Sunday, September 27, 2015
That part when Greg didn't pass "It" on, and other It Follows plot holes
By now we've all seen It Follows, right? So I don't have to give you a spoiler warning, right?
Well, here's one anyway: It Follows spoilers ahead.
Actually, it's unsafe to assume the universal patronage of It Follows because my wife was only seeing it for the first time on Saturday, hence the occasion for me to revisit it.
And though certain parts of what I liked about the movie were reinforced -- the atmosphere, the cinematography, the score -- the second viewing showed me that the movie holds up to scrutiny even less than I initially thought it did.
What follows, so to speak, is a series of goofy things about this movie, whose surprising quantity does not actually make me think this is a bad movie. It's just a seriously flawed one, a sin that is compensated for by it also being chilling and original.
A good place to start is what I teased in the subject line: The part where Greg didn't pass "It" on.
Greg, you may recall, is the neighbor who lives across the street from Jay, the film's main character. We later find out that Greg and Jay had been sexual partners previously, which is why it's not such a big deal when Greg offers to rid Jay of her STD (sexually transmitted demon) and, presumably, pass it on to somebody else.
The "presumably" is the confusing part.
The very next shot after we see Greg mounting Jay in a hospital bed is Greg sitting in that same hospital's cafeteria, chatting up a table of three other women, who by all appearances are strangers to him. The score switches up to what passes for whimsical in this collection of ominous synth. It's a visual joke, and we're meant to kind of laugh at the fact that Greg, a real Casanova, is already working up a plan to move the STD right along. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am. He was figuratively a ladykiller before, and now he's sort of actually becoming one.
Except he doesn't pass it on.
See, the next scene is him visiting Jay in the hospital again, telling her it's been three days and nothing has happened.
This is problematic for two reasons, which helps bridge us to our next topic.
1) It means the scene of him chatting to the other women in the hospital is just a red herring. Either he never intended to give the demon to any of them, or he intended to but lost his nerve. If it's the latter, it's worth showing us the scene where he loses his nerve. If it's the former, it's not even worth showing us the shot of him chatting up the women. Since it has no purpose, it just becomes narrative static. And it's not the only time Mitchell is guilty of misleading us like this with no ultimate purpose to it.
2) It's been three days, and nothing has happened.
Let's think about that for a second. Last time we saw "It," it had attacked Jay at the lakefront, and she'd sped off in Greg's car to escape it. However, she didn't get far before she spun out of control into a cornfield, enough of an accident to land her in the hospital. And not some far away hospital, you would assume. Typically when someone's in a car accident, they go to the nearest hospital. When that person is being followed by an "It," the "It" keeps following to that hospital.
Except Jay wakes up some number of hours later, and "It" has not arrived yet, nor does "It" appear to be anywhere nearby. Only then does Greg sleep with Jay to receive the sexually transmitted demon. After which he goes back home, reports back to her three days later to tell her nothing has happened, and then they both go home again to their separate houses.
Some untold amount of time later, even a day or two more, "It" finally makes a play for Greg -- a successful play, as you recall. I mean, that's what happens to you if you're the kind of non-believer Greg is.
What was "It" doing for nearly a week's time, then?
I'd buy the argument that when the person being stalked by "It" changes, a short period of confusion could ensue. Maybe "It" needs to get recallibrated or something. Maybe "It" needs to change its destination on its internal GPS. But if that's the case, why did "It" recallibrate so quickly when Jay was first infected? Jeff, then known has Hugh, knew that if he knocked her out and waited a half-hour or so, "It" would show up -- pursuing her, not him. The explanation for why "It" takes so long to reach Greg is unsatisfactory at best.
And let's talk a little bit about what I want to call "The Chain of It Infection."
Pretty early on we're told about "It"s MO, which is that it stalks you until it kills you, and then it goes back to the person who infected you. Let's forget for a minute how Jeff, then known as Hugh, knows this.
Actually, let's not. Jeff, then known as Hugh, presumably only knows what he knows because the girl before him told him how it all works. Except she didn't, or does not seem to have, because he says he doesn't even know her name. I guess that could be a lie, but we're never given any reason to doubt anything else Hugh, now known as Jeff, says once he comes clean to Jay about passing on the STD, so why should we disbelieve him here?
Yet it's total bullshit that he would not know what her name was, because if this woman had half a brain, she'd want to give him her cell phone number. If she wanted to survive, if anyone in The Chain of It Infection wanted to survive, they'd need to develop a support network of checking in with each other that's so regular, it would put Desmond typing in the numbers on that computer in Lost to shame.
