In an era where the over-utilization of rapid cuts and jump scares characterize the genre, genuinely frightening horror films are a much-appreciated rarity. The modern-day John Carpenters who strive to tap into our deepest fears and psyches are an endangered species. Frankly, I don’t understand why. Sure the horror genre possesses a reputation for derivative sequel cash-ins, but it has also served as an outlet for some truly innovative story-telling. As movies such as George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, or Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook have taught us, budget does not guarantee artistic resonance like a talented storyteller can. Upon being forced into a tiny fiscal box, these directors pulled from both imagination and clever problem-solving to create some iconic and poignant explorations into the things we dread the most. Which brings me to David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows: a film that has garnered quite the critical reputation over the last couple of months as the next in a small line of modern horror classics. While I can’t say it’s on quite the same level as The Babadook or will even be considered a “horror classic” in the future, I can’t deny just how layered, thought-provoking, and terrifyingly intense It Follows is.
Jay (Maika Monroe) is a young and beautiful college student with both her idyllic romanticism and her virginity intact. This changes once she goes on a date with a boy named Hugh (Jake Weary) who, in the act of having sex with her, saddles Jay with a mysterious and horrifying curse. The mythology behind the creature is left purposefully ambiguous, but as the title suggests, it will relentlessly follow her until it either kills her or she manages to have sex with another person in order to transfer the curse to them. At first, Jay doesn’t believe Hugh, but it gradually becomes clear just how inescapable this situation is. Sure the creature approaches her at a walking pace consistent with Jason Voorhees, but it never stops dogging her and is invisible to all except those who possess or have passed on the curse. Yes there is only one such creature pursuing her, but it can shift into any humanoid form that it could use to get close to its prey: especially friends and family. And in regards to her loved ones, their belief or doubt in her dilemma is irrelevant: unless she looks over her shoulder every possible moment, it could sneak up on her and strike without anyone being the wiser. Severely paranoid and grappling with the increasing likelihood of her demise, Jay must find a way to either kill the creature or pass on the curse before It consumes her.
While the cast is certainly enjoyable and watching Maika Monroe slowly break down into disillusioned dread is particularly effective, the real star of It Follows is David Robert Mitchell’s direction. That’s because at its heart, It Follows is an 80s slasher flick with an abundance of atmosphere and subtlety to elevate it beyond its genre origins. Throughout the film, Mitchell avoids conventions such as jump scares or gore and relies instead upon creeping tension and the growing hopelessness of the characters. Take for example the first time the creature comes after Jay, who sees the creature hobbling towards her from across campus as she sits inside of a class. The reveal and continued exposure of a horror movie monster is usually a detriment to a viewing experience that is dependent upon its ability to scare and intrigue the audience. However, the point of the creature is its inescapability: like the certainty of death, It will always manage to run down and consume its victims. Whether you know of its approach or can see it coming from a distance like Jay can is entirely pointless as the final outcome is the same. As such, Mitchell finds ingenious ways to frame the creature and manipulate distance: immersing the audience in Jay’s terror and maligning the simple act of someone walking in the background into something intense and eerie.
This brings me to perhaps the greatest aspect of the film: the minimalism radiating through every aspect of its production. On a reported budget of $2 million, It Follows is a very efficient film: utilizing an array of differing locations to imbue Jay’s repeated escape attempts with both reality and futility. The creature, mostly shown to the audience as either a human disguise or an invisible force, is made all the more sinister by just the simple usage of rotating faces and applying the occasional practical effect. The cinematography is well-done but never shows off: crafting highly competent camera work without shoving its style down the throats of its audience. And as for the score by Disasterpeace, his unsettling blend of electronic and chip-tune music is nothing short of amazing. It’s a deceptively simple score at first glance, but its brilliance becomes apparent as it seamlessly accents this instinctual creature even as Jay tries to rationalize against it. Disasterpeace recognizes the power behind the monster’s deliberate lack of complication, and augments that with something equally simple and immensely effective. I loved it so much that I had to get the soundtrack as soon as I’d finished It Follows, and I would even go so far as to predict Disasterpeace’s score only growing in acclaim as more time passes.
Now while I appreciate the film’s deliberate withholding of its mythology, I think that the film’s main weakness stems from its lack of exploration into the cause of Jay’s curse: Hugh as a character. Yes he provides us enough exposition to kick off Jay’s descent into fear, but he is utilized quite sparingly in the movie and raises a couple too many unanswered questions. I would have liked to know more concerning how the curse and its rules were passed down to him as well as the psychological ramifications of surviving the curse with the knowledge that you’ve doomed someone else. Also, the iconic moment from the trailer where Hugh has chloroformed Jay and tied her up makes no sense, as he did this after he’s already passed it on to her: making it feel like a gimmick to pad out the trailer more than anything else. Overall though, It Follows is a pretty great horror movie that was a refreshing and innovative waltz between humanity and the fear we harbor towards our inevitable expiration.