By: Addison Wylie
Ambiguity can be a beautiful thing – especially for the horror genre. Filmmakers can inject an idea, and then trust the viewers to fill in the blanks. It does, however, take a certain skill and direction to utilize ambiguity to its fullest degree. A skill that David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is missing although the film is confident it has.
It Follows goes heavy on creepy nuances, which benefits the experience. Nothing on screen may appear to be happening, but the audience can’t sit still. It’s a testament to the filmmaker’s self-control, and how Mitchell won’t easily give in to today’s expectations of jump scares and graphic gore. He allows the camera to sit, and allows the audience to wander the frame. The Paranormal Activity franchise has executed scares this way, but in a way that fits contemporary horror. It Follows reminds us that sometimes the best payoffs are the ones waiting in the shadows, waiting for the best time to stalk.
David Robert Mitchell has a tough task ahead of him though. He must make a movie where the scariest thing is always blank and lurking. His characters have hardly any concept of what’s stalking them other than knowing its relentless after one commits “the deed”. Once you have sex, the evil is focused on you until you can apathetically pass it to someone else. However, that’s as far as the origin goes. All other details are essentially “up in the air”, and lead towards a contrived cop out.
This type of interactive moviegoing can be fun and unnerving, but It Follows doesn’t give us enough to stem from. The teenage cast are passive uninteresting characters who flee from one place to another, only to forget that this “thing” follows.
It Follows is a gorgeous horror film, and I can only hope that cinematographer Mike Gioulakis is thought of when awards season rolls around – the camerawork is that good. But, Mitchell and his ponderous screenplay misunderstand how to handle this type of vague material. Gioulakis knows how to display it on screen which evokes the right emotional response from the audience – even if its a shallow one. Everything else about the film rings empty, grey, and bored with itself.
If anything, the film’s narrative will bring up post-screening discussions about whether the film has pro-abstinence intentions, or sex-positive motives. However, those talks will arise because there’s nothing concrete or definitive about where the film stands. It doesn’t have a bias, yet its immobility suggests its too lethargic to put together an opinion.
It’s okay for filmmakers to use ambiguity, but those filmmakers have to provide something for the audience to go off of. The details in It Follows are broad by choice. It’s cool to ask the audience for a little help. It’s a whole other bothersome ballgame to ask them to do all your heavy lifting.