It Follows (2014) / Horror
MPAA Rated: R for disturbing violent and sexual content including graphic nudity, and language
Running Time: 100 min.
Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Jake Weary, Daniel Zovatto, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Screenplay: David Robert Mitchell
Review published March 30, 2015
Writer-director David Robert Mitchell's (The Myth of the American Sleepover) sophomore feature effort is an homage of sorts to horror films of the late 1970s and early 1980s, especially Halloween, The Shining and its ilk. No, this isn't a slasher film in plot, but rather, it's the form that Mitchell is emulating more so than the content, which will be especially of appeal for those who prefer creepy atmospherics over gory depictions of dismemberment. Utilizing a synthesized score and throwback vehicles and attitude (the time period is murky; a few modern gadgets betray its decades-old feel), the film is mostly an exercise in genre exploration above all else, as its director is more interested in using music and visuals to cast you in a state of nervous anticipation. It's not an overt scare-fest, but it is certainly unnerving for the duration, and though it raises more questions than answers, it is one of those films that manages to hold your attention throughout, which is a great deal more than one can say about the vast majority of modern horror films.
Set in Mitchell's hometown of Detroit, Maika Monroe (The Guest, Labor Day) plays Jay, out for a date with a new guy, Hugh (Weary, Zombeavers). The two consummate their fledgling relationship in his car, then jarringly is knocked unconscious and awoken bound, only to be told by the young man that their dalliance has passed his curse to her -- there is an form-changing entity that will follow her at walking pace, and only the cursed can see it. If it touches her, it will kill her, unless she can pass it to another through sexual congress. With assistance from her friends, Jay must deal with staying a few steps ahead of the "demon" that has attached itself to her, hoping there is a way to stop the curse without dooming another.
We've all seen horror films in which the monster continues its pursuit of its running and panicking victim. Surely, we all muse, the creature could never catch up given how slow it is compared to the speed of its intended victim. It Follows gives us that notion, but does it better by giving us the monster that never sleeps, and, perhaps, can't be killed. Mitchell keeps things simple, concentrating more on Jay as she tries not to worry about the dread that eventually overtakes her, clinging to the normalcy of her pre-tryst life as best she can, but knowing that whatever that has attached itself to her won't go away. This isn't a gimmicky flick like one of the Final Destination series in which a variety of loopholes are explored in which victims challenge the rules set before them in the hope of winning in the end. There are a couple of attempts, but as the rules are sketchy, there's never a certainty -- you can maim the entity, but is it truly hurt? If it can bleed, it can die, but will it stay dead?
Atmosphere is paramount in Mitchell's approach, as most of the movie's tenser moments are not the payoffs, but rather, the staring of its protagonist out in the distance with an indefinite foreboding, wondering if every sound, every passerby, or every closed door about to open is really the thing out to get her. When it does draw close, it shows up in a variety of forms, but it's unknown what it wants, or how it has manifested itself. The jump-scares aren't the thing here so much as the suffocating unease, as we can think of a hundred different things to do that will help the situation, and yet, never quite knowing if the curse will revert back will keep the passer-on living always looking, always looking, never sure.
Obviously, those looking for a metaphor to pin on the film will read into its 'sexually transmitted disease' premise, a natural extension of the promiscuity-equals-death tropes of the 1980s slasher flicks, and find it right away. But why is the disease only one person at a time? And what to make of the various depictions of humanity, naked and suffering? And why are they solid in form even if they are invisible, and if they are, why don't un-cursed people run into them all of the time, whether by car or just stumbling ignorantly near their target? The solution is never easy, which should allow for repeated viewings for those in tune, trying to connect all of the dots, wondering if there are enough of them to form a complete picture. If the film is successful, I suppose the answers to these and more questions are what follows It Follows when it gets its inevitable sequel. Until then, it's a disquieting but wholly worthwhile itch to scratch.
©2015 Vince Leo