“It Follows” Review


It Follows

Released: March 13, 2015 (US)

Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Lili Sepe, Olivia Luccardi

Director: David Robert Mitchell

Studio: RADiUS-TWC

It not only follows; it rules. 

Simultaneously reminiscent of forgotten 80 VHS horror gem “The Kiss”, 90s big studio vehicle “Fallen” and underrated 21st century graphic novel series “Tag”, this subtle shocker works on multiple levels and lovingly plays tribute to many classic genre tropes while also maintaining a level of innovation that I know will likely take repeated viewings to fully understand. Regardless, appreciation was immediate and there is no doubt that coupled with other recent offerings (“The Babadook,” “The Guest,” and “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” ) a new generation is leading the charge of an undeniable horror Renaissance where the past is celebrated while the future is made.

After a short sharp opening, “It Follows” the protagonist Jay, a fresh faced Michigan teenager whose coming of age involves dates with Hugh, an attractive and athletic beau who despite some odd behavior continues to maintain her interest as their passion results in some hot moonlit automobile action. Shortly thereafter, Jay is knocked out, tied up and delivered the terrible news that she is the immediate recipient of a curse wherein the carrier will soon be stalked by pursuers invisible to all others and that if captured they will kill her and then hunt down the individual who passed it on. Realizing the very real threat, Jay gathers her sister Kelly and friends Paul, Yara, and Greg to uncover the truth and stop the assault of the assailant(s) before it’s too late. While this is the basic outline and premise of “It Follows,” a multitude of themes add hearty meat to the bones of this lean 100 minute feature.

“It Follows” permeates with elements of voyeurism, how we react to interest and obsession, the isolation puberty often imposes and the hallmark constant of dying (and fates worse than it) that excellent horror films carry. There is an overwhelming sense of dread as the bulk of the feature seeps with paranoia, even before the unyielding pursuit of the antagonists arrive. It’s the pains of growth and in many instances, the lack thereof. Jay and those closest to her are well in the midst of discovering that the future is grim and what keeps us together also tears us apart. Everyone is at some sort of crossroads and what lies ahead are dead end streets; it is revealed that they all have taken different paths but end up closer than ever, united in the fate that what follows is both supernatural and so very ordinary. Jay talks about her childhood daydreams of the future shortly before they are crushed by the curse, while Paul and Greg yearn for Jay in very different ways (as Kelly and Yara also wish to be her) and everyone realizes that the illusion of suburban safety is a paper thin veil and it will eventually decimate or suffocate them…if “it” doesn’t get to them first.

Yet in the end, it boils down to the classic dyad of sex and violence but not in the usual manner most scary movies bank on; no, this is one that will get under your skin and not give up until its ripped apart. Despite a few scenes of graphic violence and outright horror (though the ones that happen here count and hit harder due to being parceled out appropriately), “It Follows” caters to neither the modern gorehounds clamoring for the next “Saw” or “Hostel” franchise nor the current crop of monster kids raised on spectral heavy screen favorites like “Paranormal Activity” and “Insidious.” It’s a throwback and an homage but in the end, I found its core identity in what Lovecraft focused on- far from cinematic embodiment of his works or those of his Mythos missionaries but it does dwell on his core tenet that the greatest fear is the fear of the unknown. What exactly is “following” is never revealed fully (something I cherish in horror which is a nearly extinct species); ambiguity is so important because life is not built upon definitive answers so why should death be?

The great moral question raised by “It Follows” is carried well by Jay who knows she can wield her sexuality as a weapon to divert the ominous, unnamed evil but is immensely conflicted on engaging in any activity with individuals who are not aware of the potential consequences. Obviously, it is easy to pin its central plot point as a sex negative allegory or parable on monogamy but “It Follows” is genuine in its attempts to deconstruct and debate these quandaries while being chased by an unstoppable, relentless invisible aggressor.  While this has been hinted at in films like Friday The 13th for years (a theory whose merit F13 screenwriter Victor Miller denies to this day as either intentional or factual) I find this to be a fascinating battleground between the belief that there is karmic justice for those absent Nancy Regan morals in the majority of horror flicks past and present and that there is no intended assault on those who simply are often in a “wrong place, wrong time” situation or even if they did invite trouble, the punishment certainly did not fit the crime.  This is vital especially in the perceived sin of sex, the important ideas of a debate that hasn’t been explored in some time in the genre with only a handful of worthwhile selections, mostly in essays but few on screen. A strange aside is that a film I thought of frequently as “It Follows” rolled on was the enormous but ultimately wasted potential of the Wes Craven/Kevin Williamson 2005 vehicle “Cursed” which (SPOILER ALERT) made lycanthropy a sexually transmitted disease. While very much apples and oranges, the essence of that idea (sex=evil) was frequent but not heavy handed in “It Follows,” only adding to its bevy of charms.

