Written and Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi
The best examples of horror find strength in simplicity. The tried-and-true method for finding effectively good scares has been to take the familiar and turn it into something frightening. John Carpenter took everyday suburbia and made it a nightmare zone. Alfred Hitchcock made the daily routine of showering a place for destruction.
Horror does not require great emphasis on character development or expansive plot. The genre, much like comedy, relies mostly on pacing and delivery. The mood and atmosphere enhance the narrative on screen and lure the audience in before making them vulnerable to inevitable fear. David Robert Mitchell’s new film It Follows understands what works in the genre and elevates it. His attention to detail takes the traditions that have been embedded in the history and presents a new and genuinely scary vision.
The film opens with a 360 degree pan of a panicked girl running from her house into the street. The context has not been established yet. We’re both intrigued and alarmed by the mystery of the situation. We soon switch gears to our protagonist Jay, played by Maika Monroe. She is a young girl who enjoys floating in her pool and going on dates to Cary Grant movies. After sleeping with her boyfriend, she discovers he has passed a curse onto her.
He tells her “it” takes the appearance of anyone and is a moving presence always walking towards you; all you can do is keeping running away. The premise is both curiously plain and strikingly creepy. Not only is it always following you, but no one else can see it. This is an idea that has been shown and reshown in countless examples of horror, a recent one being Ringu. Mitchell’s comprehension of horror tropes give substantial weight to his simple plot.
A common cliché in horror is sex being the precursor to death. In It Follows, sex is knocking on Hell’s gate with all your luggage in hand. Mitchell lures us into the sexual sequence with a slow track in to the couple in the backseat of their car. Unlike most movie sex scenes, this one is actually done tastefully. We stay outside of the car and are given zero nude shots. Whereas many films indulge in the excess of cinematic sexuality, this scene is displayed as pure innocence.
It’s a moment of calmness before taking us into the heightened terror that becomes Jay’s condition. Throughout the film, we see this entity take the guise of various people. The fear becomes an unending paranoia Jay can’t shake, shouting out to see if a walking person is it or, in fact, just a walking person.
Much like John Carpenter’s Halloween, Mitchell takes the normalcy of suburban life and gives it a jolt of terror. The environment is both inviting and cautionary. Jay and her friends spend their time hanging out on porches and watching TV. It’s nothing overtly exciting, but it’s authentic to anyone who’s been a teenager. We can see ourselves in these situations which helps lower our guard before throwing any sense of safety away. Jay’s friends help her buy time but can only help to a degree given the nature of this threat. They stay by her side throughout, even when it becomes clear this monster is not just inside Jay’s head.
Every scene is dialed up to eleven with the help of the much talked about score. Artist Disasterpeace draws heavily on ’80s soundtracks and gives a modern twist to make for one of the most memorable scores in a while. Music in any horror film provides the eerie disturbance which lets the fear sink in. The film follows a rhythm of quiet melodic scenes giving way to catastrophic intensity. As with the characters on screen, there is no real escape from any of this. All you can do is react.
While the film is energized by several extreme sequences, the plot maintains a lingering sense of dread. A dread that no matter what, the evil that stalks you will eventually catch up. Jay and her friends relocate throughout the film, giving all attempt to distance themselves which proves pointless. But her friends never give up on her. Compared to other horror films where the teenagers serve as marks on the enemy’s tally sheet, the friends here are loyal to Jay. They may represent the one-dimensional stock characterization that is foundational in the slasher subgenre, but they also give Jay a firm army as she is knighted the new scream queen. Their involvement in the narrative helps realize the mundane nature of the setting. It’s a world very recognizable and ordinary. Similar to the sex scene, we the audience are slowly tracking in to this world before being confronted with the overwhelming horror. — James Leggett