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Episode 5: It Follows

by | May 13, 2020

This week I look at IT FOLLOWS, the 2014 low-budget horror film. It’s a good horror film with a powerful evil force, and a good watch. But it’s not quite the classic that we’ve looked at before.

But it’s also far lower budget than the films we’ve looked at so far. It’s interesting to see how a solid horror film can be made on a low budget. And it is good – it currently has a 96% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. Here’s the links:

And here’s the script of the episode. NOT the transcript – this is the script I recorded from, and there were some changes in recording and editing. But this is the gist of the episode.

Hi, I’m Joe Dzikiewicz, and welcome to the Storylanes Podcast, the podcast where every week we do a deep dive into a movie or TV episode.  And to go along with this analysis, every week I publish a graph of the story we’re covering on the storylanes.com website, a graph I produced while doing the analysis.  You don’t need to look at that graph – the podcast is standalone.  But if you’re interested in diving a little deeper, check it out at storylanes.com.

This week we’re doing IT FOLLOWS, a horror film that came out in 2014.  Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell and starring Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Lili Sepe, Olivia Luccardi, and Daniel Zovatto.

As usual, this podcast assumes you’ve seen the movie.  There will be spoilers.  And there won’t be detailed explanations of plot points.  So if you listen to this without knowing the movie, you’re out of luck: the movie will be spoiled for you, and you may not understand what I’m talking about.  It’s basically the worst of all worlds.  So go watch IT FOLLOWS if you want to listen to this podcast.  It’s a good movie, though not a great one.  And it’s only an hour and a half long.

Now, clearly this is a departure from our last three shows.  Those covered films from the 70s and 80s, great films that have stood the test of time.  IT FOLLOWS isn’t in the same class as those.  It’s an entertaining horror movie: it’s got some good moments and good scares.  But I doubt that people will still be avidly watching this movie thirty years from now.  So why analyze It FOLLOWS?

There’s a couple of reasons.  First, it’s useful to dive deep and analyze every movie.  We don’t only learn from the greats, we learn from the goods.  And from the okays, and from the not-so-goods.  Because looking at a movie that’s less than great gives us a chance to see where it falls short, and why, in spite of its flaws, it may still be worth watching.

And make no mistake.  This isn’t a great movie, but it’s not bad.  It got a 96% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, though I think that’s generous.  And it was a success: it had a worldwide box office of 22 million dollars, not bad on a budget of one million.  That in itself is worth considering – what is there in this movie to bring in the audiences, and how was it made so cheap?

And that leads to my other reason for analyzing this film.  As I’ve said before, one of my motives in making this podcast is to become a better screenwriter by analyzing produced screenplays.  And as it happens, I’m considering making a low budget horror movie.  So I want to look at other low-budget horror movies to see what makes them work, and what makes them cheap.  IT FOLLOWS is a great example, so I want to do a deep dive on it.  And thus this episode.

So now let’s dive into the movie.

IT FOLLOWS is the story of Jay Height, a nineteen year old girl who lives in the Detroit suburbs.  Early in the film she has sex with a mysterious boy named Hugh.  This afflicts her with a curse: there is a mysterious creature, never named except by the IT in the title, that will relentlessly follow her to try to kill her.  The only way to avoid being killed is to pass on the curse by having sex with someone else.  Then that person is targeted.  But if that person is killed, IT will work its way back up the list and eventually once again come after Jay.

The movie follows Jay and her friends as she comes to terms with this curse, tries to escape it, and finally finds some resolution.

The first thing to note about this film is that the concept is fairly straight forward and well suited to a movie.  Once you have sex, IT is coming for you.  You can’t stop it.  You can run, but it will eventually get to you.  It’s slow, though, so it’s going to take time to reach you if you run.  And from a cinematic perspective, there’s plenty of time for a build-up of suspense before it arrives.

And you can get out from under the curse, but only by passing it on to someone else.  With all the moral problems that involves.  This, of course, is a good old-fashioned horror trope: the only way to escape the curse is to pass it on to someone else.  You might remember that from The Ring.  Of course, in this case it’s made a little more spicy by the fact that the way to pass it on to someone else is to have sex with them.

