I was pretty jazzed for “It Follows.” Ever since I saw the trailer at a SIFF theater, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some old-school horror. And yet, I walked out of the theater disappointed.
I suppose there’s a case to be made for getting my hopes up; I’ve started avoiding trailers as of late to prevent that kind of thinking, but “It Follows” was an exception, and the hype surrounding it probably didn’t help either.
But for me, “It Follows” had all the right things: a balance between explanation and mystery, a villain whose approach I was constantly on the look out for, a moody and etherial atmosphere, and teens doing their best against a monster that’s out to get (one of) them. Initially I thought that I needed to think on it more, and I would understand what everyone was talking about. But then it occurred to me: the only thing that was missing was a visceral response, and that wouldn’t change over time.
Clearly it was there for others; just look at the film’s near universal RT score or ask your friends if they felt comfortable in their house after watching it. But for me, I looked for the monster in the background, I jumped a couple times during the movie, but never quite felt like the mood drew the willies right out of me. I could appreciate all the different interpretations and strategies of “It Follows,” but without that gut-response it didn’t leave any sort of lasting mark on me.
The creation of the mood of a movie, while arguably up there in pretentious sounding film concepts, is also an important and delicate balance that filmmakers strike. It’s what separates the greats from the bad, and the really ugly—look to “The Room” for an example of just how deep the rabbit hole can go. For me it’s a different concept than a tone; mood focuses on the feeling or atmosphere that an audience feels towards a film, instead of vice versa.
Horror films are founded on it. They prey on our gut-clenching and unease, and when the mood is right you want more but also less. I’d argue that a movie like “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (the original; the only one I’ve seen) are so successful decades after their jump-scares and effects were introduced because the movie itself casts such an unhinged, dirty feel throughout the entire thing.
Obviously that’s how some feel about “It Follows.” What I’ve found is that when that mood is absent I feel much more like an anthropologist, cataloguing and appreciating what I’m seeing without ever really feeling immersed in it. I guess now I know that if the mood is wrong, a movie won’t follow me too long after the lights come back on.