See, as much as you want to cut and run on the person you've infected -- just put miles and miles between yourself and him or her, and between yourself and his or her police precinct -- you can't do that because you depend on that person. You depend on that person answering that phone when you call, because if they don't answer it, they could be dead. And then "It" could be coming for you again.
In fact, the longer The Chain of It Infection gets, the more important it is that everyone in the chain stays in regular contact with each other. Your first instinct is, of course, not only to pass on the sexually transmitted demon, but to have the person you infected also pass it on as soon as possible, and then tell their victim to do the same, and so on. Right? The more layers of removal from you, the greater your sense of comfort. The more your life returns to normal.
But the object of that greater comfort is to steadily give yourself peace of mind, something that's sorely lacking when you know that not only is sleep your enemy -- you're most likely to buy it while succumbing to exhaustion -- but your loved ones could also be your enemy, because "It" could disguise itself as one of them. (A loved one with a vacant look and shambling gait, but I digress.) The thing is, the more peace of mind you get, the lower your defenses. If you passed on the STD a year ago and haven't seen any sign of it, you definitely won't be prepared one day when it waltzes up -- waltzes up in a shambling sort of way -- and bites you on the neck.
The solution? Don't only tell your victim how it works, but get your victim's phone number, and give your victim the phone numbers of everyone else you already have in your phone who have done the same thing before you. At least once a day -- more often as needed -- you need to call the person you infected to make sure they still have a pulse. Because if you don't call them, and they don't have a pulse, your mother knocking on your bedroom door could be there to rape and murder you.
But here's the thing: That's not the only solution. Not nearly.
What other solution is there? Distance.
One infected person could choose to put a stop to all this by simply going bicoastal.
For this one sacrificial soul, who would have to alter their life but would save everybody else, all you have to do is figure out how long it would take a person to walk across the United States, and you'll know how long you can expect to be safe. Since "It" is always walking -- never grabbing the bus, never hopping a plane, never even coming into possession of a pair of rollerskates -- you can figure out mathematically the least amount of time you could possibly have. And then you just start moving back and forth between New York and California, being sure to leave each new location before the amount of time it takes for a human being to walk 3,000 miles expires.
Let's say that's three months. I'm thinking it's probably more than that, but for the sake of argument, let's say three months. Three months is plenty long enough to convince somebody in some small town that you're harmless and that they should hire you to be a busboy at a local restaurant. Yeah, you don't have any resume and you're fairly vague about the experience you have, but you seem nice enough and anyway, they need somebody who doesn't mind working the overnight shift. Oh, it won't be paradise, and you'll probably just be scraping by. But you can do it -- this is your lot in life now. You can probably even have a bit of fun -- just don't sleep with anybody, because it ruins the plan.
When it gets to two months and three weeks, you know you need to get your affairs in order. And then like David Banner on the old Hulk TV show, you just move on to the next town -- or, the town 3,000 miles away, anyway. You can drive, you can fly if you've got the money, you can even hitchhike. Just get back to that other coast and let the process start all over again.
Then of course the question is: What route do you take? I think we can accept it as a given that "It" considers the closest distance between two points to be a straight line. Therefore, if you just retrace your steps back across country using the route you used last time, you will meet up with "It" somewhere along the way. Boy, that would be a humdinger. You think you've taken all the necessary precautions, then you end up meeting "It" at a truck stop in Elko, Nevada, which looks surprisingly familiar because you stopped at this truck stop your last time coming across country. Wait a minute ...
So you don't take the same route. If you're flying, it doesn't matter anyway, because you know it's against the rules for "It" to be on that plane, and anyway, you'd have had to really procrastinate to let "It" get close enough to meet you at the airport and board your plane at the same time. But if you're driving or hitchhiking or even taking the bus, watch out. Go north first before starting back across country. Or go south. If you came across on Interstate 10, go back on Interstate 90. If you came across on Interstate 90, go back on Interstate 10. You get the idea.
But don't leave too soon. That's the other trick. As soon as "It" senses you are on the move, "It" changes direction. You want to make sure that "It" is less than a week away before you jump back to the other coast. If "It" has only made its way to within 1500 miles of you, that's only 1500 miles it has to go back when you fly 27,000 feet over "It"s head. (And I'd like to see that moment when "It" senses you up in the clouds in a 747, cranes its head upward, mutters some kind of profanity and makes a half-hearted leap in your general direction.)
Okay, if you've come this far with me down this rabbit hole, why not stick around for a few basic WTF moments in the film?
1) Remember how I said Mitchell gives us a bunch of red herrings? One of those times is when Jay gets her closest to what is a really good idea. Having slept the night on the hood of her car -- a nice image, but not very realistic -- she goes down to the nearby waterfront to take a quick dip. She sees a couple guys out in a boat, and the logical message we're supposed to take from that is that she realizes that a boat might be her salvation. I mean, "It" can't walk on water. "It" ain't no Jesus Christ.
