The Horror of 2015: It Follows and Unfriended

2015 is shaping up to be a pretty good year for horror.  Here are my reviews of two recent horror films that have recently been getting a lot of attention, It Follows and Unfriended.

It Follows2

Is It Follows really as good as everyone is saying?

That’s actually a very legitimate question.  It Follows is one of the most critically acclaimed horror films in recent years.  It’s been described as being a “game changer” and as being one of the best films of 2015 so far. But, as we all know, just because a film has been acclaimed by mainstream critics that does not necessarily make it a great film.  The mainstream is just as often wrong as its right.

So, is It Follows really that good?

It is certainly an effective film.  It’s well-made.  It’s well-acted.  Director David Robert Mitchell makes us jump a few times.  The film takes the horror cliché of “sex equals death” to its logical extreme and, as a result, it makes you think about the subtext of many of your favorite horror films.

The film deals with a college student named Jay (Maika Monroe) who has sex with her boyfriend and soon discovers that, by doing so, her boyfriend has passed on a “curse” to her.  She finds herself being stalked by a slow-moving but unstoppable entity, one that only she can see.  The only way to get rid of the entity is to have sex with someone else.

It’s never explained just what or who the entity is or why it’s so intent on killing.  And, for that, It Followsdeserves to be applauded.  Far too many horror films get bogged down in trying to explain the origin of its horror.  It Follows understand just how potent the fear of the unknown truly is and, ultimately, the sight of that shape-shifting entity – always there and always following – is scary precisely because it is so enigmatic.

At the same time, I think it’s telling that It Follows has received some of its strongest support from critics who traditionally do not care for horror films.  In fact, many of the positive reviews for It Follows have been somewhat condescending towards horror as a genre.  “Finally!” the critics seem to be saying, “An intelligent horror film!”

Of course, a true horror fan knows that intelligent horror films are not that unusual.  They also know that It Follows is hardly the first horror film to work as a metatextual commentary on the horror genre itself.  Many of the critics who are currently declaring It Follows to be the greatest horror film ever made are doing so because they don’t understand that the horror genre has been giving us great films for a while now.

It Follows is an effective and scary film, even if it is a bit too self-consciously arty at times.  It made me jump, it made me cover my eyes, and it even made me scream at one point and that – though the mainstream critics may never admit it – is really all that’s required from a good horror film.  To all of my fellow horror fans, I recommend It Follows without hesitation.  But let’s not pretend like It Follows is the first good horror film ever made, okay?

(Incidentally, an indication of the popularity of It Follows can be seen in the fact that this is the fourth review of the film to appear on this site!  Be sure to check out Leonard’s review, the Duke’s review, and the Trashfilm Guru’s review.)

It Follows

Unfriended is the best horror film of 2015 so far.

That may seem like a bold statement, considering that Unfriended – while receiving generally positive reviews – has not gotten half of the attention or acclaim that’s been given to It Follows.  As well,Unfriended is a variation on the found footage genre and, as we all know, found footage usually equals bad filmmaking.

But no matter!  Unfriended defies all our expectations.  Considering that Unfriended is basically an 83-minute screencast of a laptop, it should not be scary but it is.  Unfriended should not make you think about real-world issues but it does.  Unfriended should not work but it does.

Unfriended 2

Unfriended opens with teenager Blaire Lilly (Shelly Henning) watching an online video of another teenage girl, Laura (Heather Sossaman), killing herself.  Blaire then clicks on a link that takes her to a YouTube video of a drunk Laura at a party.  Underneath the video are thousands comments from people telling Laura that she should kill herself.

However, Laura and her suicide are temporarily forgotten while Blaire skypes with her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm).  After a few minutes, Blaire and Mitch are joined by three friends: Jess (Renee Olstead), unstable Adam (Will Peltz), and Ken (Jacob Wyscoski).  It takes the five of them a few minutes to notice that they’ve been joined by a faceless account named billie227.