Throughout “It Follows” there are stark images of nudity or menacing figures clad in torn shards of white cloth, granting an ethereal and evocative feel- sometimes an essence of eroticism permeates but more often than not, even among the young and attractive, there is a sinister core that makes it androgynous and repulsive. Despite filling the flexible villain role, they are undoubtedly the forms of the previous victims of “it” and there is a remarkable sadness to these appearances- I felt an empathy for the innocent spirit the evil took over. The apex of this was the encounter Jay has in the kitchen launching the full bore onset of the attack- the girl who manifests is a blend of creeping savagery and undeniable sadness. I can’t quite describe it to a T as I think it’s just something you feel. Sometimes “it”  duplicate the ones you love as previously warned by Hugh while other times they are complete strangers. Yet even the familiar faces have some portion that is well, not quite right. They are different, damaged, incomplete and it leads to a spine tingling aura whenever they appear. The placement of these characters in literal location and pacing into the view of the audience is particularly effective, a slow burn until you can practically feel the screen sear, a powder keg on the edge of explosion. There were numerous gasps from the crowd as flesh and fear was on display in a varied mass of forms, most of which had a chilling effect- it was not traditional “body horror” but equally effective- a mutated strain of the subgenre to feast upon.

A lot of scenes and sets focused on the water, which in cinema usually symbolizes power but also the untold depths and what lurks beneath surface- intentional or not, I found a primal beauty in these parts and the affected viewpoint that somehow their escape will come with a cleansing, rebirth, freedom; baptism unbridled. There is also a bread crumb trail of clues that allow the viewer to draw their own conclusions on how and why the pieces fit; some particular favorites include the numerous photos of family and friends that highlight the past and seem to be a foreshadow the future while there is an ominous X on Jay’s finger that garners attention immediately after her night with Hugh and the guidepost of “The Idiot” a book Yara reads throughout the movie.  The time period is never completely revealed but is colored with shades of 80s, 90s and 00s and its environs (much like my favorite horror feature of the last few years “found.”); besides a few noticeable makes & models, it could be any place in the pop culture zenith of the last 30 years. The only truly bizarre give away comes from Yara who is utilizing what looks to be an e-reader contained within a compact or birth control pill case that appears like offspring born from somewhere between the parental stock of “Degrassi” and “Star Trek.”

The cinematography, courtesy of Mike Gioulakis is gorgeous with a brilliant use of perspectives distributed through wide angle lenses that will make your pupils pop trying to take it all in; I especially enjoyed the contrasting images of urban decay and suburban claustrophobia with untamed wilderness and natural beauty.  The Detroit landscape and its surrounding confines are the stomping grounds of writer/director David Robert Mitchell and he scripts vivid discussions of it, including one especially thoughtful soliloquy (with plenty more interwoven throughout the film) as the characters mediate on their environment with physical tells when walking around their often sinister sprawl. Fever dream imagery in the vein of “Nightmare on Elm Street”, “Phantasm” and “Carnival of Souls” was present, drawing out the darkness from everyday objects and individuals, bright daytime settings and intimate settings that should be much safer and sweeter instead of places and people with no exits or hope.

Disasterpeace’s score is a major standout, very much in the vein of Carpenter, Frizzi and Goblin. Instead of the synthpop sugary sweetness to contrast with unsettling images on screen a la fare like “Drive” and “The Guest”, the on screen displays of boredom, lust and danger is conveyed through haunting swells, sharp stingers and lasting melodies. Every composition fit like a glove and like many of his forebears output, the impact of “It Follows” would be diminished without it- keep your ear out for Rich Vreeland; this is a master in the making.

Unfortunately, if there is a failing to “It Follows” it’s that it rarely can keep up the energy. The final third carries a necessary desperation from its cast but it also feels tired and unable to find proper footing. A logic derived from the frantic lack of focus embodied by most teenagers has them not just running for their lives but going from all out war to complete submission, a little too quickly sometimes. The casts occasional Scooby Doo like tactics may even evoke memories of Monster Squad or other unintentional light hearted horror comedy fare but it falls flat in spots. Thankfully, the few instances inclined to actually make you chuckle or smile are real and never overbearing.

Disappointment was audible among the bulk of the crowd at my initial showing, likely because it didn’t deliver on the in your face scares and overt action that was no doubt expected by casual fans. There are valid reasons I could see many would have for not enjoying this film and though “It Follows” is imperfect, it’s still good; really good. For every genre aficionado, this is extremely important because as older, burnt out heads are seeking the next big thing or small independent feature and the newer converts to the cause who are in a state of option overload, “It Follows” and it’s present pattern of success stands as a victory for both.  This is one of a scant few independent horror films to garner major mainstream acclaim and distribution in the last decade and with good reason: “It Follows” focuses on terror, not horror. There were a few jump scares but they felt proper- it was the unnerving nature of both the titular evil and what it drew out of it’s on screen characters. Like any truly great horror film, It Follows long after you’ve left your seat, dwelling upon the unsettling and unwavering possibilities that exist in the world we know…and the one we don’t.




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