The Beguiled Review

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Simply beguiling.

To call Sofia Copploa’s latest work – revolutionary, might strike some as an overzealous sell or even, slightly misguided. However, when you realise that The Beguiled bucks the status quo established over the past century, you might be tempted to come around to my thinking. The male gazed, so embedded into our subconscious by the patriarchy of production studios, you’d be forgiven for being duped into believing that it was the de facto perspective of cinema – women the observed, while men observe. Yet, with The Beguiled, Coppola refreshingly offers viewers an unprecedented narrative perspective – the female gaze, which offers her phenomenal film deeper layers of intrigue and complexity. With a greater drive for equality in the industry, in another centuries time, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see future critics looking back and considering The Beguiled as the spark that ignited the blaze.

Despite the raging of a bitter, bloody Civil War only mere miles away, hauntingly, living in a blissful bubble of calm and routine, Martha (Nicole Kidman) and her little commune of discarded girls, seem to carry on with life unfettered by the brutality at their doorstep. Even as black plumes of smoke uncoil against the horizon and staccato gun fire fills the air, behind the safety of closed iron gates, the women are more than happy to frolic and sing joyfully under the embrace of the midday sun. Well, until the arrival of a wounded ‘blue belly’ soldier at their doorstep. Father figure, mysterious stranger, escapism and wounded bird to nurse back to life –  with barely a word passing from his lips and the past still shrouded in shadow, Corporate John Patrick McBurney (Colin Ferrell) quickly becomes the blank canvas to which female fantasies and erotises are projected upon. Once life in the big, white mansion could have been considered – utopian, as women liberated from the oppression of the men in their, are freed to be happy and united. However, the arrival of one man causes jealousy and lust to sprout, like weeds in their Garden of Eden.

First, I feel it’s important to acknowledge that while Coppola’s film shares the same source material as Don Spiegel’s 1971 original, The Beguiled is by no means a remake, rather an entirely new entity in its own right – a reimagining if you like. And while the original has been tarnished by misogyny and Clint Eastwood kissing a 12-year-old girl, The Beguiled distances itself by subverting the gaze and focusing more attention on female dynamics rather than sexual desire; changes I felt benefited the film greatly and elevated the viewing experience.

Examining the female gaze in greater depth; it was fascinating to see how age became the prism to which each woman saw John. Amy, the youngest and the founder of John, quickly sought him out as a friend. Teenager Alesha (Elle Fanning), was instantly sexually drawn to him and twenty-something Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) almost fell in love with him. While, most telling of all, middle-aged Martha choose to mother him. Deeper reading might suggest, the sudden appearance of man causes the women to fall back into the feminine roles expected of them. However, Coppola doesn’t allow such stereotypes to imprison the women throughout, it soon becomes very clear that their union is by far more important than the life of any man.

It’s also interesting to note how men become marginalised in the film, as you only get to see them through snatched glimpses beyond iron railings and via the momentary flickers of candlelight. While in the younger women’s eyes they become almost disposable; chastising war deserters as ‘cowards’ and being nonchalant at the prospect of taking a man’s life. Perhaps, this is down to the fact the younger girls have only known the word during the war, and have been conditioned to consider men dying while women crochet to be a normal part of life.

Much like her debut feature, The Virgin Suicides (1999), which also examines female identity, Sofia Coppola imbues every shot with a woozy and dream like hue, as if she were carefully draping the finest of lace or chiffon across the camera lens; almost as if it was the physical manifestation of the mist shrouding the mansion frequently. While similar to her earlier Somewhere (2009), Coppola again deploys her light directing style here, in order to allow audiences to easily notice the subtle mood shifts and changing power dynamics among the women. Ultimately, I liken The Beguiled to Lost in Translation (2003), simply because it’s a career defining masterpiece for Sofia Coppola.

7.6 / 10

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Paradise Love

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Director Ulrich Seild, provides audiences with an uncompromising study of the morally dubious nature of sex tourism. While the characters portrayed may be either black or white, the themes presented are anything but. Instead there is as much grey in his film as there are grains of sand on the gorgeous beaches of Kenya.

