December 29, 2016

It Follows (2014)

Jay (Maika Monroe) goes out to the movies, where her date Hugh (Jake Weary) freaks out after he sees someone at the back of the cinema that Jay cannot. On their second date, and after having sex, Hugh chloroforms Jay. When she wakes, she has been tied to a chair. Hugh explains to her: his name is not Hugh. There is a supernatural creature stalking him. The only way to escape it is to pass it to someone else via sexual intercourse, and now that creature is stalking Jay.

It Follows is a 2014 horror film written and directed by David Robert Mitchell. It comes with one hell of a strong hook: an anonymous and unexplained entity, one that can take on the form of anybody you know, and which silently and calmly walks towards you until it catches up and kills you. You could run away, but it will just keep calmly walking in whatever direction you are in. You could shut yourself behind a locked door, but it will beat down the door and then reach you anyway. Driving far away in a car provides you enough distance for