David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is one of 2015’s best and most interesting horror films. It puts an original spin on a familiar trope and creates a world all its own, and while it over-reaches a bit in the third act the overall effect of the film is one of sensory beauty and dream-like terror.
It comes to Blu-ray/DVD this week after a successful theatrical run in limited release, and like Radius-TWC’s Snowpiercer (covered previously) it includes a commentary track featuring horror guru Scott Weinberg alongside a revolving door of five fellow film critics (most of whom I know in the real world). It’s a recommended listen after you’ve seen the film a couple times as they bring some fun observations and real insight to the experience.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for It Follows.
It Follows (2015)
Commentators: Scott Weinberg (Nerdist, The Horror Show) and guests Eric D. Snider (MovieBS), Britt Hayes (Screencrush), Samuel D. Zimmerman (Shock Till You Drop), Alison Nastasi (Flavorwire), Eric Vespe (Ain’t It Cool News)
1. The shot above is one of Weinberg’s favorites from the film, and he loves it ‐ as do I ‐ for the masterful framing. Later on he and one of his guests favorably compare Mitchell’s talent in this area with the great John Carpenter.
2. He’s of the opinion that originality is over-rated because old ideas can be made new again with “just a little bit of a new voice or angle or flavor” which is usually enough to draw the attention of genre fans. “Having said all that,” he says, “It Follows is remarkably original.” He also believes it’s as deep of a film as you want it to be. It works as a surface-level chiller, but if you want to dig deeper there’s both text and subtext to be explored, debated and enjoyed.
3. One of his interpretations on the film’s meaning involves the idea that the teens “have an unconscious, primal urge to stay young. It’s almost as if they’re fighting against the encroaching spectre of adulthood and maturity.” The “it” of the title represents the fear of the unknown or the fear of what’s to come in life.
4. Snider is brought in while Jay (Maika Monroe) and Hugh (Jake Weary) are boning in the backseat of a car. I have no point to make here other than I found this funny in light of a comment he makes later (captured under the “Best in Commentary” section below).
5. He rightfully points out that the “calm” threat of something slowly, methodically following you is somewhat more terrifying than something urgently chasing you. Special praise is heaped on the film’s 360-degree camera movement during the school scene showing our leads in the hallway, people around them and maybe, just maybe, something walking slowly towards them.
6. They point out the bathroom jump scare when the ball hits the window outside. “I love this scene and hate it at the same time,” says Weinberg, while Snider admits that he’s seen the film three times and this scare has gotten him every time. Regarding Jay’s intense focus as she stares down into her own underwear, Weinberg wants to know “what is she studying exactly?” I’ll leave that explanation to someone else.
7. Weinberg points out an homage to Carpenter’s Halloween, Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street and others during the scene where Jay sits in the classroom while the teacher’s lecture dovetails with the film’s themes. “You watch a horror film and you’re likely to see a scene where a teacher talks about death or fate,” he says. “It’s a good screenwriting trick.”
8. Hayes joins and shares her appreciation for the film’s gender dynamics starting with Kelly’s (Lili Sepe) dismissal of Paul’s (Keir Gilchrist) offer to stay the night and protect Jay. “It’s smart that it [the film] doesn’t try to make one gender more powerful to another,” she says “Everything is equalized.” This is actually one of the film’s many strengths ‐ the victims are both male and female as is the group of friends helping Jay through it all. It’s equal opportunity with neither sex being exclusively the aggressor or the victim.
9. Hayes questions the “white knight” aspect of Paul’s intentions ‐ basically he offers to sleep with Jay to help protect her from the monster, and it’s as much about being a good guy as it is wanting to get in her pants ‐ and calls it “unwitting sexism.” The concept of the white knight is sound, but I just don’t see it in the character of Paul. It’s not an issue of him being misguided or sexist in the belief that a female needs a male’s help ‐ sex with a guy is literally the only way for Jay to pass this thing along, and his life-long crush on her fuels his actions as much as his humanity and friendship for her do.
10. She points out another of the film’s strengths ‐ it creates “something that is so intimately relateable, something that we can all empathize with.” Our own familiarity and experience with personal connections and concerns adds power to the events and characters because we can see ourselves in their shoes.
