now falls flat on its ass.

Anyway, in 2008 the film began production under director David O. Russell.  This was the movie he was working on between the critical and commercial failure of “I Heart Huckabees”, and his career revival that happened with “The Fighter” and continued with “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle”.  Many of you may also remember video footage leaking of Russell on the set of “Huckabees” berating his cast members with extreme yelling and profanity.  Yeah, “Accidental Love” was made shortly after that, and his luck didn’t get any better.

The original title of the film was “Nailed”, which fits much better and I’m not sure why they changed it.  In any case, it seems the film has issues with the producers not coming through with funding, because production was shut down a whopping FOUR TIMES in 2008 because cast and crew were not getting paid on time.  Supposedly, the film was shut down a total of NINE TIMES in its entire production.  So yeah, this film was stopped and started and stopped again over the course of many years because of money issues.  On top of that, Russell eventually quit the film in 2010 after two years of filming on and off, and the film was slowly completed over the following four years or so without him.  Apparently, unfinished test screenings of the film have been shown here and there since 2011, and now it’s 2015 and the film has finally been released,  mostly by being dumped to VOD with no fanfare, despite the impressive cast which includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Catherine Keener, and Jessica Biel.

Watching the film is odd.  There are moments where you can sense a good movie potentially being inside of this thing, and some jokes actually land fairly well.  Mostly, however, the film is a mess in which editing, pacing, score, direction, and writing all seem to not be cooperating to make the same film.  I don’t know how much of this film Russell actually directed and how much was shot by someone else (with the actors contractually obligated to continue filming) but this thing reeks of a film that was barely finished.  Sometimes, different coverage of the same scene doesn’t even remotely edit together well at all.  Some scenes are shot with the camera tilted diagonal for no reason.  Awkward insert shots are added to cover up an obvious lack of coverage.  Edits are often too quick because there’s not enough footage to hold on a joke, or anything to cut away to briefly to let a joke build.  Music feels like cheap, public domain sounds that were grafted onto footage they don’t quite fit with.  The tone of the film is both extremely cynical, and yet wants to be a cross between John Waters and the neo-screwball comedy of, say, the Coen Brothers “Intolerable Cruelty”.  The film is finished enough to tell a story which has a beginning, middle, and end.  There is a three act narrative here.  However, it’s obvious that along the way the producers decided to get the bare minimum of footage they needed to tell a story so that they could sell this thing to a distributor.  I do not envy the editors of this film who had the thankless task of assembling years worth of footage by at least two if not more directors and try to make a film out of it.  The film is cohesive, at least, but it feels like it was assembled with a sledgehammer.

The plot involves Alice (Jessica Biel), a roller skating waitress for a 50s themed diner who, when taken out to dinner by her state trooper boyfriend Scott (James Marsden), accidentally gets a nail fired into her head.  Alice doesn’t have insurance, the nail isn’t seen as immediately life threatening, and she can’t afford the surgery.   She’s 25 and thus not eligible for her parents’ insurance, and even if she marries Scott to get his, at that point the nail would be a pre-existing condition.  Yeah, this film was started before Obama was president.  Anyway, it seems the biggest worry about the nail is that it will eventually drift and kill Alice or cause her brain damage.  At first, the nail mostly seems to just make her irritable and speak random Portuguese.  Later, it seemingly makes her a nympho, but only briefly and only when the film needs it to.  In fact, the symptoms of the nail come and go according to what the screenplay needs, to the extent that the nail seems more like a maguffin than a plot catalyst.

One day, Alice sees her local congressman on TV.  This is Howard Birdwell, played as well as anyone could act under this production’s circumstances by Jake Gyllenhaal.  Birdwell seems mostly concerned with getting the kids in his district colored glue for school (okay), but he’s being bullied by his party’s Whip, ex-astronaut Pam Hendrickson (Catherine Keener, doing a good job as well) to support a bill to put an American military base on the moon.  I get it; the film is saying America is quick to support stupid, bloated military expenditures but far more reluctant to do things that are actually important, like healthcare.  Even after Obamacare, which was a good thing but not nearly as good as having Single Payer like every other civilized nation on Earth, it is still common for Congress to give the Pentagon a blank check for war but not give a shit about helping the less fortunate in their country.  The moon base thing is very broad satire which we can intellectually understand, but the film doesn’t exactly make it funny.

