Retro Viral

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Fiona watched Stranger Things avidly, but I only half-watched it. We both watched IT FOLLOWS. Retro electronica scores and sorta-period detail unite these two shows. Otherwise they’re pretty different.

I wasn’t too taken with Stranger Things because I recognized pretty much all the elements, and they were all drawn from a rather narrow pool of influences. The creepy child experiment stuff was new to Fiona, because I realized she hadn’t seen AKIRA — rectifying that tonight. The best I can say about the story world in this series is that the portal-to-hell stuff is more like a modern video game influence, or THE MIST, and transplanting it back in time into an ET/EXPLORERS 80s setting imparted what freshness the show had.

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IT FOLLOWS is arguable less successful overall — it doesn’t achieve a rounded, satisfying arc the way Stranger Things does (albeit a deeply conservative one, where outsider characters are conveniently erased and nuclear families preserved), but it has its own look and its own fresh central idea.

I felt the half-period/half-alternate-world schtick achieved precisely nothing in itself, and undercutting the reality of the milieu wasn’t really helpful to the fantasy, but I guess it spared writer/director David Robert Mitchell from having to accurately capture modern youthspeak. It’s the first sign of the dumbness that eventually derails the movie.

Well, not quite the first sign — during the opening shot, our first victim is introduced, desperately fleeing the unseen menace, which is, in best 80s slasher tradition, at this point represented by the camera eye itself.

“She’s in heels!” exclaimed Fiona. “Why is she in heels? Those are heels! Just kick them off!”

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Too late.

Though obviously Lynch-fluenced — in a way, this movie references the 80s the way BLUE VELVET referred back to the 50s — Mitchell has a pleasing camera style which is individual, seductive, and informs every shot. I particularly liked the high angles which don’t quite make it as POV shots. And the fondness for slow pans is refreshing. He also has a slightly prurient eye for young women’s bodies — I was beginning to wonder when we were going to meet a fully dressed female character — but this mild Larry Clark tendency still seemed honestly individual. Maybe it’s my Scots puritanism worrying unnecessarily.

But as the inanities piled up, he began to make me think of M. Night Shyamalan and Richard Kelly, whose neat ideas and visual confidence tends to be undercut by a tendency to be excited by really dumb stuff, to have fatal lapses of taste and judgement, and to fail to question themselves with sufficient rigour. All three filmmakers might at some future point resolve their problems and fulfil their early promise. Here, it’s the inane swimming pool plan that shows up the weakness in following through on a strong (if unpleasant) premise. It’s all downhill after that.

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Another sign of dumbness, though a counter-intuitive one. My friend Rolland is of the view that any time a movie quotes Dostoevsky, it’s a sign of stupidity ahead. Not that Dostoevsky is stupid, by any means, but he seems to appeal to people who aren’t as clever as they think. I guess everyone reading him for the first time gets all excited and thinks they’ve made a great discovery that nobody else knows about.  And they make the mistake of thinking that quoting him will raise the intellectual level of their venture. I’m interested in hearing if anyone can suggest exceptions to this “rule”. And is it worse when the extracts are read from a fictitious clamshell compact Kindle device?

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8 Responses to “Retro Viral”

  1. Great writing! I absolutely adore this film, although I can understand some of your criticisms (the continued Dostoevsky quoting is eye-rolling for sure). However, I do quite like the swimming-pool idea, just because it seems like the kind of nonsensical, silly plan frightened teenagers would think would work.

  2. Oh, I also meant to ask everyone: who’s your favourite incarnation of It? We laughed hysterically at the naked guy on the house, while admiring the surrealism of it (“It’s funny because he’s too RIPPED,” diagnosed Fiona) but there were some good ones.

    I think the whole slow-walking thing (“It’s very slow but it’s not STUPID.”) comes from the moment in Twin Peaks when Bob walks into Donna’s living room and crawls over her couch to get at her.

  3. The bedroom door opening to reveal the enormously tall and thin man looming towards us gave me a visceral shock. This is one of those films that has stayed with me long after watching it for reasons I can’t quite explain. Stranger Things, despite being loaded with obvious calculating references, hits a sweet spot that makes it such a comforting piece of entertainment.

    On a side note; after discovering the very entertaining film podcasts Matt Gourley’s I Was There Too and Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This I had the thought that a Shadowplay podcast would be excellent. Of course this would necessitate you having to split yourself into four parts to find the time.

  4. Yes, we liked the tall man too. And the kid coming through the hole in the door who looks like McLovin.

    I have vaguely thought about doing a podcast. Now that I have my own sound kit, it’s slightly more practical. I’ll be taking notes when Fiona & I guest on someone else’s podcast later this month…

  5. I am in such utter disagreement with you on the subject of both IF and ST (and rather annoyed by some of your
    snark) that I’m going to go to bed and have a nice long kip before I get really hot under the collar.

  6. Please do.

    No snark here, only sincere frustration sometimes when things aren’t better.

  7. chromeponyquist Says:

    Ugh. Thank you. HATED this film. By the way, doesn’t the first victim start out barefoot?

  8. I think she has her heels on from the start. If he puts them on to start running, that would be worse.

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