With skin etched with wrinkles and breasts losing their battle with gravity, in a society that idolises youthful beauty above all else, 50-year-old Austrian, Teresa (Margarethe Tiesel) finds herself venturing to Kenya masquerading as a sex tourist, when in truth she is in search of acceptance.

Surrounded by crystal blue water and a throng of young male merchants lapping at her feet, while on the surface Teresa may seem frustrated by the constant pestering, beneath it, it’s plain to see that the pantomime conceals how flattered she is. However, it’s Munga’s (Peter Kazungu) calmer and less pushy exterior that catches her attention and after a previous sexual liaison ended in disappointment, Teresa is keen to see where this new encounter could take her. With the thin vale of a mosquito net concealing their love making, Teresa soon finds herself enjoying many nights of heated passion with Munga.

Yet, despite Munga’s attempts to convince Teresa that love is forever in Africa, it soon becomes abundantly clear that it isn’t free either. From a supposed sister to a local school teacher, Munga jostles Teresa around his village as if she were a walking, talking ATM machine. But don’t feel sad for Teresa, it increasingly becomes apparent that her friends and Teresa to an extent, merely see the Kenyans as exotic playthings to only be eroticised and fetishized.

The nonchalant objectifications of the Black body is at its most visceral and uncomfortable in a scene taking place in Teresa’s hotel room. In celebration for her birthday, Teresa’s friends surprise her with a stripper, and then proceed to spend the night gawping at him and challenging each other to see who can arouse him first. Finally, when the stripper is unable to deliver on said erection, with causal abandon they quickly boot him out of the room.

Going against the usual roles of sex tourism, i.e men the pursues and women the objectified, by subverting traditional architypes, Seild cleverly offers himself the opportunity to explore the subject with watered down seedy undertones and a more empathetic approach to his main character. For instance, the scene in the hotel room would certainly have been a lot less palatable if it were four men and one woman.

Slow and the maturity to avoid over dramatizing, Seild also allows his audience breathing room to peal back the intricate layers of the film and work out for themselves where their loyalties truly lie and why.

No doubt Teresa desires the Kenyans only for physical intimacy and not as potential long term partners, but through the second guessing of her looks and naked vulnerability in front of each man, it soon becomes abundantly clear, in reality, that she desires the affirmation of her beauty more than just the sex itself. Yet, the brittleness beneath the stitched on smile was a fine balancing act Margarethe Tiesel was able to effortlessly pull off, with endearing charm and a real compassion for the character she was playing.

An eye opening film that challenges preconceptions and really causes its audience to pause, reflect and then consider the true price of love and how much they would be willing to pay for it –  Paradise: Love is continental filmmaking at its finest.

8.0 / 10

Moonlight Review

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Beneath Black skin illuminated by blue tones, Barry Jenkins skilfully uses the entire spectrum of human emotion and complexity, to paint a glorious portrait of one man’s struggle to find love and self-acceptance in a world trying its hardest to deny him both. Delicate, tender and heartfelt, Moonlight handles its subject matter with care and does a great deal of justice to a story rarely seen in cinema. Whilst other Best Picture winners are destined to disappear into the shadows, Moonlight will undoubtedly shine bright for many more years to come – prepare to have your breath taken.

9.1 / 10

Hidden Figures Review

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Certain words are banded around so often, there is always that danger of them losing their meaning and emotional heft. In the case of Hidden Figures the word ‘inspiring’ has been used countless of times to describe the brilliance of Theodore Melfi’s masterpiece, that in all truth the word has finally lost its resonance. But, it isn’t just descriptive words like inspiring that have lost meaning in the presence of Hidden Figures – in reality, it’s all words. Why? Well, Hidden figures is so incredible that all words seem to pale in comparison and no longer feels adequate enough to articulate its truly life affirming quality. In the end, in the face of Hidden Figures all you can do is just stand up, applaud and enshrine the movie in your memories forever.