The creature itself can’t be destroyed, is utterly relentless, and can appear as anyone.  And is only visible to people who are cursed.  And if it catches you, it brutally kills you – in fact, rapes you to death.

All in all, a compelling creature.  Nice simple rules, terrifying in the details, and actually easy to film.  Which is one of the first things that is so low-budget in this film.  The monster is just someone walking slowly.  And it can be anyone – IT appears in various guises throughout.  No need for a known or highly paid actor, all you really need is a day player to play IT in any given scene.  And for the next scene, you can use a different actor.

I’d go so far as to say that the simplicity of IT is the best part of this movie.

So a screenwriting lesson: you can make a terrific horror movie with a simple creature, as long as the creature is relentless.  And you don’t even need special makeup or CGI effects – creepy actors acting in a creepy relentless way are enough.  Atmosphere and creepiness are enough for horror – and they can be gotten on the cheap!

So that’s the monster.  Now let’s look at the heroes.

The characters in this film are actually kind of basic.  There’s not much to distinguish any of them.

Jay is not anything special.  She likes boys and likes having sex.  But even there, it doesn’t seem like a deep passion.  She never shows a desire to do much more than go on dates and lounge in her backyard pool.  She doesn’t have any particular talents or special traits.  There’s signs that she has some issues in her life – she’s on some sort of medication, and her mom seems to be both distant and an alcoholic.  But the movie doesn’t go deeply into this.  She’s just Jay – an every-teen.

Similarly, her friends aren’t terribly distinguished.  Her friend Yara seems to be smart, but only because she reads a lot.  Paul is nerdy and wants mostly to just get into Jay’s pants, something he still wants even when he knows it’s a possible death sentence.  He’s a bit sleazy, holding out the bait of taking the curse from Jay as a way of getting a chance with her.  But if he has any other distinguishing traits or abilities, I don’t see them.

Jay’s sister Kelly seems to be just along for the ride.  Greg, the next door neighbor, is a cool guy, but really the most notable thing he does is stubbornly refuse to believe in the curse or that he’s in danger even after seeing a whole lot of strange stuff.  Which leads one to believe that he’s too stupid to live.  And not surprisingly, he’s the only one of the group to die.

Jay’s boyfriend Hugh, the guy who infects her, a guy who we eventually learn is really named Jeff, is a little more complex, at least insofar as he’s willing to infect Jay to avoid the curse but feels guilty about it.  But he appears less than any of the other characters, and even he isn’t exactly a layered and nuanced character.

The other characters don’t really register at all.  Certainly none of the adults in this film have any impact beyond a vague presence and sense of uselessness.

So the characters are not all that fascinating.  They’re certainly not a strong part of the film.  We’re not here to see their angst.  No, we’re here for the scares.  And as targets of the scares, these characters do all right.

Of the films we’ve seen so far, these characters are mostly reminiscent of those in ALIEN.  They are all average people facing a situation that’s anything but average.  They are certainly not larger than life.

(Note that  I’m not saying that the characters from ALIEN are as uninteresting as these.  Just that they are all cut from a similar cloth – a very realistic weave, not the larger-than-life action heroes of DIE HARD and ALIENS.  But the characters in ALIEN are more distinct, with a couple of real standouts.)

Perhaps this is a horror movie thing.  Perhaps horror works best if the characters are at a very human scale.  It helps us identify with them more.

In any event, the small size of the characters doesn’t get in the way of what’s special about this movie, which is the monster and the curse.

Now let’s look at the movie and the way it is plotted.

In a lot of ways, IT FOLLOWS is sloppier than the other films we’ve looked at.  For example, there are scenes where characters talk for a good amount of time about things that have little impact on the film.  In general, the scenes are longer here than in the other films we’ve looked at.  And the conversations more wandering.

And there’s a whole lot of establishing shots that don’t do much other than show how quiet these neighborhoods are.

One advantages of this is that it’s cheap to film.  If you want an establishing shot of an empty neighborhood, all you have to do is send out a camera operator to get the shot.  You don’t need to light it, you don’t need much crew, you don’t need any cast.  So that’s one benefit.