11. Zimmerman is put on the spot almost immediately to name his favorite thing about the film, and he wisely answers that his favorite thing “is that there’s not just one thing that’s my favorite thing.” He does narrow it down to highlight the character of Yara (Olivia Luccardi) for her humor and behaviors, but it’s his interpretation of the various figures that appear to Jay that fascinates me. Some of them take the appearance of people she knows ‐ her father, Greg from across the street, etc ‐ but the others, particularly the women, Zimmerman sees as something more foreboding. “I believe they’re different ideas of how she could end up,” he says, “in different facets of suburban existence.” It’s interesting in part because the female “phantoms” we see are in more visibly distressing states of decay than the men ‐ and curiously naked as well ‐ and it adds to the idea being an adult is no fun for anyone.
12. Zimmerman also points out an interesting relationship between this film and Gore Verbinski’s The Ring. He shares how The Ring is “very much coming at this fear of death and the fear of a stuck existence but from the side of adulthood where you’re already regretful of how you spent your time.” That makes for a fun, thematic follow-up to It Follows’ similar take from the point of view of youth.
13. Nastasi has some thoughts on the film’s constant voyeurism ‐ boys watch Jay in the pool and bathroom, we see her having sex in the car ‐ and calls the views “anti-sensational.” I think that holds true during the film’s third person views ‐ ie when we’re simply seeing what the camera is showing ‐ but it also makes Greg’s ogling stand out even more as he takes in Yara’s legs on the counter or Kelly’s reclined form on the beach.
14. Weinberg asks Nastasi’s take on the much-discussed scene where Jay wakes on the car hood, goes down to the lake, sees three guys in a boat and steps into the water before we cut away. Viewers have debated as to the implication here ‐ are we to believe she swam out and had sex with these guys? Nastasi doesn’t believe Jay actually follows through on the implication, but I disagree. The very next scene shows her driving with wet hair and a defeated look on her face followed immediately by her taking a nap ‐ sounds like every post-sexual encounter I’ve ever had. The question I have though is more of a technical one ‐ if she has sex with multiple partners does that mean she’s passing it on to each of them? The film’s logic of a direct chain from one person to the next doesn’t seem to allow for that.
15. Both Nastasi and Weinberg are fans of the final pool sequence, but I just can’t get behind that because it makes no sense ‐ common or dream ‐ and it plays cheap effects-wise. The entire sequence reeks of a desperate stab at something “big” for the third act, and it feels like an unnatural fit for a film that honestly doesn’t need something so overtly flashy. Plus, again, I know Paul is just a teenager, but I never get the impression he’s dumb ‐ why would electrocution or drowning work when a bullet to the head back at the beach did nothing? (This also makes Paul’s wild and dangerous pot shots at the invisible-to-him creature even more idiotic.) Weinberg sees the scene as highlighting the teens’ naivete, and I think if it happened earlier in the film he might have a point, but as a finale it just doesn’t fit and instead deflates some of the atmosphere.
16. Vespe is calling in from New Zealand where he’s visiting some friends who are down there making movies. If you’re curious, I’m not jealous at all.
17. His favorite aspect of the film is its incredibly clear and well-crafted mythology, and he puts it up there with A Nightmare on Elm Street in its simple effectiveness and clarity. He enjoys how the film never feels the need to over-explain the monster.
18. The only gap in the commentary occurs shortly after Vespe joins, and while it’s not explained I can only assume Peter Jackson interrupted the call to show him a clip from the upcoming fourth film of The Hobbit trilogy.
Best in Commentary
- Weinberg: “Don’t ever get the impression that there is one meaning or one answer to a film or any piece of art, because there is not.”
- Snider, to Weinberg: “I wasn’t listening to your part, and I never will.”
- Snider: “I actually was terrified of sex long before I saw this movie.”
- Weinberg: “Kudos to people who can take disparate influences and turn it into their own movie.”
As mentioned above, Radius-TWC produced a similar critics’ commentary previously with Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, but while that made sense due to the director’s language barrier I’ll admit to being disappointed not to get a filmmaker track from David Robert Mitchell on It Follows. That’s not a knock on Weinberg and friends ‐ they offer some fun and interesting thoughts on the film along with several moments of ebullient praise ‐ but there’s so much going on in this film that I would have loved insight into the production from the actual writer/director.
To that end, the one suggestion I’d make for the next time they do one of these ‐ besides ensuring everyone has a strong phone connection ‐ would be to have the guests offering screen-specific commentary during their segments. Currently Weinberg arranges with them in advance what topics they’ll discuss, but they still end up repeating each other at times and duplicating thoughts more than once. Screen-specific thoughts could lead to more informational discussions while cutting down on the purely complimentary ones too. Weinberg and friends know their horror films, and it would be great to hear even more in-depth thoughts from them on particular shots, effects, cast/crew members and inspirations.
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