Film Discussion: What Doesn’t Follow in It Follows (2014)

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Film: It Follows
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi
Release Date: 05/17/14 (festivals) / 07/14/15 (DVD/Blu-ray)
Studio: RADiUS-TWC / Anchor Bay
Tagline: It doesn’t think. It doesn’t feel. It doesn’t give up.
Plot: “A young woman is followed by an unknown supernatural force after a sexual encounter.” (Source: IMDB)

(Author’s note: This discussion may contain spoilers.)

After watching It Follows, the story depicting a group of young teens on the run from a shape-shifting entity whose chase begins after it’s target engages in a sexual act, critics and audiences quick analysis pointed to the surface-level symbolism of STD’s rise in today’s youth. The real-world facts do support this. According to a CDC report published in November 2014, there is a rise in young men and women contracting three of the primary sexually transmitted diseases – chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Director David Robert Mitchell has been vague on details, only stating the idea originated from a nightmare he had at age nine or ten about different people following him. However, in an interview with AV Club, Mitchell admits he’s “aware of the [STD] connection,” but that the topic “wasn’t the driving force in terms of subtext.”

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So, if not STD’s, then what exactly is ‘It’? My belief is Mitchell’s script explores a topic outside of the sexual realm entirely; rather, a philosophy whose obscure status has slowly made ‘it’s’ way into the mainstream in the last few years. I’m referring to antinatalism, a philosophical theory that life should not be brought into existence, but probably better known as the foundational rhetoric that creator Nic Pizzolatto used to create the Rustin “Rust” Cohle character, masterfully played by Matthew McConaughey, in the first season of True Detective. Consider a few key points and omissions within It Follows to support this theory:

Despite all the sexual encounters, none result in a pregnancy.
This is probably the most glaring point in favor of the antinatalism argument. Reproduction is a primal instinct, nature’s only way of ensuring continued existence of a species. While there is sex, the goal is not to reproduce, but to pass on suffering in the form of ‘It’ chasing after the victim’s partner. Therefore, the act itself to create life is shown to be undesirable.

Despite the dire circumstances, the young adults appear to be left on their own.
Also, with the exception of two instances, ‘It’ takes the shape of an adult.
– The color red is featured prominently in nearly every scene.
These three points support the idea that the current generation (millennials) sees less value in having children and raising a family than previous generations. According to the 2013 U.S. census, deaths now exceed birth rates for white Americans, who will make up less than half the country’s population by 2040. All of the film’s character’s are white, middle-class suburban youth who are often surrounded by abandoned or dilapidated houses and building. Unlike their parent’s and grandparent’s generations before them,  millennials may see no future for themselves, and thus no reason to bring life into that uncertain world. They view adult figures with contempt and suspicion. The elderly ‘It’ figure in a hospital gown could represent the metaphorical unfair burden on young taxpayers to pay for insolvent social programs which they themselves will likely see no future benefit from (i.e. Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, etc.). Red isn’t the McCarthyism communist threats of the baby boomers; instead, the color represents millennial debt (think credit lines on a billing statement). Student loan debt, to be exact. Their parents were promised jobs after college that no longer exist. Notice the three leads in uniform at the back of a fast-food chain? Bingo. These factors lead to a never-ending cycles of worry, depression, and anxiety; the suffering as defined by antinatalism and shown in the film as one form of the ‘It’ endlessly chasing them.

There appears to be no way to kill ‘It’.
The film’s opening sequence shows an unnamed girl, with tears in her eyes, telling her parents that she loves them before sitting on a beach. What’s implied is her nature, tired of running away and looking over her shoulder, deciding to succumb to ‘It’. The shot pictured above shows Jay looking into the pool after allegedly killing ‘It’. Later, we the audience see this may not have worked as the film’s ending is of a eerily similar figure walking behind Jay and Paul as they hold hands. David Benatar, author of the book ‘Better Never To Have Been’, explains that only the total absence of life means the avoidance of pain and therefore it is “morally imperative” to avoid bringing new persons into the world. With that in mind, the ambiguous ending is in actuality very clear: Jay and Paul are walking, hand-in-hand, into oblivion.

