IT FOLLOWS

Have you ever had the feeling that you’re being watched?

That somehow, somewhere, someone (or something) is watching you? And that, maybe, just maybe, they’re coming…slowly…towards you?

Well, have I got the film for you! You might have heard of a little indie horror flick called It Follows, which made quite a stir on the indie horror circuit earlier this year.

I have several things to say about this film, starting with the title. It Follows is a fantastic name for a horror movie, creepy and ominous without spoiling anything. It’s a title that conveys more dread and mystery than many entire movies. It’s such a great title that I didn’t even have to think of a title for this post, the movie did that for me.

And the film lives up to the title. The main character of It Follows is Jay (short for Jamie), who, after hooking up with her new boyfriend in the back of his car one night, finds herself being stalked by an unknown presence that only she can see.

it follows psotre

But wait, let’s back up a bit. The movie takes place in Anytown, USA, in a sleepy, nondescript neighborhood. The film opens with a young woman running out of her house. She appears to be running from something, but we don’t see what. Her dad asks her if she’s okay, and she says yes, although it’s clear that she is anything but okay. She gets into her car and drives away unsteadily. She drives to the beach and her dad calls her, and she tells him she loves him.

In the morning, she is dead.

We then meet Jay, who swims around lazily in the pool in her backyard. She is very pretty, and a couple boys next door spy on her. Jay goes on a date with her new boyfriend Hugh, who acts a little strangely when he appears to see someone Jay can’t see, but tries to pass it off as just not feeling well. Jay thinks this is odd but doesn’t think too much about it, and a few days later, the two of them hook up in the back of his car. Afterward, Hugh drugs her unconscious.

Uh-oh. But it’s not what you might think. Jay wakes up tied to a wheelchair, and Hugh tells her that something will start following her. It used to be following him, but he passed It on to her, and the only way she can get rid of It is to sleep with someone else. Even though It is not following him anymore since he passed It on to her, Hugh can still see It. It appears in the form of a naked woman walking slowly, inexorably, towards Jay. Jay freaks out and Hugh lets her see It long enough for her to believe what he’s told her, and then wheels her away and drives her home, while warning her multiple times not to let It get to her, and to pass it on to someone else as soon as she can.

IT-Follows-iTunes-Poster

Jay is clearly traumatized by the experience, but there’s not much the police can do, since she tells them it was consensual. She recovers, and a few days later at school, she looks out the window and sees an old woman coming slowly towards her. No one else seems to see the woman, and Jay leaves class in a hurry. The old woman follows her, and no one else can see her. Terrified and completely convinced of what Hugh has told her, she goes home.

From there, the movie becomes one terrifying encounter with It after another, with each encounter increasing in intensity. David Robert Mitchell, who wrote and directed the film, builds tension expertly and creates an overwhelming sense of paranoia and dread throughout the film.

This is a horror movie in which the antagonist is not a masked killer or a hulking monster, It appears only as people, walking slowly. And while people walking slowly might not sound all that scary, think about it for a second. You can’t stop It, you can’t outrun It, you can only buy yourself time, because eventually, when you let your guard down, It will catch up to you, and when it does…well, I’ll let you fill in the rest.

And think about how unsettling it would be to always have someone following you. And not even running after you, just…walking. Think of how paranoid you would get, how you would always be looking over your shoulder, never being able to relax or let your guard down. Not only would it be terrifying, it would be exhausting, both physically and mentally. And eventually, you would just get worn down, and then…It will get you.

This is such a great idea for a horror movie. I just love it. It Follows is much more low-key than most horror films these days, and in my opinion it’s a movie that is vastly more unsettling than any generic masked killer slaughtering horny teenagers in the woods.

trailer-for-a-terrifying-horror-film-called-it-follows

The movie is helped by a strong central performance. Jay is played by Maika Monroe, who also starred in The Guest, another recent indie hit that I’m a big fan of (and wrote about a few months ago). She’s very good in the role of a person coming slowly unglued, and is a likable protagonist, although admittedly some of the supporting characters are a little bland. But Monroe really does a great job anchoring the movie.