But she doesn't go on a boat, nor does she even share this idea with any of her friends. If anything, it leads indirectly to the cockamamie scheme to electrocute "It" at a local swimming pool with a series of kitchen and household appliances.
2) And let's ponder that scene for a second. It's okay that we didn't witness the brainstorming session that led to this idiotic idea, but just what did these kids think they were going to accomplish with electrical appliances near a swimming pool except electrocute their own damn friend who's swimming in the pool? That should have won somebody a Darwin Award right then and there.
3) That scene is one of the film's weakest also because it represents one of those times when "It" deviates from its MO. From what we've seen, "It" simply follows you until it gets close enough to pounce, and then it basically destroys you almost immediately. What it doesn't seem like "It" should do is pull your hair, or blow a hole in a door and then wait outside dramatically for 15 seconds before coming in, or angrily throw TVs at you. "It" doesn't even really seem like it should throw a rock to break your living room window. "It" is at its most fully realized when "It" simply lurches forward like a zombie. If there's a door in the way, it seems as though "It" should just keep walking into that door like a windup toy continuing to walk into a wall until its unwound. Wouldn't that kind of make "It" even more chilling?
4) And anyway, when has standing on the roof of a house ever been part of "the closest distance between any two points is a straight line"?
5) And anyway, are hospitals some kind of immunity zone for this thing? Jay is in the hospital like three times in this movie and is never once visited by an orderly wearing only one tube sock and pissing herself. Especially on that first night, when it would stand to reason that she and Jeff (then known as Hugh) were on a date in a town near where she lived. The hospital must have really confused "It" because quite a period of time elapses before "It" finally shows up as that old woman approaching Jay in the quadrangle outside her poetry class.
6) And anyway, what are the rules for when "It" changes appearance? Why is "It" a girl wearing one tube sock and pissing herself when it's downstairs, and a tall man with eyes gouged out when it's upstairs?
7) And anyway, why is "It" sometimes a loved one and sometimes a stranger?
8) And anyway, forget going on a boat, because that's only a temporary solution, assuming the boat has to eventually dock again. What about moving to another continent entirely, one separated from your continent by water? What about moving to Australia? Would "It" be within its rights to wait for one of those big ships carrying shipping containers to pull up to the dock so "It" could walk on and eventually walk off once that ship docked in Australia? Would "It" have to continue walking into the front railing for the entire duration of the voyage, because that's the direction you'd be in? Would "It" be allowed to sit down for a while with a cup of coffee and a newspaper? Does "It" have any podcasts that "It" needs to catch up on?
9) And anyway, what if you went to outer space? What if you somehow bought your way aboard the Russian space station? Would "It" just spend the rest of its days down on Earth, making those same futile jumps at the sky? How long would it do this before it exploded? Or just got sick of it all and skipped you in the chain? Or would it too somehow find its way on board the Russian space station?
10) And anyway, where does that girl who was killed at the beginning fit into The Chain of It Infection? She wasn't given the sexually transmitted demon by Jeff, possibly known to her as Hugh or possibly as some other pseudonym, because Jeff would have told us about his previous attempt to pass on the STD that boomeranged back on him. Remember, we're believing everything Jeff tells us. So the only conclusion, then, is that once this girl was killed, "It" came back to kill the guy who proceeded Jeff in The Chain of It Infection. That guy then gave it to the woman who ultimately gave it to Jeff. That's pretty damn convoluted.
11) And anyway, if Jeff, then known as Hugh, knew that "It" had closed to within only a few hours of him, why would he choose to go on a date to the movies, where his attention would clearly be diverted? Why would he carelessly pass the time in line by indulging in a nice relaxed game of "trade places with someone"?
12) And anyway, that's probably just about enough "and anyways."
If you're still reading, congratulations -- you are one determined SOB.
You know, despite all this, I still think it's a really good movie.
Amazing what some atmosphere and a killer score can do for you.
Remember that part waaaaaay at the beginning of this piece, that part where Greg didn't pass "It" on? I just thought of a third possible explanation. Maybe Greg did pass it on to one of those girls at the hospital, only he didn't tell Jay out of a warped sense of trying not to hurt her feelings. (It wouldn't be warped except under these sexually forthright circumstances.) Also, he didn't properly notify the girl and explain to her how to stave "It" off. That would explain the delay in "It" coming back to him ... and it could also explain the girl who dies at the beginning of the movie. Maybe if I watched It Follows again, I'd recognize that girl as one of the three girls sitting at this table.
Then again, if I watched It Follows again, maybe I'd find enough more plot holes to write an addendum to this post that's even longer than the original post.