It Follows ***1/2 (out of 5)
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Lili Sepe, Olivia Luccardi, Daniel Zovatto, and Jake Weary
Written and directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Considering the sheer volume of filmed material that has been produced over time, it seems rather unlikely that 100% of a new film will ever be wholly ‘original’ again. Audiences are used to seeing and knowing everything- in fact, the box office tells us that they prefer their films to be familiar and unoriginal. That being said, credit is due David Robert Mitchell for It Follows. Sure, it is a horror film, and on the surface, it appears to be rather typical. Young people, sex, demons, and bad decisions flow freely here, like the many that have come before. Call it an homage, ripoff, remake, or whatever works for you, but I’d rather call it like it is- a good, tense horror film. It owes everything to prior films, yet deserves praise for how well it is made, and how earnest it is whilst presenting a tried and true premise.
Allow me to be cynical for a moment, and tell me if you’ve heard this one before: a young, white female named Jay (Monroe) from suburbia starts to fall for a guy (Weary) who may or may not be dangerous. Well, he wears an earring, and he’s brooding, so I suppose he’s dangerous. They have yet to consummate their romance, or so the film tells us, but one fateful night, they do. It doesn’t turn out well for her. Hugh (if that’s really his name) wants to show something to her, so in the middle of an awful, rundown lot of a rundown building in Detroit, he ties her to a wheelchair as something walks towards them. He can see it, but can she? If she can, it is proof that she’s now the prime target of a being/monster/demon. It will walk in her direction, no matter how far, until she is dead- unless she passes it on my having intercourse with someone else. Then the being/monster/demon will chase that person, and so on. The film’s established rules for this being/monster/demon’s powers are hardly concrete, but we’ll get to that later.
So the plot is about as familiar as it gets for a horror film- a character has premarital sex, and as a result, they are doomed to die. It Follows succeeds not because of this inevitable, typical horror setup, but rather because of the way it careens towards the inevitable, typical end. Jay is not simply a helpless victim, Hugh is not a typical ne’er-do-well, and their friends are not only lining up to be hot lunches. These are reasonably bright young people who are trying to outrun or outsmart an indestructible (it seems) villain. Mitchell is not breaking any new ground with It Follows, but he does know how to consistently manufacture tension.
He also gives us some interesting parallels to the trauma these characters experience- whether he meant to or not. Think about the horrific personification of sex in general. How many of us have had the guilt-ridden “black cloud of sex” follow us around (nearly like an inescapable demon)? Be it the way we were taught about it, the way our various religions forbid us from thinking about it, or perhaps an awkward or bad first experience- sex, as fantastic as it may be, is quite possibly the scariest monster of them all. This is a film that carries this enormous burden of sex, and we feel the weight of it.
Also consider Mitchell’s use of the city of Detroit, as the group of friends often passes south of “8 Mile Road”, encountering all of the urban decay. Consider the clear metaphor for sexually transmitted diseases, specifically AIDS, and how one moment of seeming innocence and bliss can literally haunt you to death. Playing off our existing fears and building tension is what the film does best. The being/monster/demon, whilst occasionally grotesque, is not what turns our stomach- rather, the probing of our mind and the fear it can create seems to be the target.
I did have reservations with the script’s penchant for changing the being/monster/demon’s powers at will. The rules can be difficult to follow; it can change its’ visage to resemble anyone, including those known to the victim, which is convenient to throw off the audience. We don’t know how it can do this, but only the true anal retentive viewer (like myself) cares why. Also, it can apparently only walk, not run, directly toward its’ target, but in one particular scene, it pounces on a victim as if injected with puma blood. In another scene, it can pick up inanimate objects and throw them. If it touches you, you’ll die, but apparently it’s fine if it only grabs your hair. I care about these only because I want to know why supernatural beings choose to do some things but not others. Just like other horror films before it, why slam doors and stand in corners if you can kill your target? I suppose that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun, and ultimately it doesn’t keep the viewer from enjoying the film.
As I finish this review, I’m now clear that It Follows is one big tense metaphor wrapped in an homage for the modern audience. If the film hadn’t been treated with such delicate care, it may have been easy to dismiss. We’d simply throw it on the scrap heap with the latest exorcism film or Hellraiser entry. Instead, Mitchell and the cast have created something that may not be original, but most certainly is memorable. Some critics have gotten a bit out of hand with their praise for the film and its’ unconventional yet familiar score by Rich Vreeland (also known as ‘Disasterpeace’ apparently), calling both “game-changing” or “groundbreaking”. The static-laden bass notes in the score certainly work, but are the closest things to original I heard from it, and the MIDI-inspired crescendos don’t call anything other that Carpenter’s Halloween score to mind. Hyperbole aside, I can easily recommend the film to anyone interested in more than a simple slash and burn horror experience. It has nothing new to offer, but the method of delivery is certainly different, fun, and worthy of our time.