And it is relatively cheap to shoot a long conversation.  When shooting a scene, a significant amount of time is spent setting up the shot.  It can easily take an hour or more to set up the lights for a single closeup.  So fewer shots means a cheaper shoot, and longer scenes generally means fewer shots.  Especially when many of the scenes are outdoors, as is the case here.  Because you’re generally not doing a lot of lighting when shooting outdoors during the day.

So given that, you can see low budget choices made in the script.  That’s worth noting for the screenwriter – you definitely have to have budget in mind as you’re writing the script.  No giant scenes with hundreds of extras.  Long shots with lots of conversation.  Establishing shots of empty neighborhoods.  All of that applies here – about the only scenes that have more than a few people in them are the classroom scenes, where there’s perhaps a couple dozen people in the shot.  That’s really just one scene in a full movie.

So again, if you know what to look for, this movie, while nicely shot and well lit, looks like it didn’t cost much.  There are no name actors in it, so the payroll was probably small.  No large scenes.  Locations that are all fairly generic and were probably easy and cheap to find.  (There was one scene in the script set at the Detroit Zoo.  That scene is moved in the film to the kitchen of a restaurant.  Which is undoubtedly a lot easier and a lot cheaper to get.)  This is practically a master-class on low-budget filmmaking.

So let’s look at the plot structure.  I’m going to start with my own analysis of how to break it down.

I think this film breaks down fairly nicely into four acts and a teaser.  In this case, the teaser is the first three pages of the script and the first few minutes of the film.  A girl runs from her house.  She flees to a lake, where she sits, leaving a voicemail message for her parents, a message that sounds like a farewell.  The next morning, the girl is dead, brutally murdered.

It’s just a few pages, but it lets us know we’re dealing with life-or-death stakes, with something uncanny that preys on young women.  But we don’t have any more details.

This sets the tone for the movie.  Especially given that there’s going to be a good amount of time before things get back in a horror movie mode.  It’s enough to involve the audience, to let them know that waiting through the set-up is going to be worth it, there’s good things to come.

After the teaser, we drop into the first act.  This is all setup.  First we get a sequence where we meet Jay and her friends.  Not much happens – Jay hangs out, her friends hang out, there’s some low-level humor, Jay gets ready for a date.  All fairly innocuous.

Then there’s a sequence that contains Jay’s first date with Hugh.  There’s something strange here – Hugh is skittish, seems to run from threats that we don’t see.  Although they make out, he turns down a chance to go further, strange, given that Jay is cute.  We’re left with an odd taste in our mouth, the idea that there’s something off about this guy.

Then comes the next sequence.  We get a little more establishment of Jay’s life – a view of her college, a talk with her sister.  Then it’s on to the second date with Hugh.

Note that this is a little strange.  We’ve already set up Jay’s life – why more setup here?  It feels like narratively we’re going backwards.   It’s a little messy, a little sloppy.

But once we’re through with that, we’re back on track with the plot.  Jay goes on another date with Hugh.  This time they have sex.  And then he knocks her out with chloroform.

So, big events in this second sequence.  It’s the pivotal action – Jay has sex and therefore, without realizing it, acquires the curse.

But she discovers this fairly quickly.  Because the next sequence deals with the aftermath of sex.  She’s introduced by Hugh to the curse, first sees IT trying to get her.  He shows this to her to convince her the curse is real, then dumps her off at her home.  There’s scenes with police and her friends and all, but the key point is what happened in that parking garage: Jay is now being followed by a monster that will kill her if IT can.

And that brings us to the end of the first act.  We’ve met the characters, gotten the first hints of trouble, gotten the basic rules spelled out for us, and turned her loose.  And now the story can truly get going.  The first act accomplishes what a first act needs to accomplish – get the story off and running.

The second act covers Jay’s initial contacts with IT.  In the first sequence, IT shows up on her college campus, but she easily runs away.  But then the second sequence happens and IT breaks into her house and almost kills her.  Then in the last sequence, with her friends’ help she finds Hugh, the guy who gave her the curse.  It turns out his real name is Jeff, and he tells them all the rules of IT.