Since its release, Hidden figures has instantly become the darling of critics across the land and with colossal Box Office takings of $144 million globally – making it the highest grossing Best Picture contender this year, it also seems movie goers the world over have also responded spectacularly to the film. Better yet, in such divisive and inharmonious times, Hidden figures, a film that puts the incredible contribution and talents of PoC on center stage, it suddenly takes on an all together greater degree of importance.

In 1960’s America, after spending all morning tussling with a broken down car in sweltering heat, seeing a police car approaching from the distance would be a sight for sore eyes – if you’re White, that is. And If you were Black, well, such a sight could get your heart pounding quicker than anything else can. Fear and panic was certainly bubbling away under the polite exteriors of Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) as an imposing White officer climbed out of his vehicle and ambled suspiciously towards them. If the women were White he would’ve been bending over backwards to help them, but, because they’re Black he is immediately on guard and distrustful.

After a line of questioning surprisingly reveals that all three of these women work for NASA, the officer is instantly taken back – these aren’t the White men he originally perceived to be working at the biggest space station in the world. After a period of longingly gazing towards the stars, with glee he then offers to escort the three women sirens blazing and wheels screeching to NASA. This opening scene alone encapsulates perfectly the message underpinning Hidden Figures – race and our differences should never outweigh the progression of mankind and impede our collective journey towards the stars. In the immortal words of Neil Armstrong, “One small leap for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

However, while such a truth was made abundantly clear to audiences, unfortunately such enlightenment wasn’t apparent to the men of NASA at the time. Coloured bathrooms, hostility and constant underestimating, the women’s talent is consistently overlooked and each is treated like a second class citizen, despite proving on many occasions that they can contribute greatly to beating Russia in the Space Race. Fortunately, overcoming odds was written into the very DNA of Katherine, Dorothy and Mary, and it isn’t too long before each of their individual geniuses can no longer be ignored. From calculating rocket trajectories to coding super computers, there is certainly no stopping this visionary trio.

I have to be honest with you, I’m absolutely flabbergasted that Henson didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for her absolutely SEISMIC performance. Emotionally gripping from start to finish, there was rarely a moment in the film that this phenomenal actress didn’t immediately capture your awe and engage with you on a deeper gut level. The moments with her love interest Mahershala Ali were both endearing and sweet, while the heft shown in the scene in which she finally confronts the NASA scientists on their bigotry was powerful enough to shake the ground right beneath your feet. Ultimately, If Hidden Figures is anything to go by, just like her recent success on the small screen, Henson is destined to become a cinematic institution in the vein of the almighty – dare I say it – Meryl Streep.

It’s extraordinary to me that it took until 2017 for the incredible stories of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson and to be told, because such stories would’ve done wonders to inspire generations of women as well as PoC to look towards STEM and more importantly to the stars and beyond – but I guess better late than never… Director Theodore Melfi should also be accredited for being able to smuggle tense racial politics into an accessible film that could appeal to the masses. I feel he was able to cleverly do this by dusting away the division in the sand between Black and White, and instead really focusing on what united the American people – ambition, patriotism and a thirst for the unknown. Against the back drop of racial segregation, Melfi made Hidden Figures all about unity.

After the controversy of #OscarsoWhite last year, hopefully the success at the box office and the undoubted success to come at the Oscars, Hidden Figures will demonstrate to studios in the same way as the likes of Moonlight and Fences are doing, that Black lead films can do well financially and critically, thus compelling producers to seek out more stories like them and also back the emerging Black talents telling them. As 2016 has demonstrated, people are sick and tired of not having their voices heard and thus the more diverse the voices we hear, the more we all benefit as an entire people. After all, “One small leap for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

8.3 / 10

Double Indemnity Review

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“How could I have known that murder could sometimes smell like honeysuckle?”

It’s funny really, how one fatal encounter can alter your life forever… one minute you’re just an average insurance salesman, occasionally imagining up ways to fool the system in the pursuit of a quick buck, then the next you’re a cold blooded killer entangled in a web of deceit, paranoia and lust.