Another one of the film’s strongest aspects is the music, which is kind of electronic, kind of synth-y (if that makes sense), and evokes classic 70’s and 80’s John Carpenter movies like Halloween and The Thing, and also has a retro video game kind of feel. It’s really great, atmospheric and intense, and heightens the movie’s plentiful scares while also being memorable in its own right. You can find some of it on YouTube, and if you’re a fan of old-school horror movies and video games you’ll probably get a kick out of it.

Another interesting aspect of this film is that there is never any explanation about the antagonist. There is no indication as to what It is, where It came from, or anything of that sort. It’s very tantalizing to think about where It might have come from, and adds another layer to the movie’s mythology.

it-follows-art-poster

If it’s not apparent by now, I really like It Follows. Fans of other modern horror movies might not like it so much since it’s slowly paced and places more emphasis on psychological scares rather than gore. But to me it’s far creepier than those kinds of movies. It gets under your skin and stays there, and might just have you looking over your shoulder when you’re walking down a darkened street or hallway.

Happy Halloween everybody!

Advertisements

Beware Of Crimson Peak

I don’t usually see scary movies in theaters, but with Crimson Peak I had to make an exception. I’m a big Guillermo Del Toro fan, and I couldn’t resist seeing his latest movie on the big screen, scary or not.

So let’s get right into it, shall we? The main character of Crimson Peak is Edith Cushing, played by Mia Wasikowska, a young woman who is an aspiring writer (she’s working on a ghost story), and whose father is a wealthy businessman. When she is a child, she is visited by the gruesome ghost of her mother, who warns her to “Beware of Crimson Peak.”

crimson peak psotre

One day fourteen years later, into her life walks Sir Thomas Sharpe, played by Tom Hiddleston (aka Loki from The Avengers), an English aristocrat who seeks funding from Edith’s father to mine the rich deposits of red clay that his house is built upon. Edith also meets Thomas’ sister Lucille, played by Jessica Chastain, with whom he appears to be quite close, despite her frigid demeanor towards everyone else.

Edith’s father initially refuses him, but Edith begins to fall for him nonetheless. Things come to a head when Edith’s father is mysteriously and brutally murdered, which leads Edith to marry Thomas and she is whisked off to Thomas and Lucille’s home in England, the dilapidated Allerdale Hall, which is built on top of the aforementioned red clay, which seeps ominously through the aging floorboards.

Edith tries to adapt to her new environment, which is made difficult by the fact that her new sister-in-law can barely contain her loathing, and also by the fact that Allerdale Hall is extremely haunted. I mean, there are haunted houses, and then there are capital-H Haunted Houses, and Allerdale Hall is definitely the latter. Edith has seen ghosts before, and she sees them once again in Allerdale Hall, where a grisly apparition with a meat cleaver lodged in its head lies in the bathtub, and other fleshy spirits haunt the halls.

CrimsonPeak_house exterior

The spirits once again warn her to “Beware of Crimson Peak,” and Edith is terrified to learn from her husband that Allerdale Hall is sometimes referred to as Crimson Peak by the locals, due to the red clay that stains the ground blood-red when it snows. By the time she learns this, she has grown progressively weaker and is starting to cough up blood.

I won’t spoil the ending, but needless to say there are some unsavory revelations about the Sharpe family. Throughout the film, it is abundantly clear that the Sharpes are up to something, and that Sir Thomas knows far more than he lets on to his wife.

To be honest, I am of two minds regarding the film’s denouement. Maybe it was yet another case of the Curse of the Misleading Trailer, but part of me was kind of let down once we learn what Thomas and Lucille are really up to, since it wasn’t quite as dramatic as what I had had in mind. The film’s trailers had led me to form my own theories, which turned out to be completely wrong. I’m not even going to say what my theories were, because to then say that my theories were wrong would constitute a spoiler in itself, and I really don’t want to spoil anything.

