Saturday, 26 September 2015

Scary Saturday: Promiscuity Kills

Recently, I discussed the successes of certain horror films and what makes a 'good' horror (the article can be read here). Today is a day dedicated to some of the modern examples of the genre. So I ask you this question: would you rather be chased by a hungry lion for an hour or a giant, deadly snail for the rest of your life? This is one of my personal favourite 'would you rather' questions. The slow snail seems like an inviting option however there is the constant knowledge that it is coming for you. You can always run, but eventually it will catch up. Today's film explores a similar topic. This is It Follows. 

Jay (Maika Monroe) is your normal 19-year-old girl. She goes to school, she enjoys swimming in her pool, she likes boys. She has sex with one boy in particular, Hugh (Jake Weary), in the back of his car after a date. Nothing out of the ordinary here. Well, that is until Hugh covers her mouth with a cloth and knocks her out. Suddenly, Jay is introduced to her new life; a life in which she is always being chased by something. Whatever it is, it has the ability to appear as anyone and if it catches you, you die. It can be passed on to another person by having sex with them, but if they die, it comes back after you. Oh, and it can only walk, never run. With her group of slightly awkward school friends, Jay has to fight both a battle for her life, and a moral battle: does she keep running or does she knowingly inflict her curse on someone else?

From the moment It Follows begins, something terrifying is going on. A girl runs out onto the road in fear wearing next to nothing, before getting into a car and driving as fast as she can away. The next morning, her body is found distorted and bent out of shape. No explanation from the film, just the notion that whatever it is, it is bad. What follows is the world's most beautifully shot, slow motion foot chase. The brilliance of it is that it could be anyone of the extras in the background, any one of her friends, any person on the street. The ominous notion that anyone could be trying to kill you means it has to be treated as everyone is trying to kill you, which is an isolating and lonely experience. Not to mention that it appears in all sorts of nasty ways: a staring naked man, a girl urinating on herself, a young boy with hollow eyes. It Follows has no need for guts and gore, it relies on suspense and shock.

The intrigue of It Follows is in its layers. One part The Breakfast Club, one part Halloween, David Robert Mitchell's take on a coming-of-age tale is suspenseful, but also deeply warming. There is more than just a scary story here, there is a deep core structured around friendships. Jay's friends, particularly Paul (Keir Gilchrist), don't write her off as crazy. Immediately they want to help her resolve whatever the situation is, even if it makes no sense. But do not underestimate the horror value because of this. We join Jay in the unique perspective of being the only person in the group that can see it, and because of this, the film can utilise dramatic irony freely and effectively. At one point a looming figure walks through the doorway with some of the teenagers who are completely unaware of his presence. But we are, and we share in Jay's fear. The film doesn't makes little use of jump scares, it prefers to keep the audience constantly in the know, along with Jay, but also positioning her, and therefore us, somewhere in which it is impossible to help the situation. It's emotionally draining and completely chilling.
An excellent demonstration of what the horror genre can still offer. Something smart, charming, and ultimately rather scary. A refreshing breath of ingenuity and originality into the female-led horror cliches places It Follows well above its competition. It is modern, it is fun, and it is exciting.

Best Bit? The group head to the beach to put some distance between them and it, but soon enough Yara, Jay's sister, is in two different places at once. And one Yara is walking very slowly towards Jay.

Scary Saturday: Bad Book

Recently, I discussed the successes of certain horror films and what makes a 'good' horror (the article can be read here). Today is a day dedicated to some of the modern examples of the genre. First up is a film that came out of the land of Australia and took one of the oldest fears and gave it a little update. The monster under the bed has never been so scary. This is The Babadook.

Motherhood can be hard, but for widowed mother Amelia (Essie Davis) it is nigh on impossible. Samuel (Noah Wiseman), her son, is terrified of monsters under his bed and is insistent that he is going to catch them and kill them. It gets to the point where he makes weapons and takes them to school with him leading to his suspension. Amelia has to cope with an increasing lack of sleep trying to control him and bedtime stories just cannot cut it. One of these stories is a pop-up book telling the tale of the Babadook, a terrifying monster that kills non-believers. Naturally, this does nothing to help Samuel's fears, but Amelia starts to experience things that make her question the irrationality of being scared of the Babadook.

They say never work with animals or children but Noah Wiseman proves that rule is absolute nonsense, or at least half of it is. Without a doubt, the most chilling scenes of the film are rooted in Wiseman's performance. Shrieking in the back of the car, shouting at an unseen threat, Wiseman raises the hair on your arms and the back of your neck. Essie Davis, too, descends brilliantly into madness with her son. As the Babadook becomes more powerful, the conflicts between mother and son heighten in intensity thanks to the pair's impeccable acting ability.

Simply one of the most haunting films since Paranormal Activity and easily more chilling. Probably the best horror movie of the decade so far with the downright scariest monster since your childhood nightmare. Rather than convince you the bogeyman doesn't exist, director Jennifer Kent shoves you in the wardrobe with it and chains the door shut. The Babadook is an inescapable journey into insanity that you, the viewer, are also partaking in. The nature of the creature is left ambiguous, shrouded in mystery, and the audience have to suffer the uncertainty of what exactly it can do. It's not a poltergeist, nor does it seem to be a physical entity. It is a psychologically torturous being that penetrates into the mind of the character and spectator alike.

The Babadook is not only one of the finest horror films since the turn of the millennium, but in a world of reboots and sequels, it has brought a new and original sense of fear back into the cinema.

Best Bit? Samuel screaming in the back of the car before coming to a sudden, staring silence. There's a presence with him but we can't see it. It's the middle of the day. The Babadook does not work in the confines of darkness, he is there constantly; we just can't see it... yet.