‘It Follows’ – which rocks a 70’s vibe and kickin’ score – earns high marks and much admiration in my book for taking an atmosphere that has been done before – and adding enough craftsmanship and creativity – to make it feel fresh, terrifying and surprisingly meaningful.
I am hesitant to go into much detail about the film’s premise. Not because of potential spoilers – this review may contain some so be warned – but because it might come off as too gimmicky to possibly result in the praise that follows. All I can say is trust me…it isn’t.
The film stars Maika Monroe (from the kick-ass 2014 gem ‘The Guest’) as Jay – a girl on the cusp of adulthood. She spends her days lounging in her pool or hanging with her friends – all of which are experiencing the boredom that encompasses those late stages of adolescence. To the disappointment of Paul, one of her male friends who has a crush on her, Jay has recently started dating an older boy named Hugh. He seems nice enough – but an incident at a movie theater hints at something very wrong with him. Jay doesn’t think much of it and on their next date they sleep together. It is a rather uneventful moment – but what comes next leaves everyone shaken and changed. Hugh drugs her – and she wakes up tied to a wheelchair in a rundown building. Hugh doesn’t intend to kill her – instead he wants to force her to see what she will be up against. As he explains – she will now be hunted by a supernatural creature that is part of a curse passed on through intercourse. “It” is slow – only ever being able to walk to its victim – but it never gives up. Anyone afflicted can see this entity – but it is only able to kill the last one to receive the affliction – and will then move down the chain of people who have had it. This leaves Jay stuck having to outrun this persistent and frightening being – all the while she must decide whether to “pass it on” to someone else. Luckily she isn’t alone, and with the help of her friends she tries to find out if this thing can be stopped.
The emotion and fear here is earned – which is all I ask for in these films – though it also exceeded my expectations on all fronts. It did what many of my all time favorite horror films have done – like ‘Halloween’, ‘Black Christmas’ and ‘Repulsion’ it contains a slow building level of suspense and dread. A constant feeling of unease even at its calmest moments. It is the sort of horror that leaves you on the edge of your seat – not in anticipation of the next jump scare – but because you can’t help but frantically search each frame – from corner to corner – to see what or who may be lurking; and it is impossible to trust anyone. On top of that is a fine level of craftsmanship by director David Robert Mitchell on display. The camera brilliantly acting like a jittery onlooker – often spinning and scanning the horizon. This is made all the more heart pounding by the remarkable and kinetic score by Rich Vreeland. As the pressure and suspense builds, so does the score – and it is all released in incredibly effective bursts throughout.
But no matter how effectively scary it is, perhaps what I appreciated most was that like ‘The Babadook’ last year – if you strip away all the supernatural horror aspects – at the very core is still an emotional and layered story worth telling. In ‘The Babadook’ it was a mother dealing with a troubled child and the death of her husband – and with ‘It Follows’ we get a genuine coming of age tale about sex, responsibility and the fears that comes with impending adulthood.
What do I mean by that last bit? For me the ‘It’ wasn’t just some evil monster – but can be seen as a manifestation of the mundanity and uncertainty of the possible future in store for these teens. Some may view the film as being about the consequences of sex. But I never saw it like that. Yes, sex is the catalyst of the curse, but the film never viewed the actual act in a negative light. You are not supposed to walk out thinking “Well I am never having sex again!”
It is just another part of growing up. It is the “growing up” part that really matters. It’s something that often sneaks up on you – but once you pass a certain moment in your life you are forever followed by a sense of responsibility that never leaves. These feels are reflected by Hugh who mentions how he wants to be a child with no worries and a whole new life ahead of him – or by Jay explaining how when she was young the world seemed so open and free; but once she actually grew up she realized there really wasn’t anywhere to go.
I think it is no coincidence that these characters live in Detroit – a broken down city whose future is unknown. They even live with broken parents unhappy with their own lives – Jay’s mother drinks heavily. One can only imagine that these things weigh heavily on them, whether we see that directly or not. Is it any surprise that “It” often takes on the form of those that love and care for them, or are people who are gone that they miss? These are all themes that run through most coming of age stories. That weight, those worries, are what are truly haunting these people. This makes the last scene all the more brilliant and effective for me. Like ‘The Babadook’ there is this idea that these sorts of worries, emotions and struggles don’t just fade away. You can’t just get rid of them and you cannot just run away and hide. But by facing them head on and together with those you love, they can at least be managed. I found it to actually be quite a hopeful way to end. But that’s just my take. The film never tries to shove such a specific meaning down the viewer’s throat. I think there is just enough ambiguity to allow the viewer to find their own – and it is layered enough to require multiple viewings.
At the end of the day I think this is surely worthy of being deemed an instant classic. One that can stand the test of time. Not just because of how effectively scary it is – but also because it deals with themes that can be appreciated from generation to generation. That, along with just how damn well made it is, makes it the best film I have seen so far this year – and a must see by everyone.