Crimson-Peak-Mondo-poster-3

So like I said, I’m torn. Does the fact that my theories about the film were wrong mean that the film’s advertising was effective, because it misled me, or was it the Curse of the Misleading trailer, in that the movie’s trailers led me to expect something that the movie itself failed to deliver upon? I can’t decide.

And, lest you think that this whole discussion is irrelevant, it really isn’t. And that’s because I’m not sure whether to be disappointed or not.

I hate to sound so wishy-washy about this, but in some ways I am disappointed and in some ways I’m not. I was a bit let down by the film’s story, since it wasn’t quite as grandiose as what I had had thought in mind, and yeah, that was a bit of a bummer.

But on the other hand, Crimson Peak did deliver on a lot of other things I expected from it. For one thing, it looks great. Guillermo Del Toro has always had an eye for snazzy visuals, and Crimson Peak is no exception. The film’s Victorian-era costumes and sets look fantastic, and for a horror movie it’s brightly-colored and visually vibrant. Allerdale Hall, the ramshackle ancestral home of the duplicitous Sharpe family, is a masterpiece of set design and special effects.

crimson-peak-house

And again, this being a Guillermo Del Toro flick, the monster effects are similarly top-notch. The spirits that roam the dark corridors of Allerdale Hall are gruesome and terrifying, I thought of them as flesh-ghosts because they look like they still have some meaty parts attached to their decaying skeletons.

It also bears mentioning that Crimson Peak is not a film for the faint of heart, it definitely earns its R-rating for some pretty bloody violence, and there is a sex scene, although it’s fairly tame by today’s standards. The last 20 minutes or so of the movie do get pretty gory and there are some cringe-inducing scenes, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise for anyone who saw Pan’s Labyrinth. Remember that scene in Pan’s Labyrinth where the villain pulverizes that one guy’s face with a bottle? Kind of like that. The murder of Edith’s father is particularly grisly, as he gets his head repeatedly smashed into a porcelain sink until his face is reduced to a pulpy ruin.

crimson peak flesh ghost

But don’t worry, it’s not all blood and guts. The three main characters in the movie are all superbly acted, especially Thomas’ sister Lucille. Jessica Chastain looks like she’s having a great time, and how could she not, when given such a juicily villainous role to play? Tom “Loki” Hiddleston is also great, he’s totally believable as a smooth-talking aristocrat who knows more than he’s letting on. And Mia Wasikowska provides a strong performance at the center of the movie. Dressed up in the elaborate Victorian costumes and with very pale skin, she almost looks like a doll, but her external fragility belies her internal strength.

Overall, I really enjoyed Crimson Peak. There were some aspects of the plot that disappointed me a bit, and hardcore horror fans will probably say that it’s not scary enough. It’s not a perfect movie, but I still really enjoyed it, and, as with every movie Guillermo Del Toro makes, it feels very personal. As imperfect as it might be, it still feels like the film Del Toro wanted to make.

I hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious, since it’s not like I’m psychic and knew exactly what Del Toro was trying to do or anything. But still, Del Toro’s movies all feel very personal to me, as if he attached a projector to his brain and shone it at the wall, and then made a movie out of whatever he saw. His originality and obvious passion for his films really come through. The movie doesn’t make any profound statements about humanity or anything, but it’s a very entertaining watch that will be worth seeing for genre fans.

crimson-peak-psotre2

So yeah, those are my thoughts on Crimson Peak. I’m planning to write about one more scary movie this month, so look for that next week if you’re interested.

See ya!

Mark Watney is My Hero

If you were, quite literally, left alone on a desert planet, how would you react? Chances are pretty good that it would be a tough pill to swallow, to put it mildly.

