Reviewer: rkellner Review Date: May 31, 2016 Released by: Starz / Anchor Bay Release date: 07/14/2015 MSRP: $29.99 Region A Progressive Scan Codec: AVC, 1080p Widescreen 2.39:1 | 16x9: Yes 2014 What do the longest running horror franchises have in common, besides recouping their meager budgets many times over? Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser, Halloween all gave us a really interesting “boogieman” to be afraid of and at times, root for. In today’s world of sequel-itis, it seems odd that more filmmakers, especially horror filmmakers, aren’t making a more concerted effort at giving us new, interesting, never-see it before “boogiemen”. Despite the urban legend of The Slender Man, The Babadook, and It Follows, a gripping modern day Boogieman has not found its way into our collective consciousnesses or cinemas for years. Maybe real life tends to be scarier these days with most horror outings focusing on home invasions or the crazy things that can go wrong as a foreigner in a third world nation rather than focusing on supernatural antagonists. Maybe everyone has just been too obsessed with shiny vampires and writing new chapters for George Romero’s zombies, ie. The Walking Dead to think up some new socially focused “boogiemen” for us to lose sleep over. Thankfully we have It Follows, one of the most captivating horror genre films in years. A glance of Amazon reviews tells me that not everyone feels this way, but let me plead my case. The Story The film hits the ground running. An attractive teenage woman flees out her front door at dusk, half dressed, and in full on panic mode trying to escape some entity which only she can see. After a hasty getaway by car, we cut to her saying her goodbyes to her parents on her cell phone as she awaits her impending doom. A mutilated and contorted corpse the next morning by the beachside confirms that we dealing with something that means business. Next we meat Jay (Maika Monroe), her sister and one of her long time male friends as they pass their time hanging out watching old movies, lazing around the pool, and living a fairly carefree teenage existence in the Detroit suburbs. Jay has a been dating a guy from another high school and that night they end up having sex, for her it is her first time. However, what starts off as a dreamy post-coital conversation takes a sharp turn when she is knocked out and awakens to find herself tied to a wheelchair. To make matters worse, her lover starts spouting nonsense about the venereal, supernatural nightmare he has just passed onto her…and just to make sure she believes it, points out the slowly moving naked corpse that is coming after them. The rules are simply laid out: a) the curse is transmitted sexually b) It can look like someone you know or a stranger c) there is only one of It d) if It kills you, the curse reverts back to the previous “owner” e) It can’t be killed f) those who have been infected can see It too. The conditions are fairly brilliant in their simplicity. Now infected, and with a slow moving shape-shifting entity stalking her incessantly, Jay has to make the decision or running, attempting to fight it, or to sexually transmit it to the next victim herself… Taking classic horror as a reference, films like Dracula, The Thing, Halloween, and Night of the Living Dead were highly effective at having a central threat that had just enough rules for it to be scary, but never over analyzed or over “back-storied” their characters to the point of unrelatability (modern remakes of classic horror obviously don’t get this!) It Follows gives its characters and the audience just enough information and boundaries for its creatures to be outsmarted but at the same time establishes them as a formidable force. I give kudos to the fact that no teenager in this film looks up amazing explanations of what is going on online or in an old newspaper, or conveniently finds a VHS tape or patient-zero that explains everything and then some. When the final credits roll, the audience is left to wonder where It actually came from and how you may actually defeat It if you were in that situation instead of analyzing the absurdity of aliens, or voodoo curses or whatever explanation they could have given It if the writers decided to take that path. The film is so much more powerful for the purposeful ambiguity of its central creature. Outside of creating a solid boogieman, I love how the film ties it together the fear/anticipation of losing one’s virginity and being haunted by a lurking consequence of one’s salacious actions. Obviously the notion of virgins surviving horror movies and those who engage in promiscuous teenage sex being the ones who are most likely to be offed is nothing new. Heck, it has been a staple of the slasher genre since its inception, but it is rarely treated with the explicit correlation that this film lays out. Sex=Death, or at least the threat of some corpse like entity humping you to death. I appreciate that extra level of the metaphor of the stealing of one’s innocence, especially when the characters have to face the consequences of knowingly passing on the venereal curse to an unsuspecting or willing target. I also appreciate the choices that the script makes, even if the audience will all likely come to the conclusion that