It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2014)
I tend to avoid horror movies. As a teen, the Urban Legend and Final Destination franchises had me shaking in my boots, and The Craft was absolutely terrifying. Not just the snakes, but the bit where she loses her hair OH MY GOD. My worst nightmare. It’s not difficult, however, to see the appeal in the horror genre. There is something exciting about having the absolute shit scared out of you when you’re in a safe and comfortable environment, and the psychoanalytic side of horror is intriguing. When I heard that It Follows was being touted as one of the “scariest horror films of all time” I had to see what all of the fuss was about. But I made sure to see it during the day time.
Jay (Maika Monroe) is just your typical girl from the suburbs, excited about a date with a cute guy (Jake Weary). Before long they’re shagging in his car, which turns out to be a BIG mistake, and not in the usual way. After they do the deed, he regretfully informs her that he has passed on a ‘thing’ to her. Also not in the usual way. Jay will now be followed by this thing, which takes on the form of various people, including her loved ones. If it catches up to her, it will kill her. It will continue to follow her until she passes it on to someone else by having sex with them. However, if the person being followed is killed, it will go back to the previous person in the chain. WHAT a boner killer!
Given my general avoidance of horror, I don’t have much to compare with, although I’m fairly certain that It Follows is not one of the scariest films in the genre. In fact, it’s not even close. Those who believe in the supernatural may be sufficiently freaked out, but for non-believers it’s pretty easy to separate truth from fiction and move on with your life once you leave the theatre. Wolf Creek, on the other hand, continues to be one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen. Because serial killers exist!
Though it’s far from the scariest film you will find, that’s not to say it wasn’t creepy as hell. A couple of scenes were incredibly disturbing, especially those that exploited the sexual side of horror. The ‘thing’ acts as a clear allegory for sexually transmitted diseases, although interestingly, the characters involved are past their teen years, unlike in many other scream fests. Jay isn’t a virgin, calling into question ideas about the film reflecting themes about the loss of innocence. Teen sex is often presented as a rebellious, risky, forbidden act that characters are ultimately punished for, while here they’re able to legally consent to sex, and yet they still get screwed (in the metaphorical sense).
Director and screenwriter David Robert Mitchell, in only his second feature film, knows how to work his audience. The film’s tricks are easy to spot, and yet the viewer remains helpless in doing anything to beat them. The tension is rife, and even though you know you are likely to get a sudden scare, it remains impossible to predict exactly when this will occur. You can do what I did and cover your face for half the movie, but it makes it harder to watch the film, obviously.
It Follows is stylistically impressive, with the cinematography particularly strong for a horror film. Rich Vreeland’s score is mega-freaky and effective, and it complements the ambiguous time setting of the film. The performances by relative unknowns are commendable – Maika Monroe has a Hilary Duff-ish look, but has added edge. Keir Gilchrist, as the guy hopelessly in love with her, is your quintessential cute dork, while Daniel Zovatto’s laidback dude seems like a throw-back to 1980s teen heart-throbs. In fact, the whole film had a weird Freaks and Geeks vibe, even though it’s supposedly set in the current day. OR IS IT?
If you’re a horror fan, It Follows is not to be missed. It doesn’t rely on gore, nor does it abandon it completely. It manipulates the viewer, but it does it so well you can only applaud it for doing so. It may not be the scariest film ever made, but it sure is unsettling. Watch your back.