REVIEW: It Follows

27 03 2015

It FollowsIn his soon-to-be classic modern horror film “It Follows,” David Robert Mitchell can even make a pronoun terrifying.  The word “it,” when standing alone in American slang, has referred to an appealing aura of sexuality dating back to Clara Bow’s 1927 romantic comedy “It,” which popularized the phrase “It Girl.”  But for Mitchell, “it” becomes practically a proper noun, one that refers to a haunting specter that stalks down a teenage victim after being passed on through sexual intercourse.

“It Follows” speaks the subtext that runs through a great number of films in the genre, turning implicit punishment for carnal impropriety into a tangible STD horror story.  Maika Monroe’s college-aged protagonist (or, dare I say, the “final girl”) Jay Height gets the story going by swapping fluids with her older boyfriend, Hugh, and subsequently contracting his condition.  Through this exchange, Jay becomes the main target of “it,” a spirit that can inhabit any body and is dead set on taking a victim, unless she passes the burden to someone else.

The story and premise almost sound comical when laid out in terms like those above, especially considering that Jay stubbornly and irrationally refuses to transfer the evil spirit.  Yet Mitchell’s impeccable technique make laughter practically unthinkable in “It Follows.” The film is far too unnerving to allow for such sentiments to bubble to the surface. Mitchell puts the typical, derivative offerings of horror to shame as he creates a work that stands as one of the best executed films in recent memory irrespective of genre. He combines the psychological madness of “Martha Marcy May Marlene” with the all-out bodily terror of “Black Swan” for one bone-chilling experience.

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REVIEW: The Guest

3 02 2015

The Guest

A new spate of American genre films that wear their influences on their sleeves often underwhelm.  After all, the downside of name-checking is having to weather comparisons to the source itself.  Adam Wingard’s “The Guest,” however, is the rare film from this revival that actually stands well on its own merits.

The plot could more or less be reduced to saying it’s “The Terminator” for the age of the Iraq-Afghanistan military industrial complex.  Dan Stevens stars as David Collins, the titular guest, a self-professed veteran who slyly ingratiates himself with the family of fallen comrade Caleb Peterson.  His stay just keeps extending due to the kindness of the Petersons and his insidiously winning charm.

Wingard plants the seeds of conflict and action in this idyllic sojourn of “The Guest.”  The movie jumps from a mostly dramatic piece to a tense thriller and then into an all-out action fest (whose ending nods cleverly to Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”).  Somewhat surprisingly, all these elements coexist rather well.  This is due in large part to Wingard allowing knowledge of cinephile cult classics to enhance the movie, not drive it altogether. It also helps that “The Guest” does not feel like a litany of references to his VHS collection circa 1993.

Wingard simply brings a fun amount of campy pulp to the table while also maintaining the movie’s integrity.  “The Guest” lands in the narrow strip between parody and believability.  It is serious enough to command and maintain attention without being so serious that it precludes a great, enjoyable time.  And that throbbing synth-pop score underneath it all?  Just icing on the cake.  B+3stars