Now, Jay is awfully forgiving of the guy.  Neither she nor her friends tell him off for basically giving Jay a death sentence, and only because Jeff is too much of a weasel to deal with his own stuff.  It’s a failure of the film – and if nothing else, such a scene could provide a nice additional source of conflict.  Because you can never have too much conflict, and in this film, the only real conflict is with IT.

Either way, we’re at the end of the second act, we fully understand the threat, and now all Jay and her friends have to do is deal with it.

In the third act, things get real.  In the first sequence, Jay and friends hide out at Greg’s cabin by the lake. That’s nice for a while, and Jay learns how to shoot a pistol.  But IT eventually shows up and breaks up the party.  And, incidentally, we get one of the few effects scenes of this movie.

Because that’s another sign that this film is low-budget.  There’s almost no effects scenes.  And the few that exist are fairly easy to produce.  They mostly amount to showing IT doing things from the point of view of characters other than Jay, characters who can’t see IT.  So the scenes themselves are of an invisible IT attacking Jay.  Which is probably done with a guy in a greenscreen suit – fairly cheap and easy to do.  Heck, I’ve done some of that myself, with a greenscreen suit that costs less than a hundred bucks and fairly standard editing software.

At the end of that sequence, Jay drives off in a car and promptly gets in an accident.  She wakes up in the hospital and the next sequence is on.  Greg is nice enough to take over the curse from Jay, and I’m sure that offer has nothing to do with the fact that it means having sex with a hot nineteen-year-old.  In any event, they have sex, Greg is now cursed, but he doesn’t seem to take it too seriously.

And so, not surprisingly, in the next sequence, IT kills Greg.  Jay actually gets to witness this kill, and it’s kind of ugly.  Basically, in the guise of his mom, IT rapes Greg to death.  Ugh.  And that’s the end of the act.

Curiously, Greg is only the second death in this film.  And the last death.  For a horror film, this movie has an awfully low body count.  I still added a Deaders row to the Storylanes analysis, because it feels like tradition now.  But it’s a sparsely populated Deaders row – only Greg and Annie, the girl from the teaser, appear in it.

Anyway, Jay is once again the target of the curse, and she’s seen just what that means.  So now we’re into act four, the finale.

First Jay flees from the horror of seeing Greg killed.  She considers having sex with some randos, just to pass on the curse, but she resists the temptation, thus showing that she’s a decent person who wouldn’t trick someone into being cursed.

Though this moment is a bit underplayed.  She’s tempted for a moment, then doesn’t go through with it.  It’s not even perfectly clear that she doesn’t go through with it.  The film might benefit by having this moment be a bit more clear, by having Jay more clearly wrestle with the temptation of just going out and passing on the curse.  It seems like a major choice for such a small moment in the film.

But having refused this temptation, Jay has to decide what to do next.  And here’s the next sequence, and it’s the biggest action sequence in the film.  Paul suggests a plan, and Jay and her surviving friends try to trap IT in a swimming pool.  That doesn’t end well, but at least they get away, though Jay’s friend Yara gets accidentally shot in the leg and ends up in the hospital.

But this convinces Jay and our heroes that there’s no killing IT.  So in the next sequence, Jay finally gives Paul what he’s been wanting this whole movie – a chance to get the curse from her.  Which means, of course, a chance to have sex with her.  He takes the curse and there’s a suggestion that he passes it off to a prostitute (which is a pretty rotten thing to do).  Here again it’s not entirely clear what Paul does, and more clarity would be nice.

Finally, in the last sequence of the movie, life goes on for our heroes.  But Paul and Jay have a noticeable bond, and in the last shot there’s a strong hint that IT is still hot on the trail of the two of them.

So that’s the basic structure as I see it.  A teaser plus four acts, with each act having either three or four sequences.  And the acts are setup, first contact with IT, IT strikes hard, and the final showdown and resolution.  A fairly straight forward escalation of tension and conflict.