Well, not if you’re Mark Watney, the hero of Ridley Scott’s latest film, The Martian. Mark is an astronaut who gets left behind by his crewmates after they lose contact with him during a severe storm on Mars and he is presumed dead.

the martian psotre 1

But he’s not.

When faced with the daunting proposition of having to survive on an inhospitable planet all by himself, Mark makes a resolution: “I am not going to die here.” And so begins his epic journey to survive against all odds. In order to survive, he’ll have to figure out how to grow food on a planet where nothing grows, and reestablish contact with Earth after most of his equipment was damaged in the storm.

It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that he does succeed in contacting Earth, since the scenes set on Earth comprise a good portion of the film’s running time. And also that he is now the most famous Martian ever, aside from maybe this one:

Marvin_the_Martian

Love that guy. But anyway, in the movie Mars is where the real action’s at, and every time it switches back to Earth I wanted it to go back to Mars. This is not to say that the Earth scenes are bad, or unnecessary. To me, they just weren’t quite as much fun as the Mars scenes.

But like I said, the Earth scenes aren’t bad at all, and they’re all vital to the plot of the movie. It also helps that the film features an expansive cast, and seemingly every major role is played by a likable and well-known actor. You’ve probably heard of some of these folks: Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and many others. All of these actors are great, and it’s always nice to see so many talented people on screen.

But of course the real star is Matt Damon, who plays the brilliant, smartass Mark Watney to absolute perfection. He’s a joy to watch, which is even more impressive considering that he’s by himself for 95% of the time he’s on screen, and, being the film’s star and all, he’s on screen quite a lot.

the martian-gallery3-gallery-image

The Martian ends up being a stirring tribute to good old-fashioned human ingenuity and perseverance, with Matt Damon as Watney at its core. The film could easily have been a total downer, but thanks to Mark Watney and his awesome, goofy personality, it’s actually quite a bit of fun.

Which isn’t to say that the film doesn’t deliver on the nail-biting tension, because it does. I was holding my breath for the last half-hour of this movie. Really, the entire movie is a balancing act that could have gone spectacularly wrong at any point in its execution, but it didn’t.

The film is faithfully adapted from the best-selling novel by Andy Weir, who self-published the book before it was picked up by a publisher. The screenplay was written by Drew Goddard, who directed The Cabin in the Woods (a fun, scary movie I recommended a few Halloweens ago), and Goddard’s script does a great job capturing Watney’s smartass personality.

The-Martian book

The script also does a great job conveying the scientific aspects of the story. The book is very science-heavy, and it has to be so that readers will be able to follow what Watney is trying to do. The film does a great job conveying this without drowning the audience in exposition. It’s always clear what Watney and the folks back on Earth are doing, and the movie is never confusing, which makes a big difference.

The Martian is also a very funny movie, much of which is due to Matt Damon, and there’s a very funny running joke about the awful disco music Watney is forced to listen to, because it’s the only music he has. The rest of the cast also gets some funny moments (there’s a very funny scene in which Elrond and the Lord of the Rings are discussed, while Sean Bean is sitting at a table, quietly not saying anything).

Other recent space movies like Gravity and Interstellar are incredibly tense and frequently harrowing, but they’re not as much fun as The Martian. Gravity and Interstellar aren’t bad movies at all, but given the choice between The Martian and either of those two films, I’d pick The Martian.

It’s also a great-looking movie. I don’t know where the Mars scenes were filmed, but there’s a stark beauty to the Martian landscapes, and the scenes set in space itself also look great. For the most part the movie is faithfully adapted from the source novel, with a few slight alterations or additions here and there. The ending has been beefed-up a bit to heighten the tension, and the movie also adds a lovely little scene at the very end (which was not present in the book) that shows you what the main characters did after the film’s climax. I won’t spoil anything, but the movie’s ending just leaves you feeling really good.

