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.

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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.

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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.

Unfriended

2011 Gotham Awards Recap


In my previous post, I announced the start of “Oscar season” by offering up a recap of the films and performers honored by the New York Film Critics Circle earlier today.  However, the Oscar season was actually kicked off on Monday night with the Gotham Awards.  Much like the Independent Spirit awards, the Gothams are meant to honor the best in the year’s independent films.  Below is a recap of which films were honored at this year’s ceremony.

Best Feature

Beginners(tie)
The Tree of Life(tie)

Best Ensemble Performance

Beginners

Best Breakthrough Actor/Actress

Felicity JonesLike Crazy

Best Breakthrough Director

Dee ReesPariah

Best Documentary

Better This World

Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You

Scenes of a Crime

The big news here has been that Beginners and Tree of Life tied for best picture.  (Actually, I’m not surprised as both films pretty much explored the same themes of memory, aging, and love.)  It’ll be interesting to see if either one of these films manage to maintain the momentum of their victory through the rest of the Oscar season. 

As for me, I have a new mission and that is to see Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same.

6 More Quickies With Lisa Marie: Beginners, Hall Pass, Horrible Bosses, Paul, Prom, and Terri


When I swore to myself that I would write a review of every new film I saw in 2011, I failed to take into consideration that 1) I see a lot of films, 2) I have a day job, and 3) I’m like Ms. ADHD.  So, as part of my effort to catch up, here’s 6 quickie reviews. 

Beginners (directed by Mike Mills)

Beginners opened with a lot of critical hype earlier this year and, though it’s not quite as great as it’s being made out to be, it still deserved the majority of that praise.  At the very least, I retain better memories of Beginners than I do this summer’s other similarly hyped film, A Better Life.  Ewan McGregor is an artist who struggles to come terms with the death of his gay father (Christopher Plummer) while falling in love with a French actress (Melanie Laurent).  The autobiographical film effortlessly shifts from flashbacks to Plummer’s life in-and-out of the closet to McGregor’s relationship with Laurent and the end result is a meditation on love, secrets, and life.  Most of the pre-release buzz dealt with Plummer’s performance but, honestly, Plummer is good but you never forget you’re watching Christopher Plummer and Goran Visnjic, who plays Plummer’s boyfriend, overacts.  The film really belongs to Ewan McGregor who gives one of his best performances in this film.  Seriously, does any actor fall in love as wonderfully as Ewan McGregor?

Hall Pass (directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly)

Best friends Owen Wilson and Jason Sudekis are given a “hall pass” (i.e., permission to cheat) by their spouses (Jenna Fischer and Cristina Applegate).  The film’s forgettable but seriously, guys, don’t go asking us for a hall pass, okay?  One interesting point is that this film was co-written by the guy who won the first season of Project Greenlight.  Remember that show? 

Horrible Bosses (directed by Set Gordon)

Jason Sudekis also appeared in another comedy this year and if Hall Pass is one of the year’s most forgettable comedies, than Horrible Bosses is one of the best.  Basically Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Sudekis are stuck working for horrible bosses (played by Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and Jennifer Aniston) and they decide that the only way to handle the situation is to commit mass murder.  There’s a lot I could say about this film but chances are, you’ve already seen it.  Therefore, you already know that this is a rare dark comedy that actually has the guts to be truly dark.  You also know that the entire cast brings an almost heroic sincerity to their often bizarre roles with Charlie Day’s misunderstood sex offender as an obvious stand-out.  Probably the best advice that I can give in this review is to enjoy and appreciate this film while you can before the inevitable sequel comes out and screws up all these good memories.

Paul (directed by Greg Mottola)

I didn’t see Paul when it was first released in theaters because the trailer really made it look kinda awful.  However, I did eventually give it a shot OnDemand and I was pleasantly surprised.  Two English sci-fi fanboys (played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) are taking a road trip to visit all of the major UFO sites in the U.S.  This leads to them meeting an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) who is being pursued by the typical guys in black suits.  Anyway, this is a predictable film and the balance between the serious and comedic is often a bit awkward.  However, it’s still a likable film and how can’t you enjoy watching Pegg and Frost?  They can make even the lamest of jokes hilarious.  Kristen Wiig steals the film as a fundamentalist who, upon being enlightened about the nature of the universe by Paul, embraces blasphemy with endearing enthusiasm.

Prom (directed by Joe Nussbaum)

No, I did not force Jeff to take me to see this when it was first released in theaters back in April.  I tried, mostly be saying things like, “Wow, Prom looks like it would be a funny movie to see and spend the whole time making mean jokes about and making all the little tweens in the audience cry…” but he saw through my ruse and, if memory serves me correct, I ended up seeing the second worst film of 2011 (a.k.a. The Conspirator) instead.  Anyway, I ended up seeing Prom OnDemand last month and it’s not really that bad.  It’s not good either.  It’s just kinda there.  In other words, Prom is incredibly meh and that’s one thing prom night should never be.  (I loved my proms, by the way, and, whenever things seem overwhelming, I often think to myself, “If only every night could be Prom Night…”)  Prom is forgettable and inoffensive but come on, tweens deserve better films.  They are the future, after all.

Terri (directed by Azazel Jacobs)

Terri made me cry and cry and was one of my favorite movies of the summer.  It’s a surprisingly poignant film that worked wonders with material that, at first glance, seemed awfully conventional.  Terri (played by Jacob Wysocki) is a sensitive, obese teenager who is taken under the wing of an unconventional assistant principal (John C. Reilly).  It’s a familiar story but director Azazel Jacobs tells this story with care and sensitivity and Wysocki and Reilly bring their characters to life with such skill that you can’t help but get caught up in their story.  Terri’s loving but senile uncle is played by Creed Bratton, who proves here that he’s capable of doing a lot more than just parodying himself on The Office.  When I went to this movie, two old women sitting behind me went, “Awwww!” at a scene where Wysocki spontaneously hugs Reilly.  The film earns the sentiment.

Most of these films are available via OnDemand or are currently available on DVD.  Horrible Bosses and Terri are scheduled to be released in October while Beginners will come out in November.