I wrote a bit about my favorite pieces from New York Magazine's awesome interview with Quentin Tarantino, as did many of my competitors. It's the kind of interview that is just full of paragraphs ripe to be pulled out and picked apart, looking for wisdom and weirdness in equal measure. After all, this is the interview where Tarantino drops a ton of science about the social history of the Western before going on to say how much he likes How I Met Your Mother and how he has seen every episode of The Newsroom thrice.
Vulture published a follow-up, a lengthier version of some parts of the interview, including a deeper dive into Tarantino's thoughts on It Follows, the second film from David Robert Mitchell. We've covered it quite a bit and Tim League even named it a "Drafthouse Recommends" title, and Tarantino likes it. In fact he likes it so much he wishes it were better.
Before I get to Tarantino's words, let me tell you how much this feeling resonates with me. I see a lot of films, especially at festivals, where the promise and possibility is so obvious, so close to the surface, that the film's eventual status as a 'good movie' is actually disappointing because it so clearly could have been a 'great movie.' Obviously there are a lot of reasons why this happens, especially on an indie level, and the budget is, more often then not the final answer. Still, plenty of filmmakers have made great movies on a low budget, and I would say that Mitchell's first feature, The Myth of the American Sleepover, is just such a great film. Which makes It Follows' goodness slightly frustrating.
Now QT's thoughts, which have ruffled the feathers of Film Twitter and elicited a cheeky response from Mitchell:
"I really liked It Follows," he said, when asked what 2015 movies he's been enjoying. (He loved Kingsman, by the way) He says the film has “the best premise I've seen in a horror film in a long, long, long time,” and that “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 didn't take it all the way makes me not just disappointed but almost a little angry.”
So what is it that keeps it from being great? Tarantino, being Tarantino, goes into great detail. Small, vague spoilers for It Follows follows:
He [writer-director 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. So he doesn't realize 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 among the extras.
The movie keeps on doing things like that, not holding on to the rules that 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 fucking 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 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.
Also, there’s the gorgeously handsome geeky boy — and everyone's supposed to be ignoring 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 fuck 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've done.
It's interesting - Tarantino is nitpicking the rules of the movie. I'm often torn about this school of criticism, as it often comes from someone watching a movie in just the wrong way. I have this argument with Amy Nicholson on The Canon all the time, as she's given to real nitpicking. But at the same time, this sort of nitpicking can mean the movie simply isn't working, or that it's doing a bad job of obfuscating its own logical flaws. Film Crit Hulk has written extensively (of course) on the idea of plot holes and movie logic, and I agree with him almost completely. And not just because he quotes my thoughts on why Jurassic Park's plot holes and logic holes don't matter - he's just right. But he also acknowledges, as I do, that plot holes are real things.
In this case the plot hole that Tarantino is complaining about is hitting him at two levels. On one level it's the magician who is doing a bad job of misdirecting the audience, of taking our attention away from the stuff that doesn't work. That's probably what's making him angry. But the other aspect of it is that Mitchell has made a movie that is defying its own rules, and It Follows is a movie where the characters spend a lot of time considering what It is, and how to beat It. In that context, where the characters are constantly taking action to overcome It, we as audience members are being invited to think deeply about the rules as presented. The film wants to have its cake and eat it too - it wants to be a semi-dreamy procession of queasy fear but it also wants to be a movie where threatened teens get together to try and figure out what they're facing. You get why the movie wants to have it both ways, as it is actually a movie about anxiety (it follows up on the long-known connection between sex and death, and it posits that once you have sex you are aware of your own mortality, and that it's only by having sex again that you can - briefly - escape the constantly stalking figure of your impending death. Many people saw it as an STD metaphor, but it's way more primal than that) that is taking the form of a teen slasher. But once it has taken that form it needs to abide by it, at least on some level.
I like that Tarantino isn't taking the easy bait, like the fact that the kids' pool plan makes no sense, because he understands that's part of the point of the movie. I suspect that, if asked, he would tell you he likes that part, because it's clever. It's clever to make a movie like this where the kids come up with a big plan that works out just like a big plan dreamed up by a bunch of dumb kids would work out - poorly! The only thing I think Tarantino is wrong on here is the bit about passing It to the other boy - at that point in the film we've seen that this is a death sentence, and our lead has tried this once. I can see her emotionally not wanting to do that again.
The main takeaway is that It Follows is good, and that's what Tarantino says. And everything he says after - well, that's nuance. And that's a no-no on the internet. The more Tarantino explains why he expected more from this movie the more people place his thoughts into the 'negative' file. And they start getting angry. And they start getting flustered and feeling like he is attacking the movie (and, in our current world any attack on a thing we like is interpreted as an attack upon ourselves) and everything gets bitchy and snipey on Twitter and in thinkpieces.
But what Tarantino is doing is exactly what we need more of in film talk - not 'it rules/it sucks' Rotten Tomatoes-driven binary thumb gestures but actual critical thought about a film, even if you liked it. And we need it even moreso if it's a film that you liked but felt could be better. As a critic I sometimes look at the Rotten Tomatoes back end and shake my head - the hundreds or thousands of words I just wrote are trying to be more balanced than simply 'Fresh/Rotten' and to say something with more nuance and clarity than 'Good/Bad.' It's why I ended up giving Fantastic Four one of the few 'Fresh' ratings on the site - my review is clearly mixed with a lot of serious critiques, but at the same time I found the first half of the film to be interesting and worthy of attention. How do you represent that in a binary system? How do you use two options to explain concepts like 'Flawed' or 'Interesting while troubled' or 'Very good but not as good as it clearly could be'?
Quentin Tarantino is the ur-film nerd. He's the video store clerk who made it big, he's the guy with the freakishly encyclopedic knowledge of film and film history and he's the guy who can enjoy the trash and exalt in the treasures. In a lot of ways he's the template for many of us who came after him. I only hope that more of us can aspire to the kind of critical nuance this filmmaker has. In the meantime I love the idea that his words have sparked discussion on an interesting and possibly underseen indie movie, and that it has led a lot of people to look at their reaction to a film on a level beyond 'It rules/it sucks.' Maybe Film Twitter should get shook more often.