It’s a surprisingly funny and uplifting movie, and by the time “I Will Survive” starts playing over the end credits, it would be hard not to have a smile on your face. I certainly did.

the martian isfdjovjn

I saw The Martian in 3D, which was cool at first but the novelty wore off fairly quickly. What is interesting to me as I’ve thought about it afterwards is that my feelings about the 3D being lackluster aren’t really due to anything the movie itself does. The problem is that my eyes just get used to the 3D effect after a while, and I just kind of stop noticing it. It’s not the movie’s fault that, in my opinion at least, 3D doesn’t add much to the experience of the movie.

That was a bit of a tangent, but the 3D didn’t make me enjoy the film any less. It may not have added much, but it didn’t take anything away either, so I guess I can’t complain too much. The Martian is a great movie regardless of how many dimensions you see it in, and you don’t have to be a hardcore sci-fi or science nerd to enjoy it. Not only is it easily Ridley Scott’s best film in years, it’s also a movie that will leave you feeling good about the human race, which is a feeling we could all use a lot more of these days.

Sicario Means Hitman

It was a tense weekend for me at the movies last weekend. On Friday I saw Sicario, and on Sunday I saw The Martian. I spent most of the running times of both of these movies holding my breath. I’m planning on writing about both movies, and since I saw Sicario first I’m going to start with that.

Sicario opens with a gruesome scene that sets the stage for the rest of the film, and lets the audience know what kind of grim tale they are in for.

sicario psotre

An FBI hostage rescue team, led by Kate Macer (played by Emily Blunt), raids a house in Chandler, Arizona, looking for hostages. They find no hostages, but make a horrifying discovery. There are dozens of corpses hidden in the walls of the house, as well as explosives in a shed in the backyard, which detonate and kill two police officers.

Following this, Kate’s boss recommends her to Matt Graver (played by Josh Brolin) a Department of Defense advisor putting together a team of elite agents to go after the people responsible for the day’s atrocities. Kate agrees to join the team, and in so doing, falls headfirst into a rabbit hole deeper than she could have imagined.

Kate then meets Matt’s partner, the enigmatic Alejandro (played to chilling perfection by Benicio Del Toro) and is told that they’ll be going to El Paso.

Bet they don’t go to El Paso.

They go across the border, into Juarez, on a high-risk prisoner extraction mission.

Juarez is home to the Juarez Cartel, known for mutilating and decapitating their rivals and displaying the corpses in public areas to instill fear. The film shows this in all of its grisly glory, with bodies hanging from road signs and suspended from freeway overpasses. Sicario is a film that pulls no punches in depicting the violence inherent to its story, and is not for the faint of heart.

The film’s director, Denis Villeneuve, also directed Prisoners, a film I wrote about some time ago. Prisoners and Sicario share some thematic similarities, and neither of them are shy about depicting both grisly violence and the darker side of humanity.

sicario other psotre

Both films are also nail-bitingly tense, and Villeneuve once again proves himself to be an expert at building suspense. The entire Juarez sequence is masterfully constructed, with every shot and every terse line of dialogue increasing the viewer’s heart rate. The sequence comes to an explosive climax at the border crossing going back into the States, where Kate and the other agents get stuck in the world’s worst traffic jam, and every car could potentially contain hostiles. The agents are handicapped by their rules of engagement, which dictate that they cannot fire unless fired upon, meaning that even when they spot people in some of the cars around them wielding rifles, they can’t do anything unless they are directly threatened.

The sequence is a masterpiece of suspense, with Kate and the other agents’ helplessness intensifying their predicament. The sequence ends with Kate questioning why she’s even there and appalled at the lack of concern for protocol and civilian safety. She starts asking questions, but she can’t get a straight answer from anyone. Not from Matt, not from any of the other agents, and certainly not from the taciturn Alejandro.

She tells her boss at the FBI that Matt and his team are operating outside the boundaries, but is told that they can’t do anything about it and she has to just play along. Matt tells her the same thing, and that the boundaries have expanded for her beyond what she was used to at the FBI. Matt tells her that this is her chance to finally make a difference. Kate is starting to get the impression that she’s bit off more than she can chew, and is even given the opportunity to walk away at one point. But she can’t, because she’s already invested too much of herself to walk out.

