For those looking for a mainstream horror film where the story and characters are sacrificed to provide a gamut of cliché and conventional scares, you’ll probably be disappointed in what It Follows has to offer. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell has created what some critics are calling “the best horror film in years.” That’s a little too much of a superlative statement for me, but I can agree that it is smart, unique, stylish, and a breath of fresh air to the horror genre, much like The Babadook was last year. If you liked that film, you’ll probably enjoy this one. It’s a slow burn horror in that it takes its time building up tension and suspense in a very effective way through the use of setting, a wide-angle lens camera, and an awesome synth score. You may go home afterwards and have no trouble sleeping, but you might be looking over your shoulder on your way back to the car.
The movie opens with a young girl running out of her house in high heels (serious props to her, I couldn’t run in those things), looking past the camera in fear of something we can’t see. She runs in a half circle, back into the house, grabs her purse and keys, and then we see her on the beach, talking to her father on the phone and apologizing for ever being a pain in the ass. Later we see her with her body mangled in an awkward position, thus setting the tone for the horror that will ensue. Focus shifts to Jay (Maika Monroe), a 19-year-old college student living in suburban Detroit, who contracts what can only be described as a sexually transmitted monster after a night of consensual sex with a guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). Hugh does the gentlemanly thing by tying Jay to a wheelchair and forcing her to feast her eyes upon the monster that will now be relentlessly following her until she decides to pass the curse to someone else. It’s slow, but not dumb. It can take the form of a stranger or someone you know, but don’t let it reach you, because if it does, it will kill you and then it will make its way back down the line of people who contracted it. That’s pretty much the gist of “It.”
Mitchell does a great job of bringing us into this almost dreamlike world. The time period is irrelevant, although it’ll be sure to confuse and maybe even frustrate some. The characters watch black and white movies on old television sets that look like they’re from the ’70s or possibly even earlier. On the other hand, you have the girl in the beginning scene using a modern day cell phone, and another character reads books on what looks like a kindle in the shape of a clamshell. The ambiguity of the setting is supposed to make us feel like this isn’t our world, this is like some alternate universe where sexually transmitted monsters might exist, a world I wouldn’t want to live in. Most of the film takes place in suburban areas of Detroit, where poverty hasn’t yet spread to their turf. But you would never know it was Detroit unless one of the girls didn’t mention how her mother warned her never to go past 8 Mile (I can thank Eminem for even knowing what that is).
The cinematography plays a big part in the suspense of the film. The 360 degree panning shots are wonderfully effective, as well the wide-angle lens that always leaves more than enough background in view just in case “It” decides to creep into the frame at any point. No matter what’s going on in the foreground, you’re sure to always be looking behind the characters, because you know it’s coming, but you don’t know when. Along with this, the music is a complete mood setter. It’s composed of a John Carpenter-esque synth soundtrack that works so well in helping create and maintain the tension throughout the film.
The most obvious connections you can make with the plot is that “It” is an allegory for an STD, and Jay is a symbol for “innocence lost.” Yeah, that works on some level. There’s a lot more than that you can take from it, though. For example, if you look past the surface you can find themes of morality, mortality, trust, love, and fear of entering adulthood. After Jay sleeps with Hugh, she lets him in on a little fantasy she used to have about being an adult and having the freedom to go on dates, but when she reaches adulthood and obtains this freedom, it’s not what she expected. Freedom isn’t really freedom at all when there’s responsibility and consequences that come with any action. Ultimately, she and the other characters, like Paul (Keir Gilchrist)–the childhood friend who clearly has a thing for her–end up reminiscing of the days when they were young kids without a care in the world.
When you reach adulthood, that’s usually the time when you become most aware of your own mortality as you shed the naïve image of yourself as being almost invincible. For Jay, this mortality is as real and fearful as ever, because, well…there’s a horrifying monster following her now. One of Jay’s friends, Yara (Olivia Luccardi) spends a lot of the time in the film reading Dostoyevsky’s novel The Idiot, of which she quotes at one point, speaking about the inevitability of death. Death is an obvious symbol in a lot of horror films, but It Follows has a distinct way of showing how our main character figures out how cope with it.
There are a few ways you can watch this movie. You can try and pick out whatever deeper meaning or symbolism you can possibly find in the plot, and I’m sure any one person can find quite a few if they tried, or, you can just sit back and enjoy it for what it is. It’s a stylish Halloween meets Final Destination meets whatever throwback to ’80s horror you can think of. Or you can choose to dismiss it as a “not scary at all” arthouse piece of crap. I’ve seen plenty of mixed audience reviews regardless of the mostly positive critics’ opinions, and when it comes down to it, this type of movie isn’t going to work for everyone. If you want a lot of gore and a lot of jump scares (and it’s okay if you do), you aren’t going to find that here.
For me, personally, I loved it. It’s visually stunning, I loved the soundtrack, I thought the acting was definitely above average, and the story is a refreshing and unique take on horror. I like how Mitchell created this very unsettling, creepy atmosphere without having to rely solely on gore and jump scares. Is it the most terrifying movie in recent years? I don’t think so. Does it get a little weird towards the end? Yes. But I’ll stand by my initial response to it, I liked it, it stuck with me when I left the theater, and I think that it’s a very well-made film in general. And admit it, being followed is scary, if you were being followed by even a non-paranormal being–especially if you’re a girl or maybe a drug dealer who screwed over your boss recently–you’d be scared, am I right?