I've written about the confusion over the release of the horror film "It Follows" in Spokane. Jonathan Abramson, manager of the Magic Lantern, thought he had a good chance of opening the movie first-run. But the distributor, energized by the film's showing during its premiere weekend, decided to give it a wider release.
And so the movie will open Friday at a number of area mainstream theaters. (Click here for more info.)
What I haven't written about is the film itself. Because I was able to score a screening of "It Follows," I will do so now.
First, the plot: The film, written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, follows Jay, a high-school girl living in a creepily run-down section of suburban Detroit. After having sex with her new boyfriend, Jay finds herself being stalked by a mysterious, horrific force. Sometimes that force takes the shape of an old woman, sometimes a naked man. But whatever form it takes, the force pursues her with a plodding, zombie-like intent. It is up to Jay and her small group of friends to find a way around this deadly threat.
It's not as if Mitchell has come up with a particularly original plot. Sex has always been a part of the horror genre, whether we're talking about Dracula courting Mina Harker or Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees dismembering scantily clad teens. And to be honest, some of the plot twists he employs feel just a wee bit nonsensical.
What Mitchell does do, though, is mine the talents of cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, whose spinning camera captures both the cool colors of a timelessly weathered Detroit and the languor of the teen inhabitants' seemingly empty lives (adults are mostly absent, except as occasional carriers of the deadly force pursuing Jay). None of the actors is a name star (newcomer Maika Monroe plays Jay), but that serves to give them an even greater sense of authenticity than any star might have achieved.
It was way back in 1996 that Wes Craven deconstructed the horror genre with the first of his four “Scream” films. In that film, Jamie Kennedy's character Randy set up the rules that, he said, "one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie."
Those rules are:
1. You can never have sex.
2. You can never drink or do drugs.
3. Never, ever, ever under any circumstances say, "I'll be right back." Because you won't be back.
Since the "Scream" series, filmmakers have been working hard to find new ways to explore horror. Some have been effective: "The Blair Witch Project" and "Paranormal Activity." Some have been knowingly clever: "The Cabin in the Woods." Some have drowned their story lines in gore: the "Hostel" and "Saw" series. Most have depended on gimmicks.
Mitchell depends mostly on the tried and true, mainly patient pacing, good (if inexpensive) production qualities and a judicious use of violence. The result may not be the scariest movie ever made, but then horror is like comedy: Just as people have personal reactions to fart jokes, so they tend to have unique reactions to things that jump out of the darkness.
This much is clear, though: "It Follows" might be the best-made scary movie of 2015.