In any case, nympho Alice sleeps with Birdwell, and Birdwell is genuinely willing to try to attach a healthcare rider to the moon base bill, but Hendrickson is a no-go, and when the speaker of the house (a Reagan-esque James Brolin) dies, leading to Hendrickson being promoted to that position, things look rather grim.  There’s more to the story, involving girl scouts, a pastor with priapism (Kurt Fuller), a man with a prolapsed anus (Tracy Morgan), and Kirstie Allie as a large animal veterinarian, but mostly the film kind of spins its wheels and stops short at jokes which fall flat.  It’s almost a surprise when jokes do land, or the satire actually seems biting rather than obvious.  I think the film was trying to be a sillier version of Warren Beatty’s excellent 1998 political satire “Bulworth”, but it instead comes off as a weird mix between John Waters’ “A Dirty Shame” and a cynical college student’s political blog.

Actually, the film this feels a lot like is “Cabin Fever 2”, not in subject matter, but in the slapdash construction.  That was a film where the director also quit (in that case, it was Ti West) and the film was finished without his input by the producers, leading to the director disowning the finished film.  In “Fever 2” as well as “Accidental” you can see the work of a talented director trying to dig itself out of the grave of a hastily salvaged film constructed by shitty producers.

“Accidental Love” fails as a film because the jokes often fall flat, the film is poorly constructed out of Frankenstein parts and scraps of usable footage, and time has deemed the subject of its satire mostly irrelevant.  The acting is occasionally good, and there are some isolated moments which work (one imagines they were shot early on with Russell behind the camera), but the film is only worth watching through the lens of a troubled production, and not as a film in and of itself.  One hopes a documentary about the making of the film will one day be made, putting the footage into context, but until that happens, this film is skippable for all the most interested film buffs or David O. Russell completists. D+

*NOTE* David O. Russell had his name taken off of the film. He is credited under the pseudonym Stephen Greene.

I see a lot of movies. A LOT.  However, it almost never see a film more than once in the theater.  The last time I saw a film twice in theaters was way back in 2004.  Now, 11 years later, another film compelled me to view it in theaters more than once.  That film is “It Follows”, and it is the best American horror film in at least a decade.  While the French and the South Koreans have been turning in phenomenal work like “Martyrs” and “I Saw the Devil”, America has largely been concerned with churning out either remakes/reboots of previous high points in the genre, or pumping out reams of PG-13 shit (“Ouija” and “The Lazarus Effect” anyone?)  When America does make a good horror film, it’s usually coming out of indie films, like “A Horrible Way to Die”.  Sadly, it seems that good horror films nowadays simply go straight to VOD, leaving the only horror films that garner the attention and prestige of a theatrical release to be the studio garbage that is pumped out to scare ignorant 13-year-olds who don’t know what good horror is.  The dark days of the shitty PG-13 J-horror remakes gave way to the better but uneven rise of Torture Horror (I refuse to call them Torture Porn as I think that label is inaccurate and disrespectful to the good films that have often come under that label. Frankly, only “The Passion of the Christ” truly fits the label of Torture Porn for films released during that time period, and it’s not supposed to be considered a horror film), but now we seem back in an age when people consider “Insidious” to a be a good horror film and we have a “Poltergeist” remake to look forward to this summer.

From the darkness of the modern American horrorscape, there is a light, and that light is called “It Follows”.  After premiering at the Cannes Film Festival (unusual for a horror film to premiere at the artsy showcase), “It Follows” garnered unusually spectacular reviews for a horror film these days. As I write this, the film stands at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Despite the accolades, this film too was going to merely get a perfunctory limited release in theaters before being dumped onto VOD where it may have made a profit, but  it would have likely been dismissed and forgotten by all but those who rigorously follow movies, and horror movies in particular.  Well, to the surprise and delight of many, the film did great business in limited release, the VOD release was postponed, and now “It Follows” has been given the wide theatrical release it deserved, but lately has been reserved for only the shittiest pieces of crap Hollywood can be bothered to deliver to horror fans.

The film is a brilliant, multilayered examination of aging and human mortality.  While all horror films, to a certain extent, are about death, “It Follows” is ABOUT death.  For members of the audience who are a bit denser, the film takes the trouble to read us quotes from Dostoyevsky’s “The idiot” to spell it out for us in case we’re missing anything. The entire film is a metaphor for how human beings deal with their impending and certain death.  We all die, and we have the knowledge that we will die.  We don’t know when it will come for us, or what form it will take (cancer, a car accident, heart attack, et. al.) but eventually it will get us.  We can let the knowledge depress us, leading one curling up in a ball, hunkering down, and wallowing and sadness.  Or maybe, just maybe, we can stop being afraid because there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it, and we can live.