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Film Analysis: Shame (2011)

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Film: Shame
Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan
Release Date: 10/07/11 (festivals) / 04/17/12 (DVD/Blu)
Studio: Film4 / Fox Searchlight
Tagline: n/a
Plot: “In New York City, Brandon’s carefully cultivated private life — which allows him to indulge his sexual addiction — is disrupted when his sister arrives unannounced for an indefinite stay.” (Source: IMDB)

(Author’s note: This analysis may contain spoilers. Also, Shame is under consideration for placement in my Top Ten List.)

If we are to discuss Shame, the herculean second collaboration from actor Michael Fassbender and director Steve McQueen, let’s first discard the preconceived notion that the film’s core only revolves around a troubled everyman named Brandon, played by Fassbender. Sure, the infamous NC-17 rating is rightfully earned as we bear witness to a gradual descent into what appears on the surface to be a sex addiction, but what’s most important is seeing how McQueen and writer Abi Morgan managed to tell Brandon’s story without regurgitating Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream (2000), the surrogate father of the modern addiction subgenre that also, at one point, wore the NC-17 badge of (former) dishonor. They know one simply could not tell the story of Jesus and leave out the crucifixion, but consider the reverse – could one tell the crucifixion story and put Jesus more in the background?

McQueen reveals these intentions straight away in the opening sequence when the film’s title card (above) appears. Brandon lays with an uncomfortably vapid look on his face, presumably from the effects of sexual urges, withdrawal, kicking in. Only after he exits the shot does the title card appear center frame across a now-empty bed. Instead of a spotlight placed on the addict, McQueen amplifies the addiction. We neither learn Brandon’s last name nor much at all of his upbringing. Compared to Aronofsky’s stereotypical low rent drug addict turned dealer Harry Goldfarb, the main character played by Jared Leto, Brandon is almost more normalized than the definition of the word. He resides in an upper-class environment: corporate job, apartment, and lifestyle. Where Harry’s love for heroin created distance from his family, Brandon’s reluctant closeness with loved ones proves detrimental to feeding his uncontrollable desires.

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Are we looking at Brandon, or is Brandon a representation of us gazing inward at ourselves?

Also of equal importance are the choices to name the film Shame and the character Brandon. One anagram for the word shame is hames, which means “to spoil through clumsiness or ineptitude.” Brandon’s increasing inability to control himself sexually certainly speaks to this. The camera’s distance during a dinner date with a co-worker mirrors his state of mind; brief periods of mental drifting to ponder where his next ‘fix’ will come from later that evening. Brandon as a name has lots of meaning relative to what I believe is the film’s theme, one of “a very chaotic restless nature” and “holding an intense urge that does not let you rest.” This is clear in a noteworthy sequence in the film where the promiscuity of his sister, played by Carey Mulligan, drives him to go out on a solo night jog across the city. Is running away from temptation Brandon’s version of trying to ‘sober up’ or, if Brandon represents us as a whole, is McQueen saying that we are running away from exposing and thus treating our individual or collective ‘addictions’ (i.e. impulses)? He alludes to this in a 2012 interview with The Guardian, aptly stating “want, urge and need create drama.”

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Like Brandon, we’re too afraid to look in the mirror and face the ugliness inside.

Aside from a few scenes with Brandon’s facial expressions and poses being synonymous with the word, there really isn’t much in the way of shame being explicitly expressed or presented in Shame. Visiting with Sissy after her suicide attempt makes us believe Brandon has realized the error of his ways, but by the end he’s back on the hunt for yet another sexual conquest, settling for a woman whose former delivery of an inviting gaze now resembles uncertainty. Again, McQueen emphasizes the age-old cautionary tale and simple fact that we cannot help others if we cannot help ourselves. Brandon’s on-screen martyrdom and symbolic crucifixion, getting ‘nailed’ by multiple sexual partners in a harrowing scene with a pain-for-pleasure facial expression like no other, is presented to serve as a guide for coming to terms with our own flaws and displays our inability to regain control. However, there’s also no shame in calling out the performances as nothing short of flawless and the film as no less than a masterpiece.

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Film News: “Hello boys, I’m baaaack!”