It’s not super-clean.  As I mentioned, there’s lots of scenes of people just hanging out, and lots of establishing shots of various parts of their world.  Watching this movie isn’t exactly riding a rocketship.

But there is tension, and there is escalation.  The structure does work.  The individual scenes of conflict with IT are effective, and they are reasonably well spaced.  Let’s look more closely at them, which I’ve added to the storylanes analysis in a lane I call IT sightings.

First off, we never see IT except when we’re seeing things from Jay’s point of view.  So IT doesn’t appear until Jay gets the curse by having sex with Hugh/Jeff.

The first few times IT appears, it’s just a scary looming presence trying to get to Jay.  And fairly easy to avoid.

But then on page 44, IT breaks into Jay’s house.  She manages to get away, but things start to get serious – Jay’s home has been invaded.

IT doesn’t actually appear again until page 71 when it attacks Jay at the lake.  This is a big appearance that includes the invisible IT attacking Jay, as seen from the point of view of Jay’s friends.  She manages to get away, but only barely.  It almost gets her.

The next appearance is on page 85 when IT kills Greg.  Again, a major escalation.

We then get a brief view of IT on Jay’s roof on page 91, but then it doesn’t appear again until page 96, when it attacks Jay in the pool.  Jay manages to get away, but only barely.  And although Paul shoots IT, we don’t think IT is killed.

Finally, in the last scene of the film on page 106, we see what might be IT, following Jay and Paul down the street.

So just as happens with the action of the film, IT’s appearances escalate in tension and conflict.  The first few times, we only see it from a distance.  Then it breaks into Jay’s house, driving her away from her home.  It next attacks at the lake, hurting Paul and getting its hands on Jay.  Then IT kills Greg.  Finally we get the attack at the pool, where IT comes close to killing Jay.

Escalating conflict, escalating monster appearances, escalating tension.  Just what we want, and all fairly well structured.

But here’s a criticism: the major confrontations with IT, while they escalate nicely, don’t really build from each other organically.  In particular, look at the two major fights with IT: the attack by the lake and the fight at the pool.

You could easily move that fight at the lake to just about anywhere and it would still work the same.  Suppose it was at a beach house, or a luxury penthouse, or horse ranch, or anywhere else you could imagine.  All you need is Greg having access to such a place and the story proceeds pretty much as it does.  It doesn’t come from anything organic in the story.

Similarly, when Paul comes up with an idea to set an ambush for IT, the pool makes for an interesting setting.  (And probably one that’s easy and cheap for the filmmakers to access.)  But it doesn’t grow organically from anything else in the film.  There’s escalating tension, sure.  But it’s not something that logically makes sense.

Contrast this with the films that we’ve looked at so far.  Ripley meets the Alien Queen in the nest because that’s where she has to go to rescue Newt, and Newt is there because an alien would naturally take a human captive back to the nest.  Similarly, the DIE HARD explosion on the roof of the building grows organically from Hans’s need to cause maximum chaos to allow him to escape in the confusion.

By comparison, Paul suggests setting a trap at the pool… because.  There’s no deeper reason, no way in which it grows organically from the rest of the story.  I think that’s one of the things that separates IT FOLLOWS from the classics that we’ve studied so far.

But all in all, a fairly straight-forward structure.  Now how does it look through the lens of our standard screenwriting models?

From a three-act structure perspective, I’m inclined to combine my acts two and three into a single act and leave my first and last acts in place.  That means the acts are the setup, ending when Jay’s comes home from her date from hell, the middle act, ending with Greg’s death, and the finale, which most notably includes the fight at the pool.

Which leads to the question: what is the inciting incident?  I think the most likely candidate is when Jay has sex with Hugh/Jeff, thus getting the curse.  But it could also be when Jay first goes on a date with Hugh.  Call it as you will.

I think the midpoint is clearly the moment when the group has found Jeff and he tells them the rules.  Note that this happens on page 59, a little late for a 107 page screenplay, but not too bad.  And it’s at the end of my act two.  So once again, we have two views of this screenplay: three acts with a midpoint in the middle of act two, or four acts where that midpoint marks an act break.  As I’ve noted before, this largely comes down to how you define acts and how committed you are to three act structure.