paying for a hooker is the most obvious remedy! It paints multilayered protagonists that are trying to wrap their heads around the supernatural situation, but at the same time stay relatable by being a bit awkward, sexually heightened, and very scared. While most of the cast is in their early 20’s playing 16 year olds, they do it convincingly and are all relative unknowns. Maika Monroe, as the lead damsel in distress Jay (an homage to Jaime Lee Curtis perhaps?) has the vast amount of screen time, and admirably holds the film together. She is a great find and really carries the role of the conflicted, sexually awake, vulnerable, and driven teenage female. Everyone else around her gives a credible performance as well, especially considering that they are reacting to things that are invisible on screen. After a couple viewings, I really appreciate the direction by David Robert Mitchell. Considering that this is only his second film after 2010’s The Myth of the American Sleepover, another Detroit teen-centric indie drama about suburban teenagers looking for love…but with 100% less death by zombie copulation, David seems to have nailed the look and feel of how to make a highly engrossing horror film. The elements of shadows, light, color timings and atmosphere, such as the pool scenes and the evening attacks are really spot on. Great shot compositions, excellent slow pan steady cam sequences, weird artsy European camera angles, slow-burns of tension in scenes, effective use of point of views, and over the shoulder action…this is a very well shot horror movie! I must also talk about how the DNA and lesson’s learned from John Carpenter’s Halloween permeate this film. Let me also go on record by stating that I think it is great when a new filmmaker actually GETS what makes landmark horror films good (see remakes of The Fog, The Thing, Halloween, etc for an anti-thesis). Lesson #1: If nothing else, get the mood right. With the literal creeping dread of this film, this one checks that box and then some. Lesson #2: Create a Boogieman that can’t be killed, can’t be reasoned with, and for lack of better terms, is one-dimensional. It exists to kill you. You can pretty much call this movie a sexually transmitted Michael Myers film. Check. Lesson #3: A good creepy score is your best asset. There is the story that Halloween in its initial test screenings was a flop without the iconic Carpenter score. It was only when John Carpenter applied the minimalistic synth score to it, that the movie became something else entirely. This technique works so well with horror films, and the constant presence of subtle odd notes and haunting themes keeps the tension racked up. In the same way, this film works largely due to the score by Disasterpeace. It is the film’s BEST asset and one of the best horror movie scores…period. If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, consider this a love letter to Carpenter. See my supplementary review for some extra thoughts. Ok, ok…I have been gushing about this film thus far. What are my critical thoughts? My main critique though is that gripping terror is hard, if not impossible, to sustain for 100 minutes. The movie kicks off brilliantly, but it also chooses to start off its opening frame with SCARY, and then follows it up with SCARY, and then SCARY, etc etc etc. I appreciate that the film takes a moment here and there to remind us of the innocence of its teenage characters with talk about young love and the fragility of life…but this movie loses some power by the end. If this movie cut out 10 minutes and tightened up the last couple benign scenes, it would be a modern masterpiece in my opinion. Image Quality The 1080p AVC encoded transfer on this Blu ray has very solid depth with a colorful lifelike image. For a 2014 movie that was likely shot in HD digital, I expect nothing less. The black levels are great, and it looks solid in motion throughout its series of nighttime scenes and daytime scenes alike. In looking at comparisons of this Anchor bay disk with the German version from Universum Film, and the French version from metropolitan Film, I prefer the US version over the more green tinted German version, and the brighter French version. Based on screen captures of all three, the US one looks “just right” to my eyes for the type of film it is. Sound The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 on this disk is pretty close to reference material. There is nice use of rear speakers for ambiance, good depth, and punch for Disasterpeace score. To ratchet up the terror scenes, the score aggressively comes at you from all sides at the most tense moments, and the low foreboding bass is handled very well with the HD audio track here. This is a very nice way to show off a home theater setup. In fact, the added fidelity of the score makes this a film that should be watched on blu-ray with nice speakers and a good subwoofer. Supplemental Material The main extra here is the critic’s commentary moderated by Scott Weinberg, who reviews genre films for DVDTalk.com. He cycles through other online critics such as Eric D. Snider (MovieBS), Britt Hayes (Starcrush), Samuel D. Zimmerman (Shock Till You Drop), Alison Nastasi (Flavorwire) and Eric Vespe (Aintitcoolnews). For the most part, people on the commentary