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After a near two-year absence, full of twists and turns, I am happy to announce my return to the wild west of blogging cyberspace!

Unfortunately, a return to my site bears good and bad news…
First, the bad.  I have had fans and even directors alike reach out regarding the abrupt shutdown of a wonderful site called The Conduit Speaks, one I read, wrote for and still miss to this day. “What happened??!!” Without going into too much detail, basically some unknown hacker deciding his random target one day was going to be an innocent genre film website and literally took it down to the point of non-recovery. Like Dorothy being swept from her home by the tornado, one could only imagine the frustration of losing years of your precious hard work putting together online content while building up a pretty sizable subscriber base in the process. Therefore, it was not surprising to hear that the site owner ultimately decided against a rebuild.

Once again, I became a free agent writer. While I must stress I never, ever wished for TCS to be shut down, the catastrophic event became an odd blessing in disguise. Sadly, the burning passion to write had started to wane by that point. I became both the disengaged student and burnt-out teacher: dreading class for fear of a new homework assignment and tired of having to drum up a new lesson plan. So I took a leave of absence, as it will. My mental muscles needed retraining on how to enjoy watching films and not create analysis exercises out of their viewing. With hundreds of identical online sites hosting similar content on the exact same ‘it’ films of the week (The Babadook), even The Dissolve’s ‘dissolve’ is not so surprising after all.

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So if that’s the bad news, and let’s face it…it is really bad, then what’s the good news? Well, as stupid as the saying goes, sometimes you just have to get back on the horse that threw you. I’ve tossed around various ideas for how to return, mostly consisting of egotistical methods to try and ‘reinvent’ analysis, all of which will probably forever remain inside this cranial cavity of mine. For now, it’s simpler and probably most constructive to at least wave and say hello. I am well, thanks for asking, and my hope is that you all are, too. I will be posting semi-regularly with more emphasis on analysis, wit, humor, and opinion. Sounds political (it’s not), but hey…everyone’s got one.

– R.K.

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Film Review: Kill List (2011)

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My review of the British horror film KILL LIST (2011) is now posted at The Conduit Speaks.  Check it out!

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Film News: The Conduit Speaks

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I am happy to announce that I have accepted a contributor position at THE CONDUIT SPEAKS.  Please read my introduction with short forward from the site owner here.

After the discontinuation of Jed Bundy (now active here), I became a ‘free-agent’ and decided to find another place to call home. I have been a loyal follower of TCS for a few years.  Over the last month, I exchanged emails with Chris, the site owner.  We discovered our love and passion for extreme genre films are in perfect harmony. A match made in horror blogging heaven!

For now, I will provide a weekly review there every Monday night. I will continue to provide links to all of my work here. Thank you for walking alongside me on this journey, and please join in supporting THE CONDUIT SPEAKS.

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Film Discussion: Favorite Underrated Horror

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Author’s Note:  
“It’s been awhile since the last review.  Creativity ran stale, redundancy set in, and posts went extinct…until coming across fellow blogger Rupert Pupkin Speaks and his excellent ‘Favorite Underrated Horror’ series.  The past two months, he’s invited several guests to highlight horror films that they believe haven’t received proper recognition or may have slipped past the modern audience radar.  I encourage everyone to check out his blog and view all the excellent posts.  (Follow Rupert Pupkin on Twitter: @bobfreelander)  Instead of re-creating the wheel or simply carbon-copying his idea, I will stamp my personal entry into the series here.  Without further ado, I give you my favorite underrated horror films.  – rkummer”

Two of my favorite words attached to any horror film are “mixed reviews”. It implies a divisive adventure filled with wonder and imperfection.  Critics don’t always get it right, and general audiences tend to have narrowed taste.  Couple these factors to readjusted expectations and one may find something…unexpected!  The criteria to provide framework by which I come to explain these films’ place on this list: (1) pick five films in any order, (2) they must be classified under the horror genre and not just contain horror elements, (3) only films released from 1980 to 2013, and finally (4) use IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes to support the underrated definition.  Onward!