At first billie227 refuses to identity itself but soon, Blaire and Mitch start to receive Facebook messages from the long dead Laura.  Blaire checks billie227’s account and discovers that it belongs to Laura.  At first, Blaire suspects that another one of their friends, Val (Courtney Halverson), may have hacked Laura’s account.  But, after calling Val, they discover that she’s not responsible.

Suddenly, embarrassing pictures start to appear on their Facebook accounts.  Billie227 starts to send them threatening messages and tells Blaire that if she signs off of skype, all of her friends will die. The six friends – all of whom, it turns out, knew Laura – find themselves held hostage by the malevolent spirit and, over the course of the long night, are picked off one by one.

Sad to say, cyberbullying is a reality.  Tragically, people really have committed suicide over things that have been said by bullies hiding behind anonymous online identities.  In the past few years, there have been many films made about the dangers of cyberbullying but Unfriended may be the most effective.  It’s a film that takes the reality of words having consequences to its most logical and grisly extreme.

Unfriended is a genuinely frightening movie, precisely because it is so relatable.  Let’s face it – if an evil spirit ever decided to stalk us through social media, we would all be doomed.  Like the characters in the film, we’re addicted and, as a result, there’s no place to hide.  If an evil ghost wanted to know everything about my life, all it would have to do would be to follow me on twitter or send me a friend request on Facebook.  The film is scary precisely because it brings our age-old fears together with modern technology and it suggests that, no matter how advanced we may consider ourselves to be, we’re still just as vulnerable to all of the old superstitions.

As a result, Unfriended is not only the best horror film of 2015 so far but it’s also one of the best films of the first half of the year.


17 responses to “The Horror of 2015: It Follows and Unfriended

  1. “It Follows” is a film I had elected to eschew, having gotten the vibe that it was a generic contemporary horror film with a pseudo-profound title, aimed at a young demographic, the members of which would be the only people on whom it would make an impression. But after all the attention on this site, I decided to check it out.

    Sometimes one’s initial impressions are borne out through exploration.

    Who’s calling this a “game changer”? And what game are they referring to? Maybe these people have been watching televised poker tournaments. Within the game of horror cinema, this film just perpetuates a disappointing trend.

    Of all the Shattered Lens reviewers, I think my reaction most closely resembles Ryan’s, though I think even he may have found more merit in the film than did I.

    I didn’t find the film scary at all, and like Ryan, found inconsistencies in the functional/technical aspects of the mythology posited. Not only was the antagonist a hackneyed concept, it manifested arbitrary contradictions in the way it engaged and could be affected. If one is going to go down that road (again), at least have it make sense.

    I found the disjointed style annoying, but not affecting. Such directorial contrivances just serve to remind the viewer they are watching a movie, instead of immersing them in the story.

    The only scene, as it were, that made any impression on me was the one near the beginning, on the beach with the truly broken leg. It was a memorable image.

    One commenter remarked that the film had an X-File-ian atmosphere. If so, it would have been that of one of the lesser episodes of that excellent show.

    The film really did seem to be aimed at teenagers; maybe some college-age folks. Hearing people praise the effectiveness of the film reminds me of fans of a band like Nirvana, which really was a glorified garage band, albeit one with a creative front man. Being familiar with truly great rock bands, and what made them so, I found it annoying and confounding to hear devotees refer to Nirvana as being of that caliber. But I realize it is all a matter of relativity and exposure – I suppose I could find a way to throw the term “zeitgeist” in here somewhere to account for the band’s resonance with its fan base – and a young audience, especially one with little or no musical knowledge, is often impressed by mediocrity. If Nirvana fans derive pleasure from believing the band was great, well, good for them. I can forgive them, for they know not what they do. I just wish such perceptions wouldn’t drag down the state of the art as subsequent sub-par acts become superstars.

    As for “It Follows”, it smells like teen spirit to me.

    It’s not a terrible film, but it’s an unremarkable one, at best. (Given the subject matter of “Unfriended”, I suspect that film may manifest similar limitations.) As an adult (if not exceedingly mature) horror fan, I hope the genre trends on a much more substantive and scary trajectory.


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