Directed by: David Robert Mitchell || Produced by: Rebecca Green, Laura D. Smith, David Robert Mitchell, David Kaplan, Erik Rommesmo
Screenplay by: David Robert Mitchell || Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe, Bailey Spry
Music by: Disasterpiece || Cinematography by: Mike Gioulakis || Edited by: Julio C. Perez IV || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 100 minutes
Given how many promising scary flicks have released, lately, perhaps I should stop acting cynical about modern horror films. Not more than a few months ago, I had a great time with Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014), and just last night I had an equally scary and enthralling time with David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows (IF).
It Follows feels like an anachronistic story that is nostalgic for decades past, as it portrays a world where teenagers inexplicably watch black-and-white cable on 1950s-era television sets, read from cute, clam shell-shaped tablets, use cell phones and wired land-lines, and drive new millennium hybrids as well as ancient station-wagons. Maybe Mitchell is setting the scene for a horror story that could’ve taken place at any time during the last fifty years, or maybe he just loves the dream-like tone he’s established in this movie. The film’s excellent soundtrack by Disasterpiece feels reminiscent of the synth-pop scores of the 1980s, and its unabashed but non-exploitative adult content recalls the days of earlier quality slashers like John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).
Like those progenitors of the teen-slasher subgenre, IF constructs an intriguing horror-fantasy setup that feels much less arbitrary and silly than Satanic possession-films like The Conjuring (2013), nor as clumsy and gross as gore-porn like Saw (2004). IF’s titular “monster,” or curse, operates by sensible rules, which are half the fun of the movie. IF features a sexually-transmitted demon that stalks its victims by slowly but relentlessly pursuing them in various forms. It’s a chameleon that can resemble your best friend, a family member, or a complete stranger, but it always knows exactly where you are, and it always follows you until it finally catches and brutally murders you. It doesn’t say a word and is invisible to those who’ve never “contracted” the curse. The only way to get rid of this supernatural stalker is to pass it on to someone else through sex, and encourage them to do the same. If the “follower” kills a victim, it moves on to the next person who passed the curse to the previous victim.
IF is both amusing and creative for how it exploits and subverts American horror cliches. A staple of American horror movies is the blessing of virginity and the curse of promiscuity. Whenever you see characters having sex in a teen-slasher, it’s a virtual guarantee of their bloody death-sentence, while conversely the “good girl” or virginal female character most always survives or is the last remaining victim. IF exploits our fears of sexually transmitted diseases and the death of innocence through sexual contact, yet the only way to survive IF’s monster is to be promiscuous. One character even points out that girls “have it easier” since sex is always readily available to them. Amusing.
While aspects of IF’s premise may sound strange in theory, in execution they are terrifying. The movie is the ultimate stalker-victim’s nightmare. Mitchell’s use of long-takes, panoramic shots, and washed-out color palettes simulate a sort of never-ending nightmare where the characters, and by association the viewers, are always looking over their shoulders for a shape-shifting creeper that will tear them to pieces. The thematic inevitability of death permeates every frame of IF.
Much like The Babadook, IF achieves its terror through atmospheric tension and dread rather than gross-out tactics or jump-scares. IF is so relentlessly creepy that its occasional gore and jump scares do legitimately hit you in the gut, but only because you’re always on the edge of your seat looking for this near-invisible predator. For the film’s entire 100 minutes, you feel hunted.
There’s very little in IF I disliked, but the film does have some shortcomings. The score, though well-written and effective, is used a little too often for my tastes. I wanted to experience more stalkings in pure silence. The characters continue to make infrequent but noticeable dumb decisions like checking to see where the monster is around corners at their own risk, and somehow expecting to electrocute the demon when it’s seemingly impervious to bullets, and the inexplicable absence of any and all adult-figures.
Still, just because I don’t flat-out love It Follows doesn’t mean I don’t really, really like it. It’s a great horror film and a legitimately scary experience. It does what every horror movie should do, namely scare the pants off you, and it’s armed with great visuals, memorable music, and likable characters. Quirky indie-dramas like Boyhood (2014) and The Lunchbox (2013) are now getting dramatically outclassed and out-acted by stories starring sexually transmitted demons. Go figure.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: It Follows features a creative premise that pays off in spades with delicious atmosphere, constant dread, and a creepy antagonist to die for. Or have sex for. Mitchell’s surrealist multi-era setting is crafted with care and attention to detail. Everything from the Detroit suburbia locations to the characters’ minor quirks establish this film’s lived-in diegesis and disturbing thematic content. The finale’s lighting and cinematography alone are gorgeous.
— However… some inevitable inconsistencies in character and fantasy-logic abound. Horror always seems to require a bit more suspension of disbelief than it should. The soundtrack is good, but overused.
? Wear a condom next time?