MY LITTLE EYE
(2002; directed by Marc Evans)
IMDb:  5.6 / 10
RT:  65%

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Three guys and two girls sign up for a “Big Brother” reality webcam series.  The contest: spend six months locked inside a mansion. If nobody leaves, they will receive one million dollars. If anyone leaves, everyone loses.  As they get close to the six-month deadline, friction erupts between the five parties.  One could point to several reasons for the lukewarm reception: simple premise, not necessarily an original story line, a cast of mainly unknown actors (aside from a cameo appearance by a pre-Hollywood Bradley Cooper), and a slow-burn approach.  With the recent surge in “found footage” horror, it’s puzzling how My Little Eye is easily one of the most superior and yet sadly forgotten.  DP Hubert Taczanowski utilizes CCTV-like camera shots with such visual beauty, setting the mood akin to a very dark version of MTV’s ‘Real World’.  You’re let in on all the backroom alliances and secrets between house members (and actually care!).  Marc Evans masterfully paces the film, slowly peeling away answers like an onion while ratcheting up the tension without burning your eyes.  The ending isn’t surprising or unpredictable, but remember it’s not always about the destination; rather, how you got there.


THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU

(1996; directed by John Frankenheimer)
IMDb:  4.2 / 10
RT:  23%

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No underrated horror list is ever complete with adding the flawed masterpiece that is The Island Of Dr. Moreau.  A man stranded at sea (David Thewlis) comes upon an island with a scientist (Marlon Brando) and researcher (Val Kilmer) who are conducting a strange experiment: mixing human and animal DNA to create servant creatures.  When a revolt by the creatures gets out of control, they must find a way out.  Most are well-aware of the history behind this film’s troubled production – an overweight Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer going through a divorce, original director Richard Stanley’s firing days into the project and replaced with Frankenheimer, constant script changes, and actor improvisation.  The film only made $9 million dollars more than it’s budget and received Razzie nominations for Worst Picture and Worst Director.  Could it really be that bad?  Far from it.  In fact, the quirky acting actually work well in the mythical world painted by Stanley’s script.  The man-beast creatures made by Stan Winston are sadly not seen much in today’s CGI-preferred cinema.  The film invites allegorical conversation about Man, nature and playing God.  Dust off your copy and enter the world without law and without pain!


MUTANTS

(2009; directed by David Morlet)
IMDb:  5.5 / 10
RT:  66%

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Let’s face it, with popularity comes over-saturation – and the zombie horror sub-genre is no different.  From Danny Boyle’s excellent 28 Days Later and Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake to Frank Darabont’s current TV series The Walking Dead, everyone has tried to put their name and take on the genre.  Originality seems to be hard to come by, and David Morlet isn’t a name that stands out for anyone, but the French film Mutants proves that while you can’t change the zombies themselves, you can plug in a unique and gripping story.  Morlet doesn’t take influence from Romero or Fulci; instead, we are witnessing Cronenberg and Zulawski.  Marco and Sonia are a couple on the run to survive a viral outbreak, but when Marco is infected after an attack, Sonia has to turn her focus towards saving her lover.  Think The Fly and Possession.  The dissolution of a relationship/marriage mimics the outside destruction of society and civilization as we know it.  Strangely, it’s the romantic drama elements of the film that catapult Mutants above other genre entries.  Unfortunately, it was put out quietly on DVD by IFC Midnight without much fanfare – a pity considering the blueprint Morlet gave filmmakers on the storytelling potential in the zombie saga.


THE SENDER

(1982; directed by Roger Christian)
IMDb:  5.9 / 10
RT:  0%

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 Famed director Quentin Tarantino called The Sender his favorite horror film of 1982, and apparently only I agree.  A nameless boy (Zelijko Ivanek) is taken to a hospital after a failed suicide attempt.  The doctor assigned to treat him (Kathryn Harrold) begins to experience audio and visual hallucinations.  She starts to realize it may have something to do with her new ‘John Doe’ patient.  I kept seeing a copy of The Sender at my local used store, picking it up to admire it’s cover.  But since I hadn’t heard of the title and wasn’t in a ‘blind buy’ mood, I would place it back on the shelf.  One day, I finally decided to find out what this was all about and am very glad I did.  Why glamorize when that’s not the film’s point?  It’s just an interesting and strange effort with a great acting turn by unknown Ivanek as the odd amesia-like boy with a misunderstood condition (or gift?).  While supplanted firmly in the horror genre, the film does slide across many sub-genres (supernatural, science fiction, body horror).  The shock therapy scene is worth the price of admission alone.