From the instant Walter (Fred MacMurray) laid eyes on Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck), as she stood on top of her staircase with a towel barely concealing her naked body, he was hooked and drawn in powerlessly by her mystique and paralysing glare. At first Walter thought the flirtation was harmless, but little did he know that beneath her bewitching smile something darker and more sinister was brewing. Fantasy and the hypothetical soon became cold, hard reality as plotting turned into action and action, fatally turned into murder.

Fittingly shrouded in shades of black and white, Double Indemnity doesn’t stop at just drawing you into the murky underbelly of the insurance world, instead it drags you down even further, deep into the shadows of human greed and sexual attraction. It would be too easy to portray Walter as an innocent pawn manipulated by the evil of Phyllis, instead director Billie Wilder subtly suggests that anyone is capable of murder, given the right circumstances and that one fatal encounter…

As intoxicating as the smell of honeysuckle, it is clear how Double Indemnity went on to ignite Hollywood’s love affair with the noir genre, because it’s difficult to watch Wilder’s classic without questioning what is man’s true nature. Chilling.

8.7 / 10

Tangerine Review

Exhilarating and engrossing from start to finish, Tangerine is a true rose that embraces all its thorns.

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Dirty, cheap, distasteful, shot on an iPhone and featuring two transgender women of colour as leads –  in all honesty, this film shouldn’t work, after all there isn’t a straight white man anywhere near it. Yet somehow, Tangerine defies low expectation and soars higher than anyone could ever have imagined. Sure, with the word b*tch uttered every two seconds and sex being centre to which every character’s life revolves around, Tangerine wouldn’t be considered a fairy tale. However, Sean Baker (director) offers his audience a much needed murky window view into the neon-lit, grimy underbelly of Los Angeles, a world away from the glamour, million dollar homes and boundless oceans we’ve grown accustomed to seeing paraded on our screen by Hollywood. The title is misleading, because all you get from Tangerine is gritty, raw and hard as concrete realism.

When Alexandra (Mya Taylor) reveals to Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) that her pimp/boyfriend, Chester has not only been cheating on her, but doing so with a white (cis) woman or in their terminology a ‘white fish,’ Sin-Dee is beyond furious. The only thing going through her mind now, vengeance. Reason melts away in the LA heat, leaving Sin-Dee with one mission, find Chester, the white fish and make them answer for their betrayal. Despite Alexandra’s plea to second guess her actions, like a shark with a whiff of blood in the nostrils, Sin-Dee hurtles down street after street like a bat out of hell. The pair eventually part ways, when Alexandra finally refuses to continue being an accessory to Sin-Dee’s madness, deciding instead to focus on handing out leaflets advertising her performance later that night at a local club. Meanwhile on the other side of town, an Armenian taxi driver, Razmik (Karren Karagulian) picks up fair after fair during the scorching midday heat. Despite the temperatures, he is willing to make conversation and maintain a broad smile, but the customers seem more intent on vomiting, taking pictures and getting to where they’re going, rather than engage in small talk with the driver. Initially the two stories seem unconnected, but as the sun begins to shrink on the horizon Razmik gravitates to Alexandra and Sin-Dee, drawn in by his insatiable taste for transgender women, despite having a wife and kids at home.

As phenomenal as Tangerine is, it certainly isn’t without short comings. For instance, the opening scene seemed forced and jaded, really exposing Kitana’s limited acting experience and alluding to the small budget. Whilst also in the beginning, the music video style editing during Sin-Dee search for Chester, was disorientating, excessive and really drew attention to itself instead of purely complementing the action. And the rousing cinematic music during the same scene, ventured on the obnoxious at times and didn’t deliver the sense of scale and power Sean Baker was undoubtedly going for. But like any bird about to soar, it must first stand on the ground and sure, Tangerine might not have gotten off to the best of starts, but as the film progresses it certainly spreads its wings.

Sean Baker boldly explores what is essentially virgin territory for film. Sure, individually we’ve had films about prostitution, transgender women and people of colour, but never before have our screens been graced with all three at once. Why? Perhaps it’s the old Hollywood myth that white audiences won’t go to see films with POC as leads or conservative America can’t relate to stories about queer characters. All of which is quite honestly, nonsense. As different as we might seem on the surface, below it we’re hauntingly the same – we’re all just looking for someone to love and a chance at eternal happiness. And it seems that big money producers have forgotten that the audience possesses one of the greatest human qualities, empathy, which means while we might not be able to relate to the situations someone is going through, we can certainly relate to the emotions they are feeling. Isn’t that what cinema is really about, connecting emotionally with the characters on screen?