echo most of the thoughts that I expressed above which is ok, as they were broad and obvious topics. The commentary jumps to various phone calls with other critics to get their two cents on the film and various aspects such as cinematography, writing, horror genre conventions, etc. This is decent listen to get some other takes on the movie as a whole. This is an interesting change from the scene by scene style of commentaries; however, I am really surprised by the lack of involvement by the writer, director…heck anyone involved in filming this movie. For a breakout signature film for a young director, I am surprised he hasn’t put his thoughts all over this disk! I would love to hear some of the writer/directors thoughts on the nebulous use of the time period in this movie. Is it the 80’s or present day? Scenes take place in a retro theater and most characters have older cars even though newer ones are readily seen. Everyone has an old tv’s and 70’s styled homes, however some technology exists that is outside of that for some odd reason such as the pocket e-reader of one character. Also worthy of your time is a five minute interview with the composer, Disasterpeace entitled "A Conversation with Film Composer Disasterpeace." It is a quick talk, but he touches upon his background, working on the videogame Fez, and his working with the director on the film. For anyone who wants a more rounded conversation with Disasterpeace, please checkout the great episode he did on the podcast “The Damn Fine Cast.” Extras are rounded out with some poster art and a trailer. Final Thoughts One of the more thought provoking and effective modern horror movies in recent memory, I thoroughly enjoyed almost everything about It Follows. It may be being a bit greedy then to say that it is sad that it came so very close to being a modern classic, but one can’t help but think of the magic a more prudent editor could have done here. Either way, gold stars all around for a thought provoking, interesting, original horror movie with credible acting and an AWESOME score by a name that we should all be on the look out for in future scoring assignments. Rating Movie - A Image Quality - A- Sound - A Supplements - B Technical Info. Color Rated R 1 Disc DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Supplements Critics commentary Composer interview Poster art Trailer Bonus Soundtrack review As a first for horrordvds.com, at least as far as my readership goes back, I would like to also write a review of the score. In as much as John Carpenter’s score for Halloween was as pivotal a character as Jamie Lee Curtis or Michael Myers, or the visual aesthetic of vintage Dario Argento movies are synonymous with their Goblin soundtracks, the score from Disasterpeace is my favorite character of this film. It is a modern take on the great minimal synth scores from Cladio Simonetti and John Carpenter with some really interesting tones and choices along the way. I love the fact that the sound mix on this film is in love with the score too. At key points in the film, the score just blares out of all speakers equally, akin to the Goblin Soundtrack to Suspiria which is multiple decibels above anything else in the film, as if to say that the character dialog is secondary to the film score and you better not dare turn it down. I would have to agree. While I could write a full length essay here about the resurgence of vinyl records and how the cult of vinyl and the cult of horror movies is an overlapping ven diagram, fueled by some really awesome record labels that are marrying up custom artwork with themed artistically colored vinyl…I will leave that for someone else. That said, the vinyl soundtrack here is an amazing package. As a bit of a back story, Disasterpeace started off as a videogame soundtrack composer. The director was a fan of his previous videogame score of Fez and obviously heard something otherworldly that he liked in it. In the extras, I find it interesting that Disasterpeace says that he is a non-horror movie fan given the fact that his score works so well here in the horror element. He also states that the director had put together a temp score featuring Disasterpeace’s own work, John Carpenter, John Cage (I assume that 4’33 was not one of them) and Penderecki. This is pretty interesting and informs a lot of the horror soundtrack. Overall, the like score is a great listen away from the film itself as it bounces between mood pieces where there is no apparent threat, to the ones where an attack is taking place and the music and mood get cranked to 11. For those who have a fellow vinyl fetish, the soundtrack gets high marks as well. This was issued under Nicholas Refn’s (Drive, Bronson, Only God Forgives) own sub label with Milan Records. I love the alternate vinyl LP artwork from retro design by Midnight Marauder. I am not entirely sure what the image has to do with the film, but the visual tone is definitely right. While vinyl soundtracks should be focused on the SOUND…the look of this record is awesome. Split light and dark blue colors with splatter effects can’t have been the easiest to produce, but it is pretty cool to hold. This is something cultish that should be owned and treasured and I could not be happier with it for late night, dim light listens.