It Follows (4.5/5)
Teen sex, especially when unprotected, is likely any parent’s biggest fear. I remember my middle school dedicated nearly a month each year to talk about the dangers of sex. In sexual education classes, STDs were the grotesque monsters chasing teens. Admittedly, anal warts sound quite frightening and repulsive, but my teacher’s efforts were usually in vain. If anything else, they drove teens into sex because it was exactly what they weren’t supposed to do. Filmmaker David Robert Mitchell’s inverts the premise of teen sex causing woeful destruction in It Follows, a wonderful homage to 1980’s horror. The film follows Jay (Maika Monroe), a beautifully humble teen girl looking for the perfect guy. Jay believes she has found the man of her dreams when she meets Hugh. After physically giving herself to Hugh, Jay finds she’s contracted a sexually transmitted curse, one where ghastly apparitions slowly stalk her. Once fear overpowers her doubt, Jay discovers the solution to her problem: with each successive sexual encounter she has, she delays the curse. She is literally having sex to save her life, a clever twist on horror film conventions.
I understand the premise of It Follows is absurd, but like any good horror film it uses a surreal, demented universe to explore real world issues. The inevitability of death and contemporary sex are some of the topics dissected in front of us . Regardless of where we all land thematically, It Follows elicits a crippling fear from the viewer. Writer/Director Mitchell achieves this by inviting us in with angles and lens that create soft and seductive images, trapping us in an ominous wet dream. Images of a cold breeze blowing dead leaves sends shivers down our spines, and shadowy figures in the distance poison our minds. Mitchell’s control of the action within the frame is reminiscent of John Carpenter’s work in Halloween. Every piece on display harbors a threat; Mitchell ensures we never lose sight of this. Accompanying the ghastly erotic images is a fantastic score by Rich Vreeland (also known as Disasterpiece). Vreeland’s nauseating synth based score emulates the sonic benchmarks of 80’s horror. Because of its collective sense of dread and reconfiguration of horror tropes, It Follows achieves what most modern horror films fail to do: intellectual and emotional provocation, with some dead-end titillation, naturally.
Clouds of Sils Maria (4.25/5)
The shelf life of an actress’ career is depressingly short. Unless you’re Meryl Streep, female roles beyond the age of forty are hard to come by. An actress’ battle for cinematic relevance has gain more traction in the last few months, especially when actresses like Maggie Gyllenhaal and Rose McGowan have detailed the disgusting casting process women face. Objectified through the male gaze, an actress’ talent crumbles under the perceived weight of her own age. With an industry that provides a shrinking future, all an actress has is her filmography. In Olivier Assayas’ wonderfully measured Clouds of Sils Maria, international actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) understands the significance of her cinematic canon. And she is deeply tethered to the role of Sigrid, a role she played two decades earlier in the film titled “Maloja Snake.” The world defines Maria by her performance as Sigrid, a woman who falls in love with a female superior named Helena. Maria prefers this universal memory which is why she becomes insulted when a contemporary film director asks her to play Helena in his reimagining of “Maloja Snake.” Crawling into Helena’s skin, an older woman driven to suicide by love, frightens Maria . Who’s starring as Sigrid in the remake? A bombastic, camera hungry starlet by the name of JoAnn Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz).
Maria initially rejects the offer, but joins the production as a tribute to Wilhelm Melchior, the creator of “Maloja Snake”, who has recently taken his own life. Much of Clouds revolves around Maria’s rehearsal process, specifically her interaction with her personal assistant, Valentine (Kristin Stewart). Both have distinct opinions on the characters in the film, but also verbally spar about sexuality, generational gaps, and the merits of disparate film genres in between their line readings. The relationship between Maria and Valentine resembles the fictitious relationship between Sigrid and Helena, often defined by its ferocious intimacy. Assayas’ screenplay masterfully blends reality and fiction, as Maria and Valentine’s rehearsals bleed beyond the frame. Binoche and Stewart are fantastic together, slipping easily between their implied dual roles. Binoche is delightfully cynical with bursts of melancholic sweetness, while Stewart imbues her character with an assertiveness and intelligence she’s only hinted at in her earlier roles. The actresses develop an authentic rapport, one that makes this dialog driven film deeply engaging and wistful. Moretz also delivers a fine performance, but her presence is dim when compared to Stewart and Binoche’s. Both women, along with Assayas’ beautiful direction and writing, prove the value women of all ages bring to the cinema. There are more female centric stories to tell, but we just need to give them a chance to speak.