What did I know about It Follows? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. It was my first film of the festival and it was a press screening and I had no idea what I was in for. Of the choices of everything being screened that morning, it sounded the most appealing. On four hours of “sleep” on something that some people might refer to as a “seat,” I filled myself with as much coffee as I could and headed on in. The less you know about this movie, and generally any movie, the better. In short, It Follows is a wonderfully shot story that plays on sexual myths of teenagers with a really dark twist that has great sound design and has some of the best stalker sequences since John Carpenter’s Halloween. There’s some flaws in the third act, but, well, it’s still real good.
If you’re in a car, you need to be wearing a seatbelt.
In the opening minutes of the film, a girl is being stalked by something unseen and she meets a grisly demise. We then meet Hugh (Jake Weary) and Jay (Maika Monroe), two cute teenagers on a date. When something spooks Hugh, they abandon the date. The two go on another date and they take their relationship to a more physical level, only for Hugh to reveal that now something will stalk Jay. It might be someone who looks familiar or like someone she’s never seen before, but whoever it is, they won’t stop. The stalking figure will only ever walk slowly, but no matter how far she runs, it will catch up to her, unless she sleeps with someone and this entity will then make that person the target. Jay and her group of friends must figure out how to stop it for good and break the chain of this sexually transmitted pursuer. An “STP” if you will. Wait, like Stone Temple Pilots! This movie is basically about the Stone Temple Pilots.
It’s like she’s staring into my heart and there is NO way she likes what she sees.
There’s a lot about It Follows that sets it apart from so many other horror films, be it contemporary or classic. The film ambitiously combines lots of different elements into a unique cacophony of dread. The sexual themes depicted in the film remind me very much of the Charles Burns graphic novel Black Hole in that sex in both stories will always end poorly, just to varying degrees of consequence. In the real world, sex can lead to pregnancy, STDs, and death. Those aren’t certainties with the right protective measures, but in It Follows, there is a direct cause-and-effect. Sleep with someone, and they will be stalked by something that cannot be stopped. The joy of sex is almost completely removed and merely serves as a way of delaying your own mortality. In that respect, it does feel like it reflects the real world in the sex, or generally any expression of a human connection, is a reminder of how good it feels to be alive and a distraction that we will all ultimately die.
Hey you big sissy with the flashlight, stop hiding behind the pretty lady in the wheelchair!
Sex is often symbolic of punishment in films, particularly in the slasher genre, and It Follows approaches the subject from a completely different perspective. What makes a movie like Halloween so successful is the idea of this unstoppable “shape” that will never stop. You might be able to hide from it, or possibly injure it, but it will keep coming. This sense of dread is incredibly overwhelming throughout most of the film, because you never really know quite how far the characters have to retreat to buy themselves enough time. Sometimes they escape this force for a few hours, a few days, but the characters are always on their guard and can never truly breathe a sigh of relief. In that respect, changing what could have been a stereotypical slasher character into a possible shape-shifting supernatural entity as a highly original concept.
I guess Maika Monroe does kind of stare at the camera a lot in this movie, doesn’t she?
All of these great concepts come thanks to writer/director David Robert Mitchell in this remarkable first foray into feature-length horror filmmaking. A growing trend over the past few years is to emulate films from the 1980’s, which It Follows does at times. Themes of sexuality and taboos amongst high school teens feels similar to films from the 80’s, along with an aesthetic that feels vintage, but that’s where the similarities to that decade end. The film’s cinematography really makes it stand out in its bold camerawork, from an escape in a wheelchair the focuses solely on the face of the victim without much idea of what’s pursuing them to a shot that pans 540 degrees and ends with a slow zoom. Very impressive visually, but also has great sound design with both musical choices and editing. The film didn’t need cheap jump scares to creep you out, but tossing in some musical stings at select reveals created some of the most effective and talked about scares of the whole festival.
Unfortunately there’s still the “awkward friend in love with hot girl” character, but I can’t really blame him.
Despite how many strengths the film has, it’s not without its flaws. Despite how interesting the concept is, that writing isn’t really reflected as well in the dialogue. The cast was clearly talented, and I appreciate that the dialogue didn’t try to make the characters talk like they were in their 30’s, but the more grounded dialogue caused some downtime that would take some of the tension away from a scene. As far as the storyline goes, the first two acts are fantastic, but things fell apart for me in the third act. For as ambitious as the concept was, the mythos that was created didn’t really pay off for me in a final conflict. Had the first two acts not been so good, I wouldn’t have had such high hopes for the rest of the film, but hopefully that’s a testament to how good those first two acts were. Ugh. GUYS. I wanted to flat-out love this movie, because there’s a ton of great stuff in it, but I just couldn’t. Regardless of the finale, which redeemed itself a bit with its ambiguity, It Follows is a disturbing foray into inescapable dread and the horrors that can result in rushing into a relationship before finding out if having sex will result in some demon creature following you forever.
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