David Robert Mitchell
It is not a normal occurrence for me to rush to the theater to watch a horror movie, but something about the trailers for It Follows really got to me. It appeared to be a throwback to the glory days of slasher horror films, led by Wes Craven and such. It is. It appeared to be an original story in a much worn genre. It is. It appeared to go about its scares in a way other than loud artificial noises and jump cuts. It does. What might have most intrigued me, however, was that it is directed by David Robert Mitchell, whose only other film was one of the best movies of 2011 and one of the great high school hangout movies I have seen (The Myth of the American Sleepover). I had to know what his next movie was, especially being a genre on the other end of the spectrum. Yet somehow, it almost isn’t.
The movie starts the way most classic horror movies do. A young woman is running around distraught, frightened, and in tears. She looks back at her house, but nothing is there. Still, she becomes increasingly terrified and hops in her car and speeds away with her life. Next, she is on the beach making a phone call to her parents apologizing to them, knowing that she was about to meet her end. The next thing we see is her dead, deformed body in the exact place she made the call with the vibrant, shock horror sound effect that was common in the films of John Carpenter. From that moment on, we are glued to the screen because we are confused, terrified, and oddly fascinated by what transpired in the first couple minutes.
The main characters are a group of friends led by Jay (Maika Monroe), who is a typical hot teenage girl going out with an older guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). As they get closer, Hugh begins acting weird. He seems paranoid in some way and acts uneasy in crowded areas. Eventually, they hook up in his car outside some abandoned hotel, and then he drugs her and ties her up. We think he is the villain for all of a few seconds, until we realize how either mentally deranged he is or that he actually had good reason to do this. He explains to Jay that he passed on his curse to her. He got followed by people trying to kill him. Only he could see them. They walk slowly, but they follow. They will now be going after Jay until she passes it on by having sex with someone else. Everyone exposed to it can always see “it”, but they will only go after the end of the chain. When the newest one is killed, it moves back up to the one who passed it on. From that point on, Hugh disappears and Jay is constantly trying to convince her friends and sister that it is real and she is not going crazy. When she finally passes it on, that is when the real artistic and creative talent of the young writer-director comes out.
What I love about the screenplay of this film is how it really creates its own rules. It is almost dreamlike in the way it portrays the followers. The feeling of being followed is spine-tingling in itself, but knowing that whatever or whoever is following is in fact trying to kill you makes it even more uncomfortable. We do not really ever find out or have any way of finding out what “it” is, but then again, we almost do not care. We are too busy watching the beautiful shots of slow-building tension of a young child, old man, or half-naked woman walking agonizingly slowly toward the characters unbeknownst to them. We are right with them in the horror of imagining exactly what they are capable of doing, especially after seeing the images of the opening scene. We would like to try to solve some sort of plot puzzle, but it is almost irrelevant. The story is not what is at the forefront here, it is the experience.
The young cast is utilized well here. Mitchell showed in Sleepover that he can direct younger actors as well as anyone, and this only furthers that sentiment. Maika Monroe (who I would say you might recognize from The Guest, but you won’t because you probably haven’t seen it) is really good here as the center of all the scares. Her character is most important, because if her frights are not convincing, we get disinterested. She makes us feel just as claustrophobic and terrified as she is. She has a sweet friendship with Paul, played by Keir Gilchrist (It’s Kind of a Funny Story). These types of elements are among the most authentic in the movie. We feel like we know the characters and we really believe the dynamics of the group. Usually the beautiful young people in films like this are almost faceless and are just there to scream and run around in terror. These characters are deep. We learn their back-stories and cannot fathom watching them get taken out. That is quite an accomplishment in a 100 minute movie spends so much of its time watching invisible characters slowly strolling down the street or across a beach.
Several critics have tried to decipher the movie and figure out what exactly “it” is and what “it” symbolizes. Most have cited AIDS or STDs, which would make sense to a certain extent. To me, it almost feels more like the lingering effects of sexual assault. After those experiences, your life is never the same. You have images and nightmares that haunt you and follow you. STDs is more of a reflection of how it is passed on and such, but that seems too simplistic. Most of the followers look as if they just got violated in some way. Just a thought…I am sure that it is open to interpretation if “it” actually does represent something.
I am not usually this taken in by a horror movie. It is a really low budget flick, but it has tremendous cinematography and set pieces. The final confrontation especially is ingeniously shot and played out. The movie somehow finished in 5th place at the box office in its opening weekend, yet it only made $3.8M. Is that a flop, or is that an indie hit? It is playing at both art house theaters and in the main auditorium at multiplexes. It all depends on how you look at it. It wasn’t advertised all that much, but most horror films are word of mouth and viral marketing anyway. I hope it continues to build up, because it really is a worthwhile movie. I actually think it is the best horror film since [Rec] in 2008 and the most chilling one of its kind since The Descent in 2006. The end of the film absolutely leaves it open for another director to pick up where it left off with the spectacular uncertainty and lack of giving away all of the details of the story. The audience can’t shake the uneasiness that we are left with. It Follows: it lingers.