It Follows (2014, 1 hr 40 mins)
It Follows has been the critic’s favourite since late last year, said to be one of the scariest movies in a long time. Comparisons to John Carpenter, The Ring and 80’s old school horror have been made, and I finally got a chance to draw my own conclusions about this indie horror darling.
Jamie, or Jay (Maika Monroe) is dating handsome Hugh (Jake Weary). She finally decides to have sex with him and the act puts her in jeopardy as he reveals to her, in a creepy kidnapping, held-hostage kind of way, that he has passed on an evil, relentless entity to her; it will change its form to look like anyone, come after her with methodical determination for the kill, and the only way to get rid of it is by passing it to someone else through sex. After the initial shock of this strange violation, Jamie enlists the help of her sister Kerry (Lili Sepe), and friends Paul (Kier Gilchrist), Yara (Olivia Luccardi), and Greg (Daniel Zovatto) to defeat this shape shifting, malignant force.
I want to say a lot about this film while trying not to write 5000 words on sex, death and female sexuality, so this will be difficult, but what I will say is that my initial reaction as the credits rolled was “I didn’t like it.” I don’t know what scares me anymore, but this was definitely not the scariest film in a long time, and I think the sound bites used to promote the film does it a disservice by upping the weight of expectation. After realizing my perception of the film may have been forming even before I saw it, I looked at it as objectively as I could, and what I saw was a hauntingly beautiful film with an unfinished mythology.
Visually, David Robert Mitchell delivers near perfect framing, deliberate moody lighting, and slow-paced camera work that aside from the slightly over-used 360 panning which made me a little nauseated, was exceptional to create a dream-like atmosphere. That matched the origins of the film which reportedly came from Mitchell’s childhood nightmares, giving us a slow, dream-like pace as well. The scoring by Disasterpeace (Rich Vreeland) was as good as everyone has said, creating tension with that 80’s synthesizer feel. Using Detroit as the setting was probably a choice based on loyalty for the Michigan native, but it also could speak to the nature of the evil entity. Was it responsible for the decay of the city, set in an indistinct, throwback era, or was it in its natural habitat and fed on condemned souls in what has become a real and unfortunate Hell for some? Who knows, as the story left too much room for speculation.
The evil entity was really effective because of the lack of a set identity. It could be anyone at any given time, and that aspect kept you on the edge of your seat, making it my favourite character. Jay and company, on the other hand, could not hold my empathy for long. The performances were great, especially Monroe’s, but for some reason I couldn’t get behind them. Sure, I wanted them to escape the threat, but to what end? I wanted to know more about them to invest emotionally. I will say that it is nice to see Gilchrist on the screen again. I worked key makeup on a short film he was in as a precocious child actor, and I am happy to see him as a young man showing his talent. I think he has a great career ahead of him.
In terms of the sex equals death equation that everyone has been touching on, Mitchell does take it to another level, creating an interesting concept for a horror trope and making it more complex than what horror fans are used to: a punishable act as well as a means to an end. It’s a curse and a cautionary tale, and one can pull many interpretations from it in terms of female sexuality to moral judgements, which is a win for a low-budget horror film based on a nightmare, however some issues with the plot, like the entity’s origin, put me off of the film as a whole.
It Follows is a lesson in ambiguity. Don’t expect answers, a defined era, pee-your-pants scares, or a linear storyline. Think ouroboros, but like, caught in the middle. If you want to see a film with great atmosphere that builds dread instead of terror, a couple of entertaining jump scares and a S.T.D. (sexually transmitted demon) you’ll want to see more of, check out the film, but don’t let the hype drive you to the theatre.