There comes a time that we all fear as movie fans–that moment when you actually sit down to watch a film that either you, or the media, has been hyping up in your head. The premise of IT FOLLOWS is somewhat preposterous at first mention: On their second date, Jay and Hugh have sex. Afterwards, he chloroforms her (you know, like all the best dates probably end) and she wakes up tied to a wheelchair. Hugh informs Jay that he’s passed onto her a sort of curse in which an entity, which can take on any human form, will relentlessly pursue her until it either kills her or she passes the curse onto someone else by sleeping with them. If the person she passes it onto is killed by their pursuer, the curse reverts back to her again. Initially, Jay’s sister and friends don’t believe there truly is anything after her, but soon they learn differently. Don’t let the wacky premise of It Follows fool you though, there’s more underneath than meets the eye.
What puts IT FOLLOWS in a precarious position is the hype that’s propelled the indie horror from a limited release intended to hit VOD, to a film that is now going against big budget studio releases. Initially only opening in four theaters, David Robert Mitchell’s sophomore effort pulled in an startling $40,863 average per theater. For those of you who don’t pay attention to numbers, the last indie horror to do this was PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, which we all know is a bonafide horror franchise today. As glorious a moment as this is for indie horror, at the risk of sounding like a naysayer, that same hype could very well impair the chances of general audiences connecting with the film. Much like 2014’s other surprise indie horror hit, THE BABADOOK, Follows is being marketed to the average Joe as a terrifying experience that’s not to be missed but, and maybe I’m being presumptuous, a film this unique may completely go over the heads of the people who are expecting the next Paranormal Activity. Simply put, this ain’t your typical horror film that the studios release. I want to have faith that the “average person” will embrace this breath of fresh air–but I also recognize there are differences between “film fans” and “someone looking for mindless entertainment”. I mention this because even I, who avoided all write-ups about It Follows, went in expecting just another modern horror film and was initially disappointed there weren’t enough obvious signs like jump scares.
It Follows does for horror what DRIVE did for action and oddly enough, they both seem to have moods rooted in John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. Follows is, at first glance, heavily reminiscent of the horror classic, but it’s not necessarily derivative of it. Mitchell utilizes long tracking shots and slow zoom lenses just as well as Carpenter. The cinematography is grand for an indie horror; wide angles, beautifully expansive in scope and depth. The camera doesn’t record, but observe, similar to the feelings a Gregory Crewdson photograph would elicit. When Jay (Maika Monroe) and her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) take a walk down their block, you can’t help but be reminded of Laurie Strode and Annie Brackett’s stroll through Haddonfield. The immaculate score by Disasterpiece is as integral to the experience as Carpenter’s is to Halloween. Whenever the “It” appears onscreen, the jarring and menacing score puts the viewer in immediate distress and the ghostlier numbers are in perfect harmony for the meditative, sleepy suburban moments like Jay floating in her backyard pool or fingering a wilted plant.
The true brilliance of It Follows is the several ways in which Jay’s situation can allegorically be interpreted. I didn’t find the film to be sex-phobic, as many have insisted, but instead saw the entity as a symbol of that instinctual fear we all have–the death of youth, that lingering fear of adulthood and authority figures. Mitchell’s teen characters are genuine and real and if you’ve seen his debut feature, THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER, you’re already aware that he has a knack for portraying that magical spell of when you were younger to the point where it’s almost a tangible character. How Jay and her friends interact and care for one another seems so earnest that you almost forget they’re barely out of their teens. There are no adults coming to their aid, in fact, the film has a heavy lack of adults as helpful figures à la A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.
At the bare bones, It Follows may not be the most terrifying thing you’ll ever see, or even in the last ten years, but is most definitely an important film for horror cinema. Films like this propel the genre forward, reminding critics that our films aren’t a dying breed or of a lesser breed. While I wouldn’t likely recommend this film to an “average” film goer, that has nothing to do with how effective it truly is. Fans of meditative slow-burn horror will bask in the menacing dread that seeps out of It Follows and I guarantee, after the movie, wherever you go, even if it’s only for a fleeting moment, you’ll think differently about the person approaching you.