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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

In Which We're Obviously Too Dumb to Understand Good Movies

I have experienced a disheartening revelation: I don't "get" horror movies.

Earlier this year, I went to see "The Witch."

[I should mention here that the rest of this post contains spoilers galore, so if you haven't seen "The Witch" or "It Follows"--and you intend to see them--you might want to stop reading here.]

Here was a highly praised, critically approved horror movie.  And I'll admit that, from a technical standpoint, it was fairly well done: Interestingly gloomy cinematography, well-acted, and featuring a few legitimately spooky moments.  But basically, the movie can be summarized as, "Adolescent girl is accused of being a witch, denies being a witch, but in the end turns out to be a witch."  And I, for one, walked out of the theater thinking, "OK, so. . .  well. . . That happened. . . .," but without any clear idea of what the hell I had just spent the last 90 minutes or so watching.

Last night, I watched "It Follows," an even more lavishly praised movie: 97% positive rating on "Rotten Tomatoes"! An instant classic!  Yada yada yada!  And again, I acknowledge a certain skill on the part of the filmmaker, who displays an impressive ability to make ambulation look threatening.  On the whole, however, this movie left me thinking nothing so much as, "Wha?"  I write this post, then, in the hopes that someone can explain to me what the movie was about, and thereby help me gain an appreciation for what seems to be a highly popular genre.

The movie opens on a quiet, suburban street at dawn (or maybe dusk).  The street appears empty.  Suddenly, a young scantily clad woman bursts out of a house, apparently running from something.  She runs into the middle of the street, stops, and looks around.  The camera pans around the scene, revealing. . . . NOTHING.  (Not a sausage, as Monty Python might say.)  A helpful neighbor asks if the girl needs help, and she says no.  She runs BACK to the house--from which she had just escaped--where her father has now come out to see if she's OK.  She runs past him, into the house, and then bursts out again a few seconds later, runs to her (father's?) car in the driveway, and takes off.

Cut to: The girl is driving, it is now night time, her cellphone is ringing.  She does not answer.

Cut to: A beach--

And I should mention here, we later learn that the movie is set in the suburbs of Detroit (I gather this from the references made to "Eight Mile Road" being a boundary between suburbs and city).  I was unaware that Detroit had a beach, so. . . y'know, live and learn.

--It is still nighttime.  The girl sits on the sand.  Her cellphone rings again.  She answers.  It is her father.  She is apologizing for her occasional bouts of nastiness, and assuring Dad that she loves him.  She looks up, looks scared.  And then it is morning. The girl is lying on the beach, dead, her right leg bent up and snapped horrifically, so that her toes are pointing directly down at her face.  End of "prologue."

We next see our heroine Jay Height, floating in an above ground swimming pool in her backyard.  She is your typical, pretty girl-next-door.  Her sister appears, and we find out that Jay is goin on a date that night.  We also meet Jay's "posse," who are hanging out at her house, notable among whom is Paul, a boy who is obviously crushing hard on Jay.  These all seem like perfectly nice kids.

We follow Jay to her date at the movies with Hugh (who is actually named Jeff, but never mind).  While on line, they play a game called "Trade": One person secretly identifies another person with whom he or she would like to trade places, and then the other person is supposed to guess who the first person chose.  Hugh chooses first, and Jay is unable to correctly identify Hugh's choice.  Then it's Jay's turn to pick someone.  Hugh looks around the theater and asks if Jay picked "the girl in the yellow dress."  Jay doesn't know who Hugh is talking about.  Hugh says something to the effect of, "The girl in the yellow dress.  Right there."  He points at what appears to be an empty space.  Jay is confused.  Hugh freaks out and asks if they can just leave. He wants some fresh air.  Jay agrees and they continue their date at a diner.

