A mind is a terrible thing to waste…
It’s so surprising / gratifying that we’ve had three strong contenders for best of 2017 already in March and from the most unlikeliest of sources. Your Name showed me that anime had interesting subjects to tackle. The Lego Batman Movie was a laugh-a-second riot that spoofed everything I wanted to criticize DC films for…from Warner Brothers Animation. And now we have Jordan Peele, late of Key & Peele and the okayish Keanu, making one of the best horror flicks in years…and I say that with zero exaggeration. Great horror, like It Follows, discusses an ulterior universal fear that we all have. You could guess from the trailers that the fear being discussed is racism…NOT the kind of racism you’re thinking.
So we have Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), an African-American photographer going with his girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), to visit her parents’ home and meet them for the first time. He’s a little nervous as his girlfriend has neglected to tell her parents that her boyfriend is Black, even though she assures him it’s no trouble at all. When Chris meets the parents, they seem nice…to a fault. The father (Bradley Whitford) is too eager to talk about learning and embracing other cultures as well as claiming he’d vote for Obama a third time, the mother (Catherine Keener) is very keen on hypnotizing Chris to rid him of his smoking habit, and the brother is making references to Chris as a fine “specimen.” Making things odder are the African-American groundskeepeer and maid speak very strangely to Chris. And making Chris more than paranoid is all of the Armitages’ friends being very fond of Chris’ physique.
This is not the kind of horror filled to the brim with jump scares because it doesn’t need that shit. This is the kind of horror that relies on suspense, on a feeling of dread that something horrible will happen to our protagonist. And once Chris is first introduced, you know something bad is bound to happen but not in the way you initially think. You understand why Chris is uncomfortable with the fact his girlfriend has not told her parents about his race, but that discomfort slowly but surely turns to suspicion as the Armitages and their neighbors can’t but talk about how much better African-Americans are compared to white people. And that suspicion goes straight to horror as you figure out what the end game of the Armitage Family truly is.
It’s a good ol’ fashioned slow burn as the horror slowly creeps you that Chris is in mortal danger, but giving you a break from the proceedings is Peele’s trademark humor through Chris’ interactions with the Armitage’s strange community and Chris’ best friend forever, Rod (Lil Rel Howery). Howery walks away from the film as the MVP of the whole production, because he realistically and comically is concerned for his friend. He even points out by phone all of the obviously crazy shit that should give Chris concern to get the hell out of there, but Chris (pretty reasonably for a horror movie protagonist) is trying to dismiss both Rod and his own worries as just unfounded paranoia. But when all hell breaks loose, Rod becomes the private eye to piece everything together in an attempt to rescue his friend. But the pursuit is done in both a hilarious and tense way, that Howery will find a way into your heart as immediately likable and a character you want to root for.
Actually, Kaluuya should be praised as well. He may not have as much comedy to work with, but his acting is damn good. Also? Pulls off an American accent flawlessly, so we can add yet another British guy who can do my country’s accents better than most actors born and raised here. But what makes Chris work as a character is him trying to balance out his own worries based on his life experience that is delved into and based on how other Blacks are treated by others. This is particularly explored when a cop speaks to Chris and his girlfriend after she ran over a deer and the cop wanted to see Chris’ driver’s license…even though he wasn’t driving. Rose gets much more defensive about the situation, but the resignation of how normal this line of inquiry is just painful and communicated perfectly by Kaluuya.
Speaking of Rose, Allison Williams also does a great job from trying to escape the role that made her famous on Girls and portrays a character with far more layers that is uncovered as you delve further and further into the film. And while the rest of the Armitages are giving you obvious hints that they’re up to something bad, it’s all in service to the balls-to-the-wall climax where violence is truly unleashed upon the audience. It’s unpleasant, it’s visceral, but it’s the best easing of tension ever.
See, tension works particularly well as you stack the deck against a protagonist as everything mounts to go against them. And finally, right before the shit hits the fan, someone pulls a thread that releases the pent up feelings in a blast of chaos. It’s been pulled off well by Taranatino in his previous affairs, and Peele understands precisely how to communicate this feeling with smart camera choices, appropriate set up of scene, and of course strong direction of his actors. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Peele is an exceptionally gifted artist based on his smart, biting commentary from Key & Peele; but it’s nonetheless satisfying to have a film to point out as a perfect example of everything the man can do well. And the fact he did it all on a shoestring budget of $5 million (par for the course for Blumhouse Productions), what more evidence could you possibly need of a talent?
I’m hard pressed to find any critiques at all. The ending (without spoiling) is simply magnificent, giving you one more truly terrifying thought as it unfurls the final fate of our main characters. Emphasizing on an exclamation point the horror African Americans and other minorities feel when they’re surrounded by a group that in the back of their minds is screaming distrust and pain. This is without a doubt my favorite film of 2017 so far, it’s in fierce competition with Logan as my early contender for the Best of List, or at the very least claiming a high position in the Runners Up. This is the bar films for the rest of the year will need to pass for me this year as quality; so with that, I’m giving this the highest possible…