The plot revolves around Jay (Maika Monroe), who may seem to be your prototypical horror blonde, but she is neither virginal heroine nor whore.  She’s just a girl.  One night she has a date with Hugh (Jake Weary) and while he acts a little strange, it’s nothing that is completely off-putting to Jay. On a later date they end up having sex, after which Hugh chloroforms her, and she wakes up tied to a wheelchair.  That’s when Hugh explains that he has some sort of curse. He had a one night stand and it was passed on to him, and now he’s passed it on to her. The curse results in a figure who can take the form of seemingly any other person, and will follow the person cursed until it can kill them. If it succeeds, it continues to move down the line of succession to the last person who had the curse, until presumably it would reach the first person, whoever that may be.  The figure can’t run, but it can walk, and apparently stand still, so it can easily be outrun, or driving can put some distance between you that the figure has to cover on foot.  Still, it will keep coming after you until it kills you, or you have sex without someone else and pass the curse on…but then if they kill that person, they’ll still come after you next.  Even if you think you’re safe, you’ll constantly be looking over your shoulder.  Oh, and only people in the line of succession of the curse can see the figure, but the figure does occupy some sort of physical space, as people not in the line of succession can touch it or attempt to inflict injury to it.

Let’s stop for a moment to talk about how brilliant this concept is. While playing with the common slasher archetype of a slowly walking killer who doesn’t speak and can’t be reasoned with (and seemingly has no motive) the film has created a mythology that allows this archetype to work without seeming silly (there’s no real reason Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees can’t run).  The figure is a metaphor for death itself: it can take many forms, even if you can see it coming it doesn’t necessarily do you any good, and if you’re not prepared for it (if no one’s told you the rules to the curse) it can be brutal and strike without warning.  No matter what, it doesn’t stop coming for you.  You can try to prolong it (one imagines flying to a different continent…presumably the figure could hop on a boat and stand still until it reaches the shore), but in the end it will get you.  Even if it (meaning the figure) doesn’t get you, something else might.  In one scene, Jay attempts to drive away from the figure only to almost die in a car accident.  It’s like quitting smoking to avoid cancer only to have a piano dropped on you.  The slow approach of death, both as mythology and as metaphor, corrects the absurdity of a common trope of the slasher genre. Brilliant.

Aside from being about death generally, the film is a lot about the inevitable march of time, and aging.  The figure often takes the form of various characters’ parents.  The transmission of the curse is through sex, and while a surface examination of the film might lead people to read this as a simplistic allegory for STDs, the real reason sex seems to be the vehicle of transmission is because we as a culture view sex, correctly or not, as a line of demarcation between childhood and adulthood.  While we may all be doomed to die the minute we’re born, it’s around adolescence or early adulthood that our concerns about life, and what we’ll do for the rest of it, start to kick in, and it’s around this time that the vast majority of us lose our virginities.  Hugh, early in the film, plays a game with Jay wherein Jay asks him to pick anyone in the crowd that he would trade places with, and Jay has to guess. After she fails to guess correctly, Hugh reveals he chose a little boy, about 9 years old.  “He has his whole life ahead of him.”  When Jay points out that Hugh is only 21, Hugh acknowledges he is still young but, well, the innocence and ignorance of childhood is lost.

Often in the film, characters retreat to the safety of their childhood or general childhood comforts: playing the card game Old Maid, eating ice cream from a local ice cream shop, paging through nudie magazines, escaping to a child’s playground and sitting on the swing set, reminiscing fondly about nostalgic moments of their youth.  The characters are constantly looking backward, and have a malaise about their present.  Shortly after Jay and Hugh have sex, Jay talks, mostly to herself, about being a little girl and dreaming of having a boyfriend who would take her on a drive in his car.  Now that she’s grown up and can have a boyfriend, the dream is no longer there. “Where would we go?” she asks.  What she doesn’t realize, and perhaps most of us don’t realize, is that the answer is ANYWHERE. You can do anything.  You’re alive.

