It Follows made major waves when it was first announced and now the movie has arrived, let’s see if it was worthy of the buzz.
One of the most hotly anticipated horror films of the past few years, It Follows, manages to live up to its nearly insurmountable hype by delivering some of the most well-paced and deliberately tense cinema in recent memory. The first horror effort by independent writer/director David Robert Mitchell, the film centres on Jay (Maika Monroe), a college student who is cursed and relentlessly stalked by a murderous, shape-shifting entity after having sex with her new boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary). Hugh explains that the curse is spread through sex and the creature will stalk the newest holder of the curse until it kills them or they pass it on to another victim. Left to fend for herself and, owing to the entity’s invisibility to those uninfected by the curse, disbelieved by her friends, Jay must try to outrun this silent menace that can change its shape and never stops slowly walking towards her, following her wherever she goes.
It Follows is impressively original and fantastically executed with emerging director Mitchell taking clear inspiration from Japanese horror like The Ring (1998) and John Carpenter’s films, Halloween (1979) and The Thing (1982), but still managing to maintain his unique style. With mesmerisingly slow and well-framed cinematography and a rapidly changing pace that keeps the audience waiting with bated breath for the excruciating tension to be broken, the film creates a strong, pervading sense of horror, even during extended sequences where the monster doesn’t appear. But the slow and determined entity is the film’s key strength. The zombie-esque ghoul, while moving at walking pace, feels like it’s everywhere at once.
Whatever it is that ‘it’ follows is never definitively explained; instead the creature is shown to have a supernatural determination for an indiscernible goal. It’s invisible to those outside the sexual chain, but it’s shown to exist in a somewhat corporeal form, and it spends most of the film marching stoic-faced towards the intended victim, often taking the shape of their loved ones to get as close as it can. From the start, it’s clear that It Follows and its monster are metaphorical but Mitchell does an excellent job in leaving out details, so each person who sees this movie can take away something vastly different.
The cast are a group of relative unknowns who deliver some excellent and organic performances; former kiteboarder-turned-actress Maikia Monroe absolutely dominates the screen as the film’s protagonist Jay, with strong supporting performances by Keir Gilchrist as the often overlooked friend Paul and Lili Sepe as Jay’s sister Kelly. Everything comes together perfectly for these characters. Their stellar performances and properly horrified reactions make it easy to see them as very real characters. Mitchell’s earthy writing adds a strong sense of believability that makes It Follows all the more terrifying.
The soundtrack is intriguing, for both good and bad reasons. The film’s electronic score is reminiscent of Vangelis’s Blade Runner (1982) and John Carpenter’s film scores; throughout the film it does a great job of helping the cinematography create a nicely tense atmosphere. But the problems come when the soundtrack begins to fall into the modern horror trope of cueing the onscreen action. It tends to ruin the surprise when the soundtrack tells you when something surprising is about to happen, but thankfully it doesn’t happen too often to become a major nuisance.
By far one of the better horror films of the past decade, It Follows is a slick and subtle film that delivers on its interesting premise though it drags near the end. Those seeking a by-the-numbers monster movie will be sorely disappointed, but It Follows proves that original cinema is still going strong; it just takes time getting to you. – Joseph Papandrea
Top image from Rialto Distribution’s promotional material.