This movie was a critical darling and I hate it.
A young woman named Annie (Bailey Spry) is killed on a beach after running from an invisible force. Later, Oakland University student Jay (Maika Monroe) sleeps with a boy she’s been dating named Hugh (Jake Weary), but Hugh promptly drugs her. She awakens tied to a chair in an abandoned factory where Hugh informs her that by sleeping with him she’ll now be attacked by a creature that is invisible to everyone but her and can look like anyone. If it catches Jay, it will kill her, then kill Hugh, then so on up the chain of sexual partners. Jay can give it to someone else by sleeping with them. Jay doesn’t believe him until she sees a naked woman walking slowly towards them. Just as the creature gets near Jay, Hugh pulls them both away and drives her home. The next day, the police cannot locate Hugh.
Jay soon discovers she’s being followed by people that only she can see. Jay’s sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and her friends Paul and Yara (Keir Gilchrist and Olivia Luccardi) try to help Jay. That night, someone breaks a window upstairs. Paul doesn’t see anyone, but a giant man comes into the girls’ room and attacks Jay. With a neighbor’s help they find Hugh, whose mother resembles the naked woman in the abandoned building. Hugh, real name Jeff, explains that he had a one-night stand and found the monster following him. Jeff advises Jay to pass the curse on to someone else by sleeping with them.
Greg (Daniel Zovatto), Jay’s neighbor, takes the group to his lake house, only for the entity to attack Jay while in the form of Yara. Jay shoots it in the head, but it recovers and attacks her again. She steals Greg’s car and drives off, but crashes and wakes up with a broken arm. Greg has sex with Jay in the hospital, but still denies the monster exists. A few days later, Jay sees the entity break into Greg’s house. She follows it inside, but sees a half-naked version of Greg’s mother (Leisa Pulido) attack Greg and have sex with his corpse. Jay flees by car and approaches three young men on a boat.
Paul asks Jay to pass it on to him, but she refuses. Paul comes up with a plan to kill the entity by luring it into a pool and electrocuting it. This quickly fails when the entity just starts throwing objects at Jay while she’s in the pool. Paul, who can’t see the entity, accidentally shoots Yara but finally shoots the entity multiple times, causing it to visibly fill the pool with blood. Paul and Jay have sex, then Paul drives by a number of prostitutes. Later, Paul and Jay walk down the street holding hands with a figure walking slowly behind them.
I saw this movie when it first came out, before I read anything that the critics had written. I knew, vaguely, that it was being promoted as one of the scariest movies of the decade, but nothing else. I think it was about 30 minutes in that I started to recognize that I wasn’t particularly scared. It was 60 minutes in that I realized that not only was I not scared, I really wasn’t enjoying the movie. At 70 minutes I, along with several people I was seeing it with, started to openly mock the film. So when I found out that this movie, which I not only didn’t love but actually disliked, was listed among the best horror films ever, I was shocked. I watched it again to try and figure out if it had just been the crowd, but nope, still didn’t like it. However, when I got the prompt “Critically Acclaimed Film that I Hate,” I knew this was going to be the one.
What’s amazing is that I should absolutely love this movie. It does SO MUCH right that it does genuinely merit some appreciation.
First, the cinematography in this film is great. So many of the shots, right from the start, are a great blend of style and substance, often hiding the monster from the viewer when we’re supposed to be an impartial observer. The first shot in the movie is an almost 2-minute long-cut which does a gradual 360 degree rotation without ever really showing us anything except for a scared woman running. As a huge fan of long-cuts, I have to say, this was amazing and definitely heightened the tension right off the bat. However, it does it with smooth, slow camera movements that resemble the slow, constant pace of the entity throughout the movie. Moreover, by keeping the monster out of frame at times or invisible at others, we, the audience, never know when it’s coming. Most of the movie frames the shots from between the entity and the target, so we never quite see them both at the same time, making us constantly uncertain. It’s a great technique that seems to take its cues from classic horror like the original Halloween, where we didn’t often see the victim and the killer in the same shot, even when they’re in the same room, until the actual attack. Similar to Halloween, too, there are sometimes wide and rotating shots that don’t reveal any imminent danger, only some potential background threat.
The score in this also does an excellent job of heightening the tension, frequently having discordant sounds and rising tones at times to suggest that danger is present. Since the monster is often invisible, this constantly keeps the viewer on edge.
The creature itself is a pretty cool idea in some ways, the unstoppable force constantly coming for you, slowly moving towards you no matter what you do. In fact, Ducktales did a great job with the concept in one episode with the “Bombie,” who just slowly chases a target ceaselessly. It can be taken as a metaphor for many things, but I think most people would agree it pretty well represents the reality of death. We first become aware of it through maturity, which is often connected with sex, or the “little death” that comes with it. It will catch everyone eventually, but we can delay it by connecting with others and finding love (or just banging). As someone who constantly expresses their love for horror movies that use the monsters as metaphors, this should work great for me.
So, why don’t I like the movie? Well, because at no point at this movie could I ever stop thinking that the main characters are among the dumbest humans alive. Even by horror movie standards, these kids are dumb. They are dealing with what has to be the most easily thwarted monster since the aliens from Signs that somehow were allergic to water. This creature, while it is ceaseless, follows at a pace that is slightly slower than the average walker. Additionally, while it can break into places through windows, the closest thing we see to any “supernatural” strength is when it knocks a hole in a wooden door after hitting it multiple times. So, it’s a slow creature that could be contained in, say, a bank vault or a big pit in the ground or any number of other situations for potentially decades. Yet, no one considers that, nor the idea of passing it to someone who is headed for another country or the idea of passing it to someone that flies a lot or any other of a dozen potential solutions. Instead, they try to kill it after it was already shot in the head without dying, which is possibly the worst idea one could have. So, throughout the entire movie, even though the film itself was so well done, I couldn’t stop thinking about how easy it should be to “solve” this problem and I started to resent the stupidity of the leads. It doesn’t help that the STDemon concept already comes off as a little regressive, punishing people just for having sex.
Overall, while I get what the big deal was with the movie, I still can’t stand this movie.
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