31 Days of Nightmares — It Follows & The Purge: Anarchy
It’s a 2-for-1 special tonight with a rewatch of my favorite horror movie of the last five years and a sequel with surprising strength.
I went to see It Follows at the theater — I have a habit of going to late showings of horror movies late in their theatrical run, so there’s never more than five or six people in the joint. It can get really creepy in a near-empty theater, and It Follows was the most terrified I’ve ever been while in a cineplex. I wanted to see it again, and it totally holds up.
There’s so much to love here, from the ambiguous setting (what year is it, anyway?), the naturalistic dialogue, the brilliant John Carpenteresque score, the nerve-jangling suspense. I hear some people complain about the climax, but I don’t really see a problem. This one hums from start to finish.
I also see a lot of people give this one a facile analysis, that it’s a film that bludgeons you over the head with a “sex is bad” message. I’m not gonna say you’re wrong, you get what you want out of art. But yeah, you’re wrong. It Follows is not about sex or STDs or anything like that. It Follows is a movie about anxiety, primarily teenage anxiety (the characters are college-age, but they act in every way like they’re 15 or 16 — I think the college thing was just a way for the filmmakers to sidestep issues with depicting teen sexuality).
Anyway, there’s this thing. It’s out there. You don’t what it looks like or when it will get to you. You don’t even really know what it will do when it finds you (although, on second viewing I think it…fucks you to death?). But it will get to you. There’s no way to stop it. It’s a formless, unknowable thing and all you know is it’s bad. That’s…well, that’s anxiety. Sex plays a major role in the movie, because it is something that causes a huge amount of anxiety for teens (and, also, everyone). But it isn’t the only thing going on here. Paul is dealing with anxiety about rejection. Yara has anxiety over her weight and appetite (while this is never addressed directly, she’s constantly snacking and eating voraciously). Even the girl who dies in the cold open deals with common teen anxiety of letting her parents down. And at every turn they are dealing with the anxiety of poverty, of rootlessness, or a crumbling city and absent parents. Yara’s quotes from The Idiot are all about it.
This is also, of course, a scary movie about an unstoppable monster that will fuck you to death, and even on that level, it’s goddamn brilliant.
The Purge: Anarchy
If you only glance at the Purge movies, it’s tempting to dismiss them as exploitative trash, just relentless scenes of gunbros murdering people. I think they get unfairly lumped into the torture porn sub-genre, which really isn’t the case at all. In fact, they might be the most intelligent horror movies being made right now, featuring an original (and terrifying) dystopian near future that directly addresses things like gun culture, class issues, and racial conflict. The first one was solid, if a bit nihilistic. The sequel moves to a much higher level.
Instead of taking place within a single house, The Purge: Anarchy is spread out across an unnamed city on the night of the Purge (when crime is legal for 12 hours and everyone goes on murder sprees — or hides behind locked doors). A few poor innocents are stuck outside when the Purge commences, but are lucky enough to run into a Punisher-like vigilante who saves them and guides them through the raging streets to safety.
There are two great things going on here. First, the plot is tight as a drum. It zings along from moment to moment, with flawless pacing and so much drive and kinetic energy you can’t look away. I don’t mean it’s just non-stop guns and ‘splosions — there is real narrative drive as the characters make their way across the city. And what unfolds isn’t a bunch of meaningless set pieces. There’s some interesting world-building going on, as the true nature of the Purge unfolds. The two movies I found myself comparing it to? The Warriors and Escape from New York.
My favorite moment was spotting Michael K. Williams (Omar from The Wire) as an anti-Purge revolutionary.
The second great thing is the character arcs. These are not disposable victims. Their lives collide and rebound in fascinating ways, and the action scenes serve to provoke character progression and emotion. There’s a really satisfying arc that ends the movie, even as you realize these people still live in an utterly fucked up world.
There’s certainly plenty of brutal and disturbing violence — this movie is basically an avalanche of trigger warnings. So it’s not for everyone. Especially lately, the violence hits pretty close to real life, so it isn’t the escapist horror that most ghost stories and monster movies offer. Yet it’s got this weird amount of emotional depth and a fistful of social messages, not what you’d expect from a movie about Annual Crime is Legal Night.