It Follows Offers Intriguing But Uneven Horror
A girl sprints out of the front door of her nondescript suburban house. The sun is setting. The girl is scantily clad and out of her mind with panic. She dashes into the middle of the street, stops, not sure what do do next. The girl’s father comes outside and asks her if everything is okay. Clearly it’s not, and the girl runs back into her house. She emerges again holding car keys. She hops in the car and tears out of there at high speed. We next see her on a moonlit deserted beach, babbling into a cellphone, telling her parents that she loves them. Finally, the sun has come up. The girl is on the beach, dead.
As movies go, It Follows has a hell of an opening. It grabs our attention with filmmaking that’s, while low-key, very self-assured. There’s a simple and effective hook, along with some solid performances. Unfortunately, there’s some dodgy FX, set pieces that go nowhere, and a tone that feels restrained when it should be bursting at the seams.
After the opening, we meet Jay (Maika Monroe) a suburban girl just on the cusp of adulthood. She’s got a date with Hugh (Jake Weary), a good-looking guy who seems to be nice, has a kickass car and fantastic taste in movies. Despite a somewhat weird date, Jay likes him, and they sleep together. While enjoying the afterglow, Hugh chloroforms her. Tied to a chair, she wakes up in what looks like an abandoned parking garage. Despite this ungentlemanly move, Hugh doesn’t try to hurt her. He explains to her that’s he’s passed on a curse to her through sex. A silent and expressionless creature, which can assume the form of anyone and can only be seen by the hunted, will now pursue her at walking speed. If it catches her, it will kill her. The only way to get the hunter off her trail is for her to have sex with someone else. Here’s the catch-if the person she has sex with is killed, the beast will resume pursuing her. I assume it then follows the line of sexual succession all the way back through senior citizens that passed the curse along decades ago.
With the help of her friends Paul (Keir Gilchrist), Yara (Olivia Luccardi), Kelly (Lili Sepe) and Greg (Daniel Zovatto), Jay has to come to terms with the curse and struggle to stay alive. That becomes tricky, since the creature always knows where she is and inexorably comes after her.
Along with Westerns and Superhero movies, Horror movies tend to offer the greatest amount of flexibility when it comes to thematic elements and metaphor. Is The Babadook a metaphor for a child ruining a parent’s life? Sure. Is John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing an analogy for the AIDS crisis? Yeah, among other things. Luckily, It Follows doesn’t fall back on the lame “sex=death” cliche that so many horror movies focus on.
There’s a few sly jabs towards gender and promiscuity (“You’re a girl! You can sleep with anyone!”), but that’s not the main focus. Instead, It Follows is a movie about being caught in the inevitable pull of adulthood. There’s very few grown-up characters in the film, and Jay and her posse never get their parents involved. They try to handle the situation themselves, but constantly react like teens would. They flee to a beach house and proceed to…play on the beach. Not a lot of pragmatism or forward planning with this bunch.
Writer/director David Robert Mitchell does good work with creating an atmosphere of creeping dread. Other directors go for cheap jolts by having a person/cat/whatever leap out of nowhere for a scare. With one exception, Mitchell doesn’t do that here. Things are more unsettling in a weird, dreamlike way, and the various actors Mitchell uses to play the creature all have distinctive, striking looks. He shoots most of his locations in a flat, nondescript style, like John Carpenter’s Halloween, to create an Everytown vibe. Speaking of Carpenter, It Follows has an 80’s synth-pop soundtrack by Disasterpeace that’s an obvious callback to Carpenter’s work. A little too obvious.
So is it one of those horror movies, like The Descent or The Cabin In The Woods, that raises the bar on the whole horror genre? Not quite. Mitchell has a good bit of work to do when it comes to staging set pieces and using special effects effectively. He’s clunky and not fluid enough. There’s also a baffling scene set at a pool. The kids plug in what seems like dozens of appliances and place them around the pool. Why are they doing it? Is is a trap for the creature? They cook up what seems to be a huge plan, but in the end it doesn’t matter. Also, Mitchell’s characters are restrained…too restrained. For a movie about sex and death, there needs to be a pulse. We should feel energy that’s primed to explode just below the surface, but too often characters either stare at each other quasi-meaningfully or recite tormented quotes about mortality. Maika Monroe does pretty solid work carrying the movie on her shoulders. She’s good-good enough, really, but down the road I think we’ll see her do really good work.
While It Follows doesn’t quite work, it’s a film that’s striving for originality. It’s got a point of view and something to say. Given the choice between a noble failure or a lazy slasher clone, I’ll take the former.