ORGAN

(1996; directed by Kei Fujiwara)
IMDb:  5.4 / 10
RT:  0%

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I wrote a guest film review for actor Kei Fujiwara’s directorial debut Organ at FilmBizarro.com earlier this year.  Many will better remember Fujiwara for her role as the lead female character in Tetsuo: The Iron Man.  While Tetsuo has achieved cult classic status and a legion of western follows, it’s kind of bewildering why Organ remains so obscure.  A Tokyo police officer falls victim to a Yakuza syndicate involved in organ harvesting.  The syndicate leader’s brother, a biology teacher, conducts experiments on the limbless body of the officer, keeping him alive with blood from high school virgins.  Like directors Shin’ya Tsukamoto and Shozin Fukui, Fujiwara paints a bleak world with added modern perverseness.  A visual  experience is heavily favored over the muddy plot, which has always been a staple in the Japanese cyberpunk sub-genre.  I implore those with a taste for the weird and subversive to welcome Organ into their catalog.


CONSOLATIONS:

ALIEN3 (1993; directed by David Fincher)
IMDb:  6.4 /10     RT: 42%

THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (2009 remake; directed by Dennis Iliadis)
IMDb:  6.5 /10     RT: 41%

CANNIBAL (2006; directed by Marian Dora)
IMDb:  4.7 /10     RT:  n/a

PANDORUM (2009; directed by Christian Alvert)
IMDb:  6.7 /10     RT: 27%

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Film Review: Cannibal (2006)

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Film: Cannibal
Director: Marian Dora
Starring: Carsten Frank, Victor Brandl
Release Date: 12/06/06 (DVD)
Studio: Authentic Film / Unearthed Films
Tagline: n/a
Plot: Based on the true story of Armin Meiwes, whom killed and ate a man he met on the internet.

Review Score: 4 / 5

(Author’s note: This review was originally published on JedBundy.com)

The phrase “based on a true story” carries a funny connotation. Audiences view this plug-in as studios attempt to cash in. No more, no less. One recent example is the sci-fi drama The Fourth Kind (2009). When intrigued film-goers sought verification of these audio and video tape claims, they only discovered loose ties to missing person reports in the area at that time. It was labeled a hoax. The fallout brought mixed reviews, and the marketing campaign suffered as a result. But, in the case of Cannibal (2006), what if a story actually happens to be true? While the real-life case of Armin Meiwes is noteworthy, director Marian Dora’s adaptation serves as a stomach-wrenching treat for those extreme appetites.

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We meet the central character, simply known as The Man (Carsten Frank). Although able to function in the real world, he is unable to secure a relationship. This yearning morphs into his ultimate fantasy, cannibalism, and spills over into cyberspace. He posts explicit ads requesting a willing participant to be killed and eaten. Much to his (and our) surprise, someone responds. A man, known as The Flesh (Victor Brandl), engages in several lewd sexual acts with The Man until their time together expires and the original request demands fulfillment.

Cannibal, Dora’s ‘tamest’ film in his directorial catalog, carries a brooding atmosphere. Ripe full of lewd homosexuality and realistic gory violence, this is not a film for the casual viewer. The film has gained a small cult following, due in part to the Region 1 DVD release by exploitation distributor Unearthed Films going out-of-print. But taking a step back and remembering the subject matter embedded in the case can help one see Dora’s artistic injections throughout. Sparse with dialogue, but heavy on visuals. Every scene is framed in a grainy, washed-out green hue. The actors are relied upon heavily to convey pleasuring expressions to grotesque acts. Well-made, given the story and budget.

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There are oddly beautiful moments where Dora is trying to say something profound about Man…about society. In the beginning, Dora even gets us to empathize with The Man when he faces initial rejection. However, it’s message is somewhat overpowered by strong visual interference.

Cannibal (2006) DVD – Amazon

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