It’s impossible not to connect with Sin-Dee and Alexandra, because whilst they may some tough and strong on the surface, between the cracks in the façade, it’s plain to see the loneliness of being a marginalised minority within a marginalised minority and the struggle of trying to reflect on the outside what you believe to be true on the inside. But Tangerine isn’t entirely doom and gloom, there is plenty of comedic flair and while Sin-Dee is clearly not a professional actress, she compensates by bringing true gusto and verve to her performance. Karran also delivers a solid performance, but it’s Mya Taylor who delivers the most striking and emotionally resonating of them all. Mya’s stand out scene comes later in the film when she is performing a song in the night club. It’s obvious that it’s only when she is on stage, can her character Alexandra truly feel confident enough to be her true self, and because of this a comparison can certainly be drawn between her and Dorothy Vallens majestically singing Blue Velvet in David Lynch’s masterpiece.

Tangerine is a film not to be missed.  

7.4 / 10

 

Top Five Meta-Horror Films in the 2010’s

This piece is absolutely dripping in spoilers. I suggest you proceed with caution and watch your every step – you never know what could be lurking in the next sentence…   

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Horror has the innate ability to articulate and lay bare our deepest anxieties and darkest fantasies, and over the decades with the use of blood smeared murky mirrors, horror has hauntingly reflected how humanities fears have changed over the years. The 1950’s was all about damaged psyches and the possibility that the seemingly average Joe and Jane could secretly be an axe wielding maniac, the 70s had a morbid taste for gore and fixation with the unstoppable evil, whilst the 80s was a long flirtation with the supernatural. Perhaps inspired by a contemporary society increasingly becoming more self-aware and cynical thanks to the internet, the post-millennium horror scene has evolved to suit this by introducing to the world and our personal nightmares the meta-horror film. These type of films are all about scaring you witless, whilst at the same time taking the genre you’ve grown accustomed to and flipping it on its head with a knowing wink wink, node node. Below are my top five:

5. The Final Girls (2015)

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Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson

“I know in the movie you’re supposed to die, but that doesn’t mean you have to, right?”

Would you say you’re a horror expert? I can see you’re nodding your head. I guess that means you know everything there is to know about horror films, right? Such as the black guy always dies first? Or in a scary movie being a virgin is as good as wearing a bullet proof vest? What makes The Final Girls so incredibly meta is how it explores our modern day horror literacy and then flips it on its head. In the film a group of horror fanatic teens are literally sucked into a slasher film in the vein of Friday the 13th, but can’t be killed by the masked figure because all horror films are governed by the same cliché story and as long as everything stays by the book, the group will be safe. But when the final girl unexpectedly dies, the book isn’t enough to save them… The Final Girls offers a hilarious commentary on the predictability of slasher films in the most obvious sense. Schulson really invites you as the view to test your horror knowledge and then surprises you with some unexpected twists along the way.

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4. Dale & Tucker vs. Evil (2010)

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Directed by Eli Craig

“You’ve gone Hillbilly on me Alison.”

Have you ever considered that the evil, twisted and incest loving hillbillies of The Hills have Eyes or Wrong Turn were merely misunderstood and weren’t as murderous as they seem? Perhaps they prefer spending Sunday nights painting pretty pictures of beautifies and braiding each other’s hair, rather than butchering teens and feasting on their rotting carcasses, as you’ve been led to believe? Then again probably not. But that doesn’t include Dale and Tucker, who actually are really nice guys. On the surface they may look perverse and demented, but beneath it they’re like Winnie the Pooh except in search of love rather than honey. So when teens eventually start dying all around them please don’t jump to conclusions, It’s not their fault, Dale and Tucker were just trying to help. Is it their fault that these crazy kids keep running into wood chippers and sharp pointy things? The premise of Eli Craig debut feature is a big what if – what if it wasn’t the hillbillies doing the killing, but was in fact the teens accidentally killing themselves because they’re so afraid of the hillbillies? Craig cleverly turns on its head the traditional view of horror movie heroes and villains, giving you a film brimming with self-referential humour and plenty of ‘OH SHIT!’ moments.