Now, why Jay doesn't have the sense at this point to realize the guy's a freak and ask to be taken home is beyond me, but let that go.  In fact, Jay agrees to another date and this time, she and Hugh/Jeff go all the way in the backseat of Hugh's car.  Post-coitally, Heff gets out of the car and begins rummaging around in the trunk.  Is Jay confused by this?  Suspicious?  No.  She engages in a serene monologue about her youthful visions of romance--all the while her somewhat-odd-to-say-the-least lover is rummaging around in the trunk of his car like some serial killer looking for a roll of duct tape!  And, indeed, when Heff returns to the backseat, he promptly smothers Jay with a rag (I guess soaked in ether--because everybody has that!).

When Jay awakes, she is in what looks like a large abandoned parking structure, in her bra and panties, handcuffed to a rolling office chair.  Heff is there, too, frantically looking around, and explaining that he's not going to hurt her.  Well. . . to be exact, he's not going to hurt her, but, by having sex with her, he has passed along to her some sort of curse.  "It'll follow you," he says.  What "It" is is some kind of ghost or phantom or. . . or. . . entity that can assume the shape of anybody and that wants to kill the person who has been "cursed."  To get rid of the curse, Jay simply has to have sex, at which point the entity will change its focus to whomever Jay has sex with. 

At this point, I'm thinking, this doesn't sound like such a big deal curse.  I mean, all Jay needs to do to break it is to have sex.  How hard is that?  I mean, sure, for some people--ahem--this would be death sentence, but Jay's an attractive woman: Surely she could find someone willing to help her free herself from this curse.  Heff explains, though, that if the entity manages to kill Jay before she has sex with someone else, then the entity will renew its focus on Heff. . . and after killing Heff, it will resume its search for the person who passed the curse to Heff in the first place and so on down the line.  In other words, if I'm reading this correctly, there is no way to break this curse, as, even if Jay does pass it on, it will at some point simply come back to her.  At this point, I'm thinking that the movie is satirizing that common trope in Hollywood horror films, whereby sex equals death.  And maybe it is, but, if so, it certainly seems to be taking itself seriously while it does so.

Anyway, Jay soon finds herself being stalked by walking phantoms that no one else can see or hear.  Fortunately, these apparitions can only walk--and fairly slowly at that.  Why, therefore, Jay doesn't just hop a flight to Australia as soon as she realizes the nature of her plight--again, that's beyond me (and possibly beyond the filmmaker's budget, which I guess would explain it).  At any rate, she and her friends can outrun the ghost fairly easily.  Jay does eventually have sex with one of her friends, but he comes to the predictable end, which, as mentioned above, means the entity is once again stalking Jay.

Here, friendzoned Paul comes to the rescue: Jay won't have sex with him (because, y'know, friendzone), but Paul has an idea!  He and the rest of the Scooby gang gear up and take Jay to what appears to be an abandoned  (yet still full and clean) public swimming pool, which is housed in a gothic building that looks straight out of some 1930's Dracula movie and appears to be located twenty miles from. . .well, absolutely anything else.  The plan is for Jay to wait in the pool while the Scooby gang places all manner of electrical appliances around the pool's periphery.  When the entity inevitably follows Jay into the pool, they will (presumably after waiting for Jay to climb out of the water) toss the appliances into the pool and electrocute the ghost.  Why would Paul assume that a ghost (or whatever) can be electrocuted?  Again, no idea, and, sure enough, the plan does not work.  The entity does show up and, instead of getting into the pool, proceeds to chuck the electrical appliances at Jay, which does not electrocute her, either.  Paul is reduced to shooting the entity in the head, which is surprisingly (although not permanently) effective--effective enough, at least, to allow everyone to escape Frankenstein's natatorium.

OK, so, now, having exhausted all other options, Jay agrees to let Paul "help" her in the only proven way he can.  (So, guys, if you're wondering how to get out of the friendzone, the answer is: It requires supernatural intervention.  But you probably already knew that.)  The final scene of the movie shows Paul and Jay walking hand in hand up another quiet suburban street, while in the distance behind them, something is FOLLOWING!

Oh, and if you're wondering who the girl at the beginning of the movie was, join the club.  Presumably some previous victim of the entity, but then why the ghost didn't just work its way back along HER line of sexual partners, your guess is as good as mine.

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