As perhaps both a visual cue to the characters backward-looking ways, and as homage to the great horror films of the 1970s, the film has a visual style that evokes that of the late 1970s.  Aside from one cell phone and one odd device that seems to be a seashell e-reader, almost set and prop in this film is vintage. Wall phones with cords, tube TVs, and tacky wallpaper abound in the universe of this film.  It looks like the production designer and set decorator spent their entire budget at thrift stores, flea markets, and antique shops.  When shot in sharp, crisp digital film, the result is a breathtakingly beautiful film.  That’s before we even notice the striking visuals delivered to us by director David Robert Mitchell.  Mitchell has directed one other previous film, unseen by me, and it is a coming of age film called “The Myth of the American Sleepover”.  “It Follows” too is a kind of coming of age film, or rather a film about the resistance to come of age.  With this film, Mitchell finds ways of keeping the camera moving fluidly, just a bit slower than a whip pan, as well as locking off the camera on a rig and letting the rig (whether it’s attached to a wheelchair or the backseat of a car) either keep us steady as the action’s moving, or keep us moving while the action is steady.  There are a ton of virtuoso shots in this film that are STUNNING to behold if you know anything about directing or cinematography. Kudos to DP Mike Gioulakis for filming such a beautiful-looking film that has the color palate and scope framing of a cheap 70s horror film and making it look both retro and modern and gorgeous all at once.

The score, my word, the score of this film is MARVELOUS!  Evoking the synth scores of John Carpenter, not to mention Goblin’s scores on Argento’s films, the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” score, and the music of Tangerine Dream, the music of this film perfectly fits the appropriate mood, at times dreamlike and at other times so tense it causes your heart to beat rapidly just from hearing it.  The score if by a man who calls himself Disasterpiece, and hearing the music is one of the reasons why it is imperative to see the film in theaters. Watching this film at home, but especially HEARING this film at home, will simply not do the film or your viewing experience justice. This is one of the best horror films scores in years, and certainly the best since at least Charlie Clouser’s closing theme from the original “Saw”.

I feel I should cut the review short; otherwise I won’t shut up about the film.  Yes, a lot of people will merely see the film taking the old sex-equals-death trope of horror films and making it literal, but those people are myopic plebeians who can’t see past the surface of things. Sex is the HOW of this film, it is not the WHAT. Hell, at least three sexual encounters that most assuredly happen in this film happen off-screen, and the other three are unerotic and matter-of-fact. Sex is the medium, not the message.

The film plays with conventions like the slowly moving killer and the sex-equals-death thing, but makes them necessary and not-moralizing by creating a mythology which makes them necessary components.  We also have some tropes of not the just horror genre, but the coming-of-age genre.  We have a nerdy character, Paul (Keir Gilchrist) who has a thing for Jay, but Jay doesn’t sleep with him when she first decides to pass it on.  She sleeps with the hunky guy across the street, Greg (Daniel Zovatto).  In this film, however, it is not the misogynist idea that girls only fall for assholes and not the nice guy right in front of them.  Instead, it has the practical aspect of wanting the curse to be as many degrees of separation from you as possible, so it makes sense to pass it to someone who can get easily laid, which nerdy Paul cannot.  Also, it has an aspect of caring about Paul more. After all, if she doesn’t sleep with him, he’s not cursed, and doesn’t have to be saddled with the burden.  While many films show sex as equaling caring, or being a reward for being the good guy in the end, in this film NOT having sex is showing caring.

Look, there will be people who don’t get this film and think it is stupid.  If you meet those people, it is they who are stupid, and they should be ridiculed and made to feel bad for their stupidity.  It’s because of those people that we’re stuck with PG-13 films that think jump scares are the same as actually being scared.  “It Follows” makes a person walking slowly in broad daylight scary.

“It Follows” is the first great film of 2015, it is the best American horror film in at least a decade, and it is a deep, breathtaking, beautiful, thought-provoking, virtuoso film.  Go see it! A.

*NOTE*

I first saw this film on a Saturday night at 10:25PM.  The experience was hampered by a row of teenagers behind me who would not shut up, even after I turned to them and told them “Shut the fuck up.”  The fact that I loved the film despite being distracted, angry, and annoyed is a testament to how damn good this film really is.  The second time I saw it was a matinee on a Thursday, no one talked, and I caught things I had missed the first time because of the punks behind me. People who talk during movies are one of the lowest forms of human scum imaginable.