But note this about the midpoint.  It certainly gives definition to the second half of the film, and increases the level of conflict, this is not the world’s most dramatic midpoint.  It’s just a bunch of kids sitting in a backyard talking.  There’s no action involved at all, and no visuals of note.  So yeah, a midpoint, but not really a high point of the film like the other midpoints we’ve seen.

About the one way where this film clearly and definitely doesn’t fit three-act structure is in the inclusion of a teaser.  Because this film clearly has a teaser, and that’s not allowed for in three-act structure.  (Unless you want to claim that the teaser is part of the first act.  But most teasers, this one included, don’t really fit directly with the action that follows.  So I think it would be wrong to claim that they are part of that action, in the same act.)

So how does Save the Cat stack up for this film?

Well, there is that teaser.  To view this film through Save the cat, we have to ignore the teaser.

But with that ignored, we have a fairly good opening image, Jay leisurely floating in her backyard pool.  (This was a hot tub in the script, but at some point they used an above-the-ground backyard pool instead.)

But even aside from that, the order of beats is off, and the page numbers way off.  For example, to the extent that there is the statement of a theme, it’s in the image of Annie, horribly killed by IT.  Then the B story, which in this case is Paul’s obvious desire for Jay, is introduced almost right away, on page 5, instead of the page 30 that Save the Cat calls for.  There’s a second section of set-up that appears after Jay’s first date with Hugh, set-up that introduces her college and tells us a little more about her in a conversation that she has with her sister Kelly.  There’s the same problems with identifying the Catalyst as we had identifying the inciting incident.  And Jay never really debates whether to accept the call to action, she’s just sort of stuck with it.

Though curiously, if we think of Jay’s first date with Hugh as the catalyst, Hugh shows doubt about whether to initiate Jay to the curse.  After all, he doesn’t have sex with her on that first date, though she’s clearly willing.  So perhaps it’s Huge who debates whether or not to set things rolling, an interesting twist on the usual approach where it is the protagonist who decides whether or not to enter the adventure.

Note that an alternate B story is Greg’s fate.  We first meet Greg on page 27, which is about right for the Save the Cat B story.  But Paul’s desire for Jay is more prominent throughout the film, and so I think it better merits the B-story label.  Call Greg’s fate the C-story.

We’ve already discussed the midpoint.  The next thing worth examining is the all-is-lost moment, which seems to be when Jay is attacked at the lake house, and the dark night of the soul, which is when Jay decides to have sex with Greg and Greg ends up dead.

The rest is fairly straight forward, leading to the final image of a nervous Paul and Jay walking down the street, possibly followed by IT.  Which does make for a good pairing with the opening image of Jay, when she floats peacefully in her pool.  Her world is changed: now she’s living a hunted anxious life, but she has Paul as a partner in that life.

All in all, Save the Cat mostly works, but there is some awkwardness with some of the details.

There’s only a few things to add about the Hero’s Journey.  First, there is no real refusal of the call, though Jay does seem to have a moment where she doesn’t yet get that she’s in this new dangerous life.  And curiously, Jay’s mentor is Jeff, the guy who got her into this mess in the first place.  After all, he’s the one who tells her the rules, tells her what she has to do.  He does this in two major scenes: the scene in the garage, right after they have sex, and the scene in his backyard, after Jay and her friends hunt him down.

And from a Hero’s Journey perspective, the light at the end of Jay’s tunnel is death, when she sees how Greg is killed.  Not the normal view of the reward, but we do what we can.

Finally, I’m not sure if you can really say that Jay meets her test, unless we think that meeting her test means accepting the rules of the curse and passing the curse on to Paul by having sex with him.  And, of course, her reward is an uneasy life, always to be hunted.  Not really much of a hero’s journey.

I only really saw two subplots in this film, though there could have been one more.  The two are the story arcs of Greg and Paul, the two guys who have sex with Jay to accept the curse from her.  Greg’s arc ends badly, of course, largely because he doesn’t take the curse seriously and so ends up dead.  Paul, on the other hand, gets what he wants.  He clearly wants to have sex with Jay from the first time we meet him, and he continually offers himself up as a sacrifice for her throughout the film.  He’s a bit skeezy, actually.  But he does end up getting what he wants, and even ends up with Jay at the end.  Though given that IT seems to be stalking them, that may not last for long.