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  1. Cabin in the Woods (2012)

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Directed by Drew Goddard

“These fucking zombies. Remember when you could just throw a girl in a volcano?”

The token minority. The dumb Jock. The slutty Cheerleader. The stoner. The nice guy. The final girl. Upon watching the trailer or even the first twenty minutes of Cabin in the Woods, you could be forgiven for assuming that it would be just another cliché and predictable teen horror. But that’s when Goddard gets you! Just when you’re about to yawn in boredom, Goddard rips the air out of your lungs and leaves you reeling in SHOCK as he completely subverts everything you thought you knew about his horror film. From two-way mirrors and aphrodisiac mists to a basement with ancient objects that will determine your fate, with Cabin in the Woods expect the unexpected because nothing is as it seems… Behind the scenes every move the group makes is being seen and manipulated as part of a ritual by sadistic scientists before using the teens as sacrificial lambs to offer to demonic creatures that lie beneath the earth. Goddard uses every trope and pitfalls from previous teen horrors and weaves them into something entirely unique, whilst still paying homage to the genre he obviously still idolises.

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2. Scream (1996)

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Directed by Wes Craven

Not quite 2010’s… but could I really leave out the godfather of the subgenre?

May it be from the glowing lights of heaven or the wretched flames of hell, either way Scream erupted onto the horror horizon and gave the much needed kiss of life to the genre, just when it was being suffocated by increasingly irrelevant and laughable Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street sequels. With Scream Craven ingeniously dismantles and subverts the very genre he helped build with Freddy Krueger. What makes Scream so special and wonderfully meta is how all the characters are fully aware of the tropes of other horror movies, “There are certain rules, one must abide by in order to survive a scary movie,” muses one character. However, little do they know that the killer is much smarter than they are and just when they thought they had the whole horror thing sussed out, the ghost faced killer was already a mere knifes inch away.

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  1. It Follows (2015)

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Directed by David Robert Mitchell

“It could look like someone you know or it could be a stranger in a crowd. Whatever helps it get close to you.”

This may be a controversial number one, considering Scream was undoubtedly the godfather of all meta-horror films, however it will be impossible to argue against the bone chilling genius of It Follows. Like a slowly moving silent serpent, It Follows crawls up your spine and burrows deep into your subconscious. Then when it deems the time right, it sinks its thangs into you and release a fear inducing venom that leaves you paralysed in your seat. Mitchell’s masterpiece is one of the few instances where a horror film can continue to haunt you long after the title credits have rolled and the years have passed. Like a curse, after you watch It Follows you will never be the same again – no longer will darkness be just for sleeping, it will also be for fearing what lurks within the shadows and what might be creeping towards you when your back is turned.

What makes it meta?

It is well known the BIGGEST sin anyone can commit in a horror film is to succumb to the carnal pleasures. simply put – sex equals DEATH. So when your parents are preaching to you about the perils of sex before marriage, it’s not yet another attempt to kill your vibe, they’re actually trying to prevent you from actually being killed. The moral of all horror movies is, if you want to avoid having your head hacked off by Jason Voorhees or your torso being sliced in two by Leather Face, then wear a chaste belt or say I do.

Effectively Mitchell harnesses this old horror trope by expertly utilising it as the central premise of the entire film – literally having sex will get you killed. Ironically, the only way to prolong the evitable of death is to have sex again and again until there is no one left to have sex with. Hold on, wait… in It Follows, sex is both a saviour and a condemner? Pretty much yes. Mind fuck, I know. So ingeniously was Mitchell mythologizing of casual sex, upon release critics even considered it as a parable of the aids epidemic that erupted in the 80s. It Follows – both scary AF and gets you thinking, that’s what I call a DAMN GOOD meta horror film.

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