From the Archives: A Rebuttal to Tarantino’s Critique of It Follows

From the Archives: A Rebuttal to Tarantino’s Critique of It Follows

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.


David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is, in my humble opinion, a modern horror masterpiece. I find it to be flawless in every way imaginable. It is the 2015 answer to Halloween, and I think that in a few decades it will be revered all the same. Yes, it’s that good. Not only is it a terrifying horror film, but it’s also a fascinating look into the trials and tribulations of growing up. It’s a raw examination of how we cope with the loss of innocence and assume responsibility for the less savory aspects of adulthood. It’s the type of film that sticks with the viewer long after it ends and exponentially delivers on its themes upon repeat viewings, growing richer, deeper, and scarier each and every time. It established Maika Monroe as a scream queen for the modern age, and proved Mitchell to be a master of the widescreen format. The soundtrack is retro in a distinctly modern way, and the mythos is purposefully ambiguous, forcing the terrified viewer to do a enough legwork so as to make a screening of the film anything but a passive experience. I’ve seen it 6 times, and nothing gives me more pleasure than watching someone else experience it for the first time. Yes, I LOVE It Follows, and I want the world to love it too.

Which is why it breaks my heart a little bit to see that Quentin Tarantino, one of the all-time greats, seems to have missed a bit of the point of the film, or at least has demonstrated a lack of understanding of it. A little background: about two weeks ago, during an interview, the ever-verbose Tarantino was espousing his love for It Follows, but did so with a caveat. To quote Tarantino: “It’s one of those movies that’s so good that you start getting mad at it for not being great. The fact that he (Mitchell) didn’t take it all the way makes me not just disappointed but almost a little angry.”

Director Quentin Tarantino arrives at the Blu-Ray and DVD release event for "Inglourious Basterds" in Los Angeles on Monday, Dec. 14, 2009. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

Hmm. Interesting. Now far be it from me to question the (truly) great Quentin Tarantino. He’s studied more movies than I ever have, and made at least 8 more than I ever will, and honestly, I think his critique makes a strong case for a different movie which could be made out of the same concept. I would absolutely LOVE to see an insane take on “sexually-transmitted haunting,” filled to the brim with borderline NC-17 sex and violence, but even so, I don’t think this takes away from the product we got. Subdued and dreamlike is the flavor that Mitchell chose, and I think it’s appropriate, especially as I age and my memories of the few years after high school are starting to have the exact same quality. I remember an age where I put sex on a pedestal and would have gladly accepted the curse of a “follower” if it meant I could partake in what I believed at the time to be the final rite of passage into adulthood. But these memories are not who I am now, representing a hazy piece of my past that helped formulate who I am today. A balls-to-the-wall splatterfest would have been a blast, but the nuances I’m describing would have been lost.

Let’s dive into the more specific aspects of Tarantino’s criticism. I wish to rebut them all. Oh, and from this point forward SPOILER ALERT.

Critique #1: “He (David Robert Mitchell) could have kept his mythology straight. He broke his mythology left, right, and center. We see how the bad guys are: They’re never casual. They’re never just hanging around. They’ve always got that one look, and they always just progressively move toward you. Yet in the movie theater, the guy thinks he sees the woman in the yellow dress, and the girl goes, ‘What woman?’ Then he realizes that it’s the follower upon just looking at her? She’s just standing in the doorway of the theater, smiling at him, and he doesn’t immediately notice her? You would think that he, of anybody, would know how to spot those things as soon as possible. We spotted them amongst the extras.