The subplot-that-might-have-been is Hugh/Jeff.  His subplot involves him passing the curse onto Jay.  Which I suppose is a full subplot of sorts.  But it doesn’t really have any resolution.  Which it could have had – even Jay and her friends holding Jeff to account for what he did to Jay would have led to some completion for that subplot.  As it is, Jeff becomes less a full character with his own story than a plot device who exists just to infect Jay with the curse.

I think this is a big loss – I really wish they had done more with Jeff.  There’s a potentially interesting story there – the guy who is willing to commit an evil act to weasel out of the curse. That seems potentially more interesting to me than Jay’s story. But the film doesn’t go there.

Do note that the three potential subplots all involve guys who sleep with Jay.

Note that there’s other hints of things going on here.  Jay seems to be on some medication.  Her mom appears to be an alcoholic, and certainly not fully aware of what’s going on in the lives of her kids.  But the movie doesn’t do anything with these beyond offering hints – there’s no full subplots here.

So what’s the theme?

Kind of obvious, really.  Don’t have sex, kids.  It will kill you.  Yeah, awfully regressive.  But there it is.

So now we’re done with the analysis, and we have the question: how is this movie?

I think it’s – okay.  Not a great movie.  And I doubt that people will be doing a deep-dive analysis of this thirty years from now.

But it’s an entertaining way to spend an hour and a half.  It does provide a good escalating set of conflicts. The monster is nicely done, with a lot of elements that make it a good source of dread.  And the twist that you can only escape, or at least delay, your fate by having sex with someone and cursing them is a nice factor, both titillating and a good moral dilemma.

And it’s a terrific example of how you can make a good horror film on a low budget.  So definitely worth studying from that perspective.

But still, I can’t help but wish that they had tightened up the story, not had quite so many long rambling and boring conversations.  And I wish they had done more with Jeff’s story, which I find more interesting than Jay’s, especially if Jeff was given a chance to redeem himself.

And finally, while the danger sequences build in scope and scale, they don’t really lead organically from one to another.  Each new sequence seems to come from nowhere – why a lake house confrontation?  Just because.  Why a final fight in a pool?  Um, because that’s where Paul first kissed Jay, something that wasn’t established early on.  It’s all a bit random, and so not entirely satisfying.

But still, IT FOLLOWS is well worth a study.  Both because you can see what worked, and because you can see why it’s not quite up to the standards of the other movies that we’ve studied.

Now, let’s finish this off with three lessons for the screenwriter.

First, a good monster doesn’t need to mean an expensive film.  If you’re creative, you can get away with a big actor wearing tighty-whities.

Second, it’s always good for the midpoint to be big and flashy.  But it doesn’t need to be – a midpoint can be just a bunch of kids sitting in a yard talking.

And third, making a cheap movie is doable.  But it does require thought and planning, with few scenes requiring lots of extras, easy-to-acquire locations, unknown, meaning inexpensive, actors, and few if any effects shots.

So that’s what we’ve got this week.  As always, check out the notes at storylanes.com for the graphical analysis that this discussion is based on.  You can also find links to the script that I used for the analysis, and for anything else that I felt like linking to.

And join us next time.  As of now, I’m planning on looking at 2019’s LITTLE WOMEN.  This is another big departure from what we’ve looked at so far.  But an interesting screenplay that does some fun stuff.  And hey, it did get nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, so it’s got to have something worth looking at, right?

This is Joe Dzikiewicz and the storylanes podcast.  Talk at you next time.

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The Storylanes Podcast gives a screenwriter’s point of view of the structure of the screenplay of movies and TV shows.  Each episode does a deep-dive analysis of one movie or show, examining how the story is structured and how al the elements come together to create the story.

Each episode also includes a chart of the scenes and other key elements of the script.  You’ll find those charts here, along with the scripts of the episodes themselves.