“It Follows” and the Tepid State of the Modern Horror Film

Any horror fan out there can attest to the staples of the late-70’s early 80’s tenants of horror. Be it the slow sprawl loaf of Michael Meyers in Carpenter’s 78′ original Halloween or the supreme gore that was Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre revered to the point that it’s inspired seven subsequent sequels and reboots, we can all agree that there’s an indistinguishable feel and atmosphere that made the golden age of horror such a spectacle–and an alluring one at that.

The “classic” horror movie is a slow burn. It’s the build-up alongside nuanced development that rises to some tumultuous and over-revealing climax, harnessing elements we as a society fear. It’s panic, dread, alarm, and outrage at events and instances well-outside the norm, and it’s glorious.

However, it’s clear with the critically-outstanding reception of David Robert Mitchell’s 2015 It Follows that the horror industry is in the midst of creative deadlock–a stalemate that needs more than the regurgitation of classic horror tropes for salvation.

The story is about Jay Height (Maika Monroe), as she contracts the dangers associated with “It” following her. What’s “it”? “It” is a slow-walking manifestation of some sort of supernatural force whose only purpose is to destroy its victim. “It” manifests itself throughout the film as a number of individuals all of which slowly walk in pursuit, deranged in their lope, and comical in their speed.

I can’t knock the film entirely. Where Mitchell’s concept strikes a chord is the fact that “It” is literally everything and appears slowly and surely. It encompasses a sort of universality and omnipotent appeal to the fact deep down we’re all scared of being chased–regardless of however slow said chase might be.

That being said, the story moves with the rapidity of its villains (that is to say, not at all). Jay’s fears of “It” although slightly spooky when it actually surfaces and shows its face, is about as terrifying as a barking dog revealed as a maltese.

Everything from the pace of the film to the sonorous synth lines that pierce and strike in calculated intervals throughout the picture’s entirety seems to be lifted from the world of the 80’s horror classics. The synths evoke Barker’s 1987 Hellraiser in their orchestrated cacophony, and the shots are grandiose and sweeping a la Kubrick’s (love it or hate it) 1980 The Shining.

Getting to the point, I’m tired of rehashed clichés and thematic tropes being recycled year after year. It seems as though the latest horror resurgence is nothing more than the recycled surety of directors who were once original.

It’s not the film that disappointed me so much as its reviews. It seems as though between the ivory-tower that has become the Cannes festival panels, Rolling Stone, and mainstream audiences everywhere It Follows is believed it to be some smash-hit original–groundbreaking in its inception and cinematographic brilliance.

On closer inspection–beneath the “originality” that critics praised so dutifully are the tenants of a genre long-since out to pasture. My only hope is that someone manages to bring it back.

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The Strain: Remaking the Vampire Classic

Since the abomination to the film/book industry that was the Twilight series, vampires have been dismissed as prissy prima donna hunks who sparkled when in sunlight. I remember my disappointment when I sat down to watch the first film out of curiosity and my hopes of witnessing one of the main vampires explode in some bloody, mucusey-jumble of limbs and organs. Lo and behold, you can imagine my thoughts when Robert Pattinson only managed to get more beautiful by glittering or sparkling or whatever the terrible term used in the books was.

Suffice it to say that by the time Breaking Dawn came to a close, society was done with the vampire porn of the silver-screen. Blade fanatics (like myself) were left reeling in the throes that one our favorite monsters had been transformed into some beautiful, pristine, teeny-bopper beefcake. Oh, the horror!

But there’s a light on the horizon in Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain which debuted on FX last year. The show itself is a classic story retold through the eyes of one of the most imaginative directors contemporary film-making has to offer.

For those of you unfamiliar with Del Toro’s work–get familiar. He’s a delightfully debauched combination of Tim Burton and Jim Henson, and he makes monster movies. Right? The creatures are terrifying and the writing is fantastic. Enough said.

The story follows a number of protagonists ranging from a latino-gang-banger, pest-control officer, and CDC big-wig–all of which attempting to stop an ancient Romanian vampiric parasite simply called Strigoi (risen dead). It’s a gruesome romp through the streets of NYC as our heroes confront one of the deadliest enemies the world has ever seen.

But the story is more than a simple vampire plague. Del Toro’s Strigoi is a horrific combination of new and old. His creatures of the night are reminiscent of Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu, yet aggressive like the zombies in 28 Days Later. It’s a sight to behold.

Needless to say, I’m over-the-moon about The Strain. The show is currently in the midst of a phenomenal second season. If you haven’t given it a peek yet, be sure to do so. Just maybe keep the lights on when you do.

Solitary Viewing

I like to go to the movies by myself.

It started in high school after searching for an hour or so for someone to go and see a movie I was intrigued by. I decided why not? and just went myself. What unfolded seemed strange at first. There were couples and friends walking side by side into the cool, darkened theater, happily munching popcorn while finishing up their stories before the picture began, serving as reminders that I was alone, and they were not.

Me, though, I was happy as a clam. I had my popcorn and my drink, and I set up camp in my standard 3/4’s to the back position. There was no awkward discussion period about where the best location to watch would be. I simple walked to my favorite place in the theater and plopped down, making camp where I lay.

The movie itself was forgettable, nothing out of the ordinary, but the sensation of autonomy and individualism has carried with me since–it was strangely familiar, and after further contemplation, I realized I’d experienced it elsewhere.

I’d experienced it while reading.

More than anything the deepest enjoyment comes from an immersive feeling of engagement in whatever is playing before me. Sometimes it’s the fantastical or melodramatic world of a film, and sometimes it’s the curious and insightful world of a book. Regardless, it’s a solitary endeavor.

Ultimately, it comes from my predilection for reading.

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For as long as I can remember the sensation of losing one’s self in a long novel is unlike any other, barring film, of course. The lights dim, the curtains draw and the picture kicks up while the brain becomes entranced by the images that unfold. The same holds true with a novel, although the process is more subtle and more complex.

Textual immersion comes from time and practice. It takes numerous attempts and oftentimes doesn’t come right away. Regular readers know the feeling I’m talking about. That feeling of knowing that the world I’m sitting in while reading silently drifts away while another, more exciting/terrifying/gripping one slowly forms in the mind. But it doesn’t form immediately, and it requires persistence. It often requires a few pages and few moments of absolute silence for the picture to fully form and the world to arrive at its intended shape.

More than anything, it requires solitude, and much like the intriguing sensation in that first movie where I was alone, reading requires a facet of isolation–if not entirely physical, then mental.

It’s now summer, which for most is a leisurely time of self-discovery, growth, and individual fulfillment. Let the beauty of the landscape allow you to draw inward and reflect, contemplate, and meditate on purpose and self-desire. But most importantly, revel in the solitude and isolation that arises from immersion into a good book or movie. It’s often in those moments of seclusion and withdrawal in which we’re more attuned to discover pieces of ourselves.