Rebuttal: There are a lot of broad generalizations in this critique, most of which are simply inaccurate. Firstly, Mitchell never establishes a mythology. The only rules we are given are given to us by the character of Hugh. Nobody taught the ‘rules’ to him the way he teaches them to Jay. This is evidenced by Hugh’s theory of how he inherited the follower. Hugh states that he received the follower from a one night stand at a bar, “or so he thinks.” This means that Hugh had to figure out the mythology through personal experience alone. We do not know how long he has been attached to the follower, but we can assume that he has passed it off at least once, based on his knowledge that the death of the person you pass it to causes the follower to move right back up the chain. There is no mythology to break. We only know what Jay, our audience surrogate, knows, and Jay only knows what Hugh has told her. As for the girl in the yellow dress, the film shows that the follower takes many forms, morphing for a variety of reasons, the most explicit (according to Hugh’s rules, as well as what we can infer from what we see) being to either get closer to you or to scare you. Also, according to Hugh, the follower is smart. It doesn’t just blindly follow. If the follower is as smart as Hugh states, it wouldn’t be so keen to kill him in a crowded movie theater, especially since, as we see later, the method it uses to kill is to essentially sex you to death. So why didn’t Hugh, a supposed expert on how to spot a follower, not recognize the girl in the yellow dress? Because in the seconds before he noticed the follower, it was behind him. Duh. You’d think Tarantino would know how movie theaters work (specifically, that patrons tend to look at the screen).


Critique #2: “The movie keeps doing things like that, not holding on to the rules it sets up. Like, okay, you can shoot the bad guys in the head, but that just works for ten seconds? Well, that doesn’t make any ****ing sense. What’s up with that? And then, all of a sudden, the things are aggressive and they’re picking up appliances and throwing them at people? Now they’re strategizing? That’s never been a part of it before. I don’t buy that the thing is getting clever when they lower him into the pool. They’re not clever.

Rebuttal: I must reiterate that no rules are established in a concrete sense. We only know what Hugh and Jay have gained from experience, and one of the things we know is that the follower is smart. So yes, it would throw appliances at people. Yes, it wouldstrategize, and has been doing so for the entire movie (eg. the woman in the yellow dress choosing not to attack Hugh in a public place, or the follower taking Greg’s form as it enters his house so as to not alarm Jay). Also, the follower, on more than one occasion, appears to tangibly interact with our world. It breaks windows, pulls hair, throws chairs, and scratches the flesh of folks who aren’t “afflicted.” So yes, a bullet does affect it, but cannot stop it because it is a supernatural beast. I’d say that ten seconds seems reasonable. At no point was there any dialogue discussing whether or not the follower could be hurt.

I also find it strange that Tarantino refers to the follower in both singular and plural. Was he watching a different movie?


Critique #3: “Also, there’s the gorgeously handsome geeky boy – and everyone’s supposed to be ignoring the fact that he’s gorgeous, because that’s what you do in movies – that kid obviously has no problem having sex with her and putting the thing on his trail. He’s completely down with that idea. So wouldn’t it have been a good idea for her to **** that guy before she went into the pool, so then at least two people could see the thing? It’s not like she’d have been tricking him into it. It’s what I would have done.

Rebuttal: This is a rather shallow view of our lead character. I think it’s rather heroic of her not to want to put the burden of a supernatural hell-beast onto her lifelong friend. Yeah, so he’s attractive. So what? That’s hardly a reason to sign him up for death just to help yourself out. Sure, it’s logical in the sense that it would allow him to see the creature, but I gotta respect our hero for wanting to prevent her friend from being cursed with almost certain death. Plus, that’s what they decide to do at the end, and the decision carries a ton of weight. Sure, in the movie that Tarantino suggested earlier it may have been an interesting third act turn, but in Mitchell’s film, it would have made Jay seem villainous, when she is anything but (whether or not she passed the curse on to the boaters remains tantalizingly ambiguous).

And that’s really the key to the film: ambiguity. The lack of any clear sense of ‘rules’ is what makes it so scary. It’s also what makes the film such an effective parable about mortality. No living thing can ever escape death, and no one can ever know what form it will take. The only rule is that death is coming, and we have to figure out the rest through experience. This is a concept that becomes a reality in those precious years after adolescence when the “I’m going to live forever” attitude begins to fade, and it becomes clear that the clock has been ticking since day one. That’s true horror, and it’s a horror that affects us all.

Needless to say, the short back-and-forth between Tarantino and Mitchell was classy and respectable, with Mitchell inviting Tarantino to join him for a beer and a chance to compare notes on each other’s work. Let’s hope this happens.

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