Movie Review: It Follows
It’s been ages since we tackled a horror movie, and sitting in the theater last weekend, I remembered why: I handle tension and scares like a toddler. Unfortunately for me, but not for audiences, indie horror movie phenom It Follows had plenty of both. If, like me, you’ve passed on all of the Insidious Paranormal Purges that have been dominating the horror genre, now’s the time to get back into the game, because this film is the scariest thing to come out of Detroit since economic depression and the Insane Clown Posse’s whole career.
It Follows (2014)
Young Jay Height (Maika Monroe) has a problem: she had unprotected sex with a cute guy, and he gave her something…a curse. A monster, only visible to those who have the curse or have had the curse in the past, will relentlessly follow her until she either passes the curse on sexually to another, or until it kills her. The good news is that the demon only moves as fast as the checkout line at Whole Foods. The bad news is that it will never give up, and it will always know where she is. She can outrun it easily, but she can never escape it completely. This is a rock solid premise for a horror movie, and sounds eerily like Wesley Snipes’ tax situation with the IRS.
Supported by a pair of childhood friends and her younger sister, she attempts to elude the creature long enough to discover its weaknesses. Along the way, she must also grapple with the constant temptation to just pass it along to another, which is achingly easy as she has several young suitors with unrequited flames for her.
You Give What You Get…
The mechanic of It Follows are deliciously simple and evil, and reminds one of the nearly flawless horror film The Ring. The stakes are dire but easy to understand: you get the curse, the curse works in a simple but brutally tense manner, and you have an easy way and a hard way to deal with it. Pass it or escape it…but you can’t escape it for very long, and passing it is a moral quagmire. As a nice touch, you can’t pass it quite as easily as you think, since if the creature kills the person you passed it to, you are suddenly back in its cross-hairs, and now you just killed somebody pointlessly with your naughty bits. You have to let the person you just fucked (and fucked over) know what the score is, or you are going to be back at square one very quickly.
Just like The Ring, the imagery in the film has a unifying identity, and is terrifying. The creature can look like anybody, but it almost always takes the form of people who look broken in a distinctive manner.. It is as if the creature just doesn’t understand how people work, and makes these macabre shambling horrors that could only pass for normal in an insane asylum…yet they look close enough to real that you don’t instantly pick them out. It would be hard pressed to sneak up on somebody with their bullshit detector at full strength, but given that it is sapping your physical and mental reserves with a constant assault of terror, it works well enough to get the job done.
It Follows exists in a vague simulacrum of the late 1970’s or early 1980’s. All of the televisions are analog and show sci-fi horror flicks that belong in an Mystery Science Theater marathon, the phones are old school land lines (there are no cell phones,) and the music is a trippy pastiche of 8-bit video game chip tunes and classic John Carpenter synthesizer work. The dilapidated look of Detroit is a perfect time-warp paradox of a place hermetically sealed against modernization. A few odd anachronisms, like one characters E-Reader (think Kindle for kitschy teens) stick out and make you constantly wonder what era the film is really being set in.
The setting helps to give the plot credence. Without the internet, its impossible to quickly learn about the creature (or past victims), and without cell phones, it is impossible to stay connected to friends and warn others of danger. The step backwards in time helps the film’s threat remain viable, all while giving a unique vibe to the piece that harkens back to classic horror films of yesteryear.
Terrors, Fast and Slow
The stripped back approach to horror only works if the scares are tight, and It Follows has all of its ducks in a row. There is very little blood, but when the movie does get violent, it is brutal. There are a nice mix of both jump scares (too in vogue in current horror movies) and straight up terror arising naturally from the nature of the plot. This movie can scare you by throwing a sudden twist at you, and it can keep you on edge with the slow, beautiful burn of constant tension and dread. The monster works perfectly for this: it can show up in an instant if you’re not paying attention, but mostly it approaches from a long way off, filling you with a certain dread that it will never ever let you (or the characters) alone.
The musical score supports the film flawlessly. The vaguely unsettling synthesizer makes you feel like you are in a fantasy world where the ends do not always meet, and these tunes quickly give way to a pounding and visceral theme whenever the monster is either close, or may be close. Heavy on jarring electronic feedback and drums, it puts you on edge the minute it begins…even if it never pays off.
The Rhythm Method
This lack of payoff is actually a fantastic element of It Follows, one that the director uses to great effect. He demonstrates a sadistic willingness to scare your pants off with blood, sudden action, and malevolent imagery…and then takes his hand off of your throat. Every time the camera or the music threatens a big scare, you never know if it is going to follow through…and so even calm moments are frantic and unnerving. Director David Robert Mitchell may be giving you a reprieve in this particular scene…but you know that the monster is never going to fail to find you, and when it does, it is going to be horrific.
The Money Shot
It Follows is a great horror movie, one that both embraces and defies the status quo. It make’s its own way, with a fresh identity, but also pays its dues to past classics in the genre. The visuals are done expertly, the pacing is wonderful, and the acting is strong compared to other recent scary movies (especially considering the young cast.) Some of the rules of the game get a little mangled as the movie wears on, but very few of them are so jarring that you realize the director has pulled a fast one. The music is good enough to give you tremors even when your eyes are closed. As much as I hate endless sequels that water down the pure emotion of a series, It Follows lends itself very well to more treatments. The film doesn’t feel under-developed, but there is a lot of meat left on the bones to explore. The ultimate compliment to a horror movie is that it creates scares good enough to keep you creeped out after the movie is over, perhaps when you are in bed and starting to doubt that the heroes really did escape the monster. It Follows has several of these fiendishly good moments, and after you leave the theater, they continue to follow…