I’m not going to sugarcoat here: Sicario is a grim piece of work. It’s the kind of movie you walk out of needing a hug, and maybe a shower. But there are things along the way that make it a bit less punishing to watch, and one of those is the cinematography. The movie looks great, and it’s the kind of movie where nothing is wasted. Every shot, every character, every line of dialogue serves a purpose and nothing is extraneous.

The movie also features a stunning sequence late in the film in which Kate and the other agents raid a tunnel that the cartel uses to transport drugs underneath the border from Mexico into the US. The sequence is shot almost entirely with night-vision and thermal cameras, and is riveting to watch. It reminded me of the show-stopping conclusion of Zero Dark Thirty, where the Navy SEALS raid bin Laden’s safe house.

The whole film is incredibly well-acted and –directed. Emily Blunt is a lovely woman with a beautiful smile, but she doesn’t get much to smile about in this film. She plays Kate as a tough-as-nails agent who nonetheless can’t help but be affected by the toll her job takes on her. I really hope she gets nominated for an Oscar for her work in this film, she deserves it.

sicario emily blunt

Also Oscar-worthy is Benicio Del Toro, who plays Alejandro to absolute perfection. He is incredibly menacing, and his character’s true identity and motivations are kept mysterious throughout the film. You’re never quite sure what this guy’s deal is, but it’s hard to take your eyes off him whenever he’s onscreen. That must be a difficult balance to strike as an actor: to play a character who clearly has his own agenda, but to play him in such a way that the audience is never quite sure what that agenda is. I don’t know how you do that, but Del Toro makes it look easy.

sicario-del-toro-jpg

Josh Brolin also does solid work as a government agent accustomed to manipulating people. His constant gum-chewing and casual manner (he wears flip-flops to strategy meetings) clash with the serious nature of his job, and leads the viewer to question exactly what his deal is.

sicario brolin

All of these characters are fascinating to watch, with the ways that they bounce off each other and frequently clash. Of course there are other characters in the film, but it really belongs to the three of them, as well as Denis Villeneuve’s sure-handed direction and the gorgeous cinematography by the great Roger Deakins. Deakins is known for his work with Sam Mendes and the Coen Brothers and has been Oscar-nominated an astonishing twelve times but inexplicably has yet to actually win an Oscar. Who knows, maybe this film will fix that. Give the man a damn Oscar already. It’s long past due.

Anyway, rant over. Another thing that makes Sicario such an extraordinary film is its realism. It’s uncommonly realistic for a Hollywood movie, and it acknowledges many realities that most other movies simply gloss over. Guns are loud. Dead bodies smell bad. The good guys don’t always win. It’s sobering to be sure, but it’s also somewhat refreshing in a way to see a film that doesn’t glamorize its subject matter.

Sicario-2015-Official-Movie-Poster-Wallpaper

At the beginning of the film, after the FBI team finds the bodies in the walls, some of them go out in the back yard and throw up. The film doesn’t dwell on this, but to me it really stood out. It’s an acknowledgment of an unpleasant reality. There’s no shame in it, it’s just something that happens.

Sicario is not an easy watch. It’s not the kind of movie you’ll want to watch frequently, but it is very good, and I could see myself watching it again at some point in the future. It’s the story of an idealistic protagonist who really wants to help improve a terrible situation, only to repeatedly find that she can’t. Without spoiling too much, it turns out that, in the end, she’s just a pawn. She’s basically being used for the entire movie. Still, I wouldn’t say that Sicario is a nihilist film necessarily, and I wouldn’t say that its makers are all a bunch of misanthropes. I don’t know. It’s a movie that’s hard to shake, regardless of the impression it leaves you with.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Have a good day folks, and never forget that there are good things in the world.