By Michael Arruda
It follows that since IT FOLLOWS received all kinds of positive buzz and hype that I might have had too high expectations for this one.
I liked this simple thriller just fine.
IT FOLLOWS opens with a teenage girl fleeing from some unseen terror. The next morning she turns up brutally murdered.
The action switches to 19 year-old Jay Height (Maika Monroe) on a date with Hugh (Jake Weary), a guy she is really interested in. Gotta do a better job picking your dates, Jay. After the two have sex, Hugh drugs Jay, and when she awakes, she is tied to a wheelchair. Hugh explains that he’s not going to hurt her, but that he restrained her so he could tell her the truth: he is being followed by some unknown entity, and now by having sex with Jay, he has passed on the curse to her, and if she wants to get rid of the curse, she’ll have to have sex with someone else.
Can someone say padded cell?
That’s certainly what Jay is thinking, until a naked woman shows up and starts slowly walking towards her and Hugh. This entity only has to touch you, and you die, so as long as you outrun it, you’re safe, but it never stops pursuing you. Ever.
Hugh quickly whisks Jay away from the woman and brings her back home, but he tells her to remember all that he told her. Jay thinks he’s nuts and a creep, until once again, this time an elderly woman- who no one else seems to see- shows up at her school and follows her, causing Jay to up and run from the building.
Jay confides in her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), and with the help of their friends, Paul (Keir Gilchrist), Yara (Olivia Luccardi), and Greg (Daniel Zovatto), they vow to get to the bottom of this mystery and protect Jay’s life in the process.
While this may sound like just another bad teenager horror movie, or a recycled plot from an old SCOOBY DOO cartoon, IT FOLLOWS is anything but bad and recycled. It’s exceedingly fresh and effective.
Let’s start with the entity, the “monster” that is inflicting harm on the teenagers. This entity is unlike what we’ve seen in horror movies of late – it’s not a demon or a ghost or an alien, but then again, maybe it is. The film never quite defines just what “it” is, and this is part of what makes this movie work so well. It doesn’t need to define its villain.
What this force does is effective enough on its own. It simply walks—never runs— towards its intended victim, and when it touches them, it kills them. So, if you’re the hunted, like Jay, you have to constantly outrun this thing because it never stops, which reminded me a little bit of the premise from the first TERMINATOR movie way back when. The fear here is its relentlessness. Sure, it moves like a turtle, but it never stops, which means, eventually people like Jay are going to grow weary, tired, fall asleep, what have you, and that thing will catch up to them and kill them.
It also looks different to everyone who sees it, and to those it’s not hunting, it’s invisible. This might not sound like much in the scare department, but you’ll be surprised at how creepy the image of an old woman walking listlessly towards the camera can be.
Which brings me to another thing I loved about IT FOLLOWS: its simplicity. Things here work on such an unpretentious level, and the movie generates scares so effortlessly just by having people walking towards their victims, it’s refreshing and for those of us who love horror it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
Writer/director David Robert Mitchell succeeds in making an extremely stylish and terrifying horror movie. He also captures the feel of run down Detroit neighborhoods which adds to the mood of this one.
Mitchell’s style here is reminiscent of John Carpenter’s work on HALLOWEEN (1978). The shots of the homes, and the teens walking outside, brought to mind similar shots which Carpenter used in his masterpiece HALLOWEEN. There’s one scene in particular where Jay is sitting in a classroom and she looks out the window to see the old woman approaching which reminded me an awful lot of a similar scene in HALLOWEEN where Jamie Lee Curtis is sitting in a classroom and when she looks out the window she sees the car driven by Michael Myers parked out front.
Mitchell’s work here clearly calls to mind horror movies from the 1970s and 1980s, and the look of this movie is helped a lot by its masterful music score by Rich Vreeland, listed in the credits by his nickname “Disasterpeace.” The music has a major impact on this movie and really calls to mind scores from the 1970s/1980s horror movies, especially the music of John Carpenter.
The cast here is also excellent. Maika Monroe is terribly sexy as Jay, and she succeeds in making her both strong and vulnerable at the same time. Lili Sepe is just as good as Jay’s sister Kelly.
Keir Gilchrist nails his role as Paul, the slightly nerdy friend who has a thing for Jay and vows to protect her. For obvious reasons, he wants to have sex with her, but in this case by offering to have sex with her he’ll also be helping her because it will remove the curse from her. Jay resists his offer because she values his friendship and doesn’t want him to be harmed. A nice bit of symbolism here for those friends who struggle with moving on to the next level of their relationship, fearing that dating could ruin a friendship.
Likewise, Olivia Luccardi is excellent as Yara, as is Daniel Zovatto as their street smart friend Greg.
In addition to being a creepy horror movie, David Robert Mitchell’s script also works on a symbolic level. The characters by having sex pass on the “curse” to the person they have sex with, like an STD or the AIDS virus, and like AIDS, while the entity can be controlled, it can never be eradicated. It keeps following you forever.
There’s also a weird time element going on in the film which might be a distraction for some folks but wasn’t for me. The film looks like it takes place in the 1970s/80s, and some of the action in this film backs this up: the characters watch television on old TV sets which use antennas, and as far as I know, television nowadays is all digital- there are no broadcast stations anymore, and the characters watch old black and white movies. No one uses cell phones or other electronic devices, the teens play board games rather than video games, and the cars aren’t the newest models. However, in several scenes, Yara is definitely reading from kindle device. Hmm.
This didn’t really bother me because nothing in the movie clearly defines the action as taking place in the 1970s or 80s. There’s no news footage on TV of Ronald Reagan addressing the nation, for example, and the year this film takes place is never mentioned. This could just be one quirky family who watches black and white movies on old TVs – we never see anyone use the antenna on top of the TV – it could just be there for show. And the cars could all be older models because the folks in this neighborhood might not be able to afford newer ones.
Writer/director David Robert Mitchell has said he did these things because he wanted this film to be timeless, and I don’t have a problem with this. It’s been done before. One of the most famous horror series of all time, the Universal FRANKENSTEIN series, for example, never defined its timeline, and those films have always worked. For me, this time question only added to the style of this movie.
IT FOLLOWS is one of the more satisfying horror films I’ve seen in a long while. Yet, I can see how some viewers might be disappointed. It’s not full of gore, it doesn’t have the traditional shock scenes, and there’s no major villain or monster, other than the “force” which appears in the form of regular people.
In a way, the simplicity of IT FOLLOWS also reminded me a bit of the minimalism of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999). When BLAIR WITCH first came out, most of us bought into it (I did) and found it incredibly creepy even though nothing horrifying is ever really shown in the film, but there were naysayers who because nothing horrifying was shown on screen thought the film overrated and silly.
I could see the same thing happening with IT FOLLOWS.
But IT FOLLOWS deserves to be seen because it works so well. To generate horror isn’t easy. Those of us who write horror know this firsthand. It’s certainly easier doing it with shock scenes and blood and gore, and so when someone comes along like David Robert Mitchell in this case and makes a film that is as unsettling as this one is with so few visual effects and traditional scares, that’s kinda special.
IT FOLLOWS is definitely worth a trip to the theater. But be forewarned. When you leave the theater and you find yourself looking over your shoulder, should you see some lethargic looking stranger ambling in your direction, take my advice: run!