Film: It Follows
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Primary Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Lili Sepe, Olivia Luccardi
US Release Date: 27 March 2015
Fun fact: I was halfway through writing this review when my computer restarted to update. I guess I hadn’t bothered to save my draft before that, because everything I wrote was lost forever. Damn.
Full disclosure: The fact that I even saw It Follows in a movie theater (nearly a week ago) is still a little bit surprising me. I very rarely watch non-Hitchcock Hollywood horror films, and I pay to watch them even less. This is not because I have anything against the genre or believe that it is not capable of producing quality cinema; rather, I’ve just never really felt drawn to it, and don’t have much experience with it. In fact, it’s certainly possible that my lack of familiarity with horror and its tropes affected my viewing of It Follows. Perhaps it references films that I know nothing of. Perhaps it is more original, inspired, or subversive than I realize. Feel free to let me know if this is the case.
It Follows: Horror in Adolescent Suburbia
After the teenager(ish) Jay (Monroe) has sex with Hugh (Weary), Hugh tells her that he has passed something on to her. That something (which takes the shape of various creepy and sometimes naked people) begins following her immediately. It may walk slowly (so slowly, that she can escape it for a while just by getting into a car and driving for a bit), but it never stops. Hugh also tells her that he cannot let It touch her, because it will kill her if it does and that she can get rid of It by sleeping with someone else.
As one might expect, Jay becomes incredibly terrified, skittish, and distraught once she realizes that something is following her. At first, her friends (Sepe, Luccardi, and Gilchrist) think that she is overreacting and try to convince her that everything is ok. Eventually, they realize that, whatever It is, it is dangerous and is not simply in Jay’s head (at least, not exclusively).
While It Follows isn’t quite the life changing or mind-blowingly intelligent contemporary horror film that some seem to think it is, it is a beautifully shot and stylish piece of entertaining and mildly thought-provoking cinema all the same. Maika Monroe makes for a perfectly watchable lead, and the film’s retro(ish) and atmospheric electronic score is both dread-inducing and remarkably memorable.
One of the very best things about It Follows is the way that it is shot. The film’s visuals are often strikingly beautiful, but there is always an undercurrent of darkness in them that strengthens and film’s bleak and foreboding atmosphere. Moreover, the fact that many of the film’s shots combine a certain beauty (either in subject matter or composition) with an undeniable and threatening eeriness reinforces the film’s interest in that strange, relentless, and horrific something that haunts the lives of even the most waspy suburbanites.
The film also features the frequent (and skilled) use of wide shots. This—paired with the film’s particular subject matter and monster—makes it so that viewers of It Follows are constantly scanning the background of shots for It. This this is not a film where viewers are constantly worried that the monster might jump out at them from around some dark corner; rather, this is a film where one must constantly be on the lookout for an entity that operates
(with some caveats) in plain sight. The films also features a number of slow panning shots that effectively mimic the act of scanning a scene or room for the threatening It. With its camerawork (as well as with its plot), It Follows seeks to instill its viewers with a creeping sense of paranoia; for the most part, it succeeds in doing so.
A Quality Score
There are probably some who will say that the film’s score is over-the-top, but I (quite clearly) do not agree with them.
I understand them sort of, but they are wrong. In fact, the score for It Follows is quite possibly my favorite thing about the film.
Somewhat like the Gone Girl score (which was my favorite of 2014), the music in It Follows vacillates between the terrifying and the strangely pleasant. At the same time, it is always ominous and often heart-pounding. There is something deliberately throw-backy
(there I go inventing words again) in the film’s electronic score (in this way, it reminds me just a bit of Drive) that contributes to the timeless feeling that the film frequently seeks to achieve and maintain.
Sex as a Source of Horror
It Follows uses sex as a tool through which it explores a number of horrors. To a certain degree, exactly what the monstrous It is or is meant to stand for is left open to interpretation, which is certainly a good thing. At the same time, It is clearly connected with sex and, by association, with adolescence and with growing up.
Those who choose not to look beneath the surface of the film, may be frustrated by just how easily the It that stalks Jay can be understood as a sort of monstrous and murderous STD. However, while this is one way to understand the film, it is not the only way (nor is it the most interesting).
Given the way that it is tied to sex and to coming of age, the It in It Follows can also be seen to represent just about any anxiety, emotional burden, shame, or sense of guilt that can be understood to be a result of sexual activity or of finding one’s way to adulthood.
The fact that the It is always out there and that it is always relentlessly following someone makes it possible for it to be understood as the general sense of existential dread that comes with leaving childhood.
It could also be a representation of any sort of unwelcome knowledge or realizations that can be tied to sex and growing up. Certainly, the fact that the strange entity has a habit of appearing to its target as a (usually naked) version of one of their parents seems to support this. To grow up and to have sex is to realize what sex is, which is also to realize what your parents did to bring you into the world.
The fact that the only way to get the damn thing to stop following you (temporarily) is to pass it on to someone else (and possibly kill them in the process) adds an additional facet of darkness to the whole thing.
The monster in It Follows is more than a plot device. While this is a good thing and indicates a certain intelligence on behalf of the filmmakers, the film’s refusal to clarify its monster’s origins or to pin down a more narrow and definite interpretation of it is sure to frustrate a number of viewers. That said, whatever the It entity is, it’s certainly creepy, and it will not rest until it claims us all.
Not Quite As Layered or as Terrifying as I Had Hoped
It Follows has a number of weaknesses, but the most damaging is the underdevelopment of its plot and its lack of depth. Yes, the film is more than surface, but it is also far less complex and layered than it seems to want to be. At the same time, the film’s characters and story do not have enough behind them to make up for the its somewhat disappointing monster and scope.
The film’s underwritten characters and sparse story are also not enough to make up for the fact that this “horror” film really isn’t that scary. It Follows is definitely creepy to a point, and it may even have you looking over your shoulder for a few minutes after you leave the theater, but I doubt it’ll haunt your dreams or stick with for very long.
The film also loses steam about halfway through. While I did like the final shot, It Follows goes out with a sizzle instead of a bang. In fact, it seems to exhaust its material well before reaching its climax.
If it were scarier, more complex, and in possession of a better script, It Follows would be a much more solid film—if it had all three at once, it may have even been great.
Until Next Time
It Follows isn’t perfect by a long shot, but it’s a smart and well made teen-centric horror film all the same. If you go into the film with overblown expectations (as I did), then you are sure to be disappointed. If you want to be shocked and grossed out by gore and shocking images (not my thing), you won’t be. That said, if you are on the fence about seeing It Follows, go ahead and do it. (There are far worse ways to spend $9). If you accept the film on its own terms and allow it to be itself—or if beautifully shot retro-inspired horror sounds like your idea of a good time—then Mitchell’s latest mostly gets the job done.
Also, I just want to give everyone a heads up and say that depending on how busy I am with work, I may have to post somewhat less often over the next month or so. I really need to force myself to finally study for the GRE, and doing so will cut into the time that I typically reserve for watching and rambling about movies.
Then again, maybe I won’t be as busy in the coming weeks as I think I will. Who the hell knows? Just don’t hate me if there are longer than usual gaps between posts for a little while. I won’t be off having fun. I’ll be trying to reteach myself math that I haven’t needed or known for 6 years. Believe me, I’d much rather be thinking about movies.
Thank you for reading!