By Mary Thornton
A time capsule of 70's horror nostalgia and a genuinely creepy - if deceptively simple - premise.
The past year could have been worse for horror fans. While hokey premises and obvious cash grabs like Ouija and the seventh Paranormal Activity film have largely taken over the theater releases, services like Netflix make it easy to find great independent features that are able to rely on more than jump scares for their spookiness. It was for this reason I was surprised and delighted when this spring brought a genuinely creepy and unique idea to theaters and managed to be a hit with audiences everywhere. However, trying to explain its appeal was a little bit tricky. Compared to your usual ghost or monster stories, there isn't a lot to expect from a movie about a menace that just...walks. Still, there must be something there for it to get the response it has.
While a 90 minute movie about a monster that looks like a random person and can't move faster than a slow, steady walk has all the makings of one boring movie, a big selling point of the movie is how it creates an atmosphere of dread and foreboding. The visuals in the movie have an othertimely feel that is difficult to place in a particular year. Its a solid job by the director and the art department that the costumes, makeup, backgrounds, and cinematography used influences from different periods (at times calling forward 70's slasher films, 90's teen fashion, and 00's lingo), but all felt like they belonged to the same eerie world.
While watching the movie, I found myself equally hypnotized by the incredible soundtrack by Disasterpiece. Again tapping into the impossible-to-place time period, the music took its cues from Nightmare on Elm Street and modern house music to make something that was both unique and immediately recognizable. Using synth in a horror score is nothing new, but there was something really engaging about how it brought us from Jay's romantic ideas about the world in the beginning to pulse-pounding-in-your-ears tension at the climax.
Getting back to the story, it is against this backdrop that Jay struggles as the victim of a monster that no one else can see. When she finally confronts the boy who passed on the curse to her, he tells her that while the thing moves slowly, it will continue to move towards her all day, all night, without rest until she "passes" it to someone else. The "it" of the title will then target the person she's passed it to. However, if it catches that person, it will once again start to go after her...until it kills her. The entire conflict of the movie? Either keep running for the rest of your life or willingly make someone else its next victim. As a result, Jay and our supporting characters spend a lot of time driving or moving away or anxiously staring at doors while debating in hushed voices if the monster is even real. This is all well and good for the aesthetic purposes of a movie, but does the gripping atmosphere really make up for a simplistic story and limited action?
Well...when it comes to horror, absolutely.
I mentioned a couple of the usual horror movie types in my opening paragraph. Now, you don't have to be any kind of horror "fan" to have a certain expectation in your head if someone were to tell you that they saw a ghost movie recently, you can imagine exactly the kind of scenes that would happen. Maybe a bed shakes, or lights flicker, and the things that happen get more and more severe until a ghost expert comes in to fix it.
When the basics of your movie - that a person can be the target of a slow-moving but unstoppable curse just by having the wrong sexual partner - are so singular and abrupt, it becomes more difficult to reason away what makes it frightening. This could in large part be because the idea for the movie itself came from a nightmare director David Robert Mitchell had when he was younger of something following him at all times. As is usual with "dream logic", you don't always have all the pieces to the mystery. There is no "angry ghost" to calm or an ancient grudge to set right. It just...follows. That is its purpose. While it definitely ties in to our conscious associations such as a fear of intimacy, disease, etc, many times the things that terrify us don't always make as much sense.
But then again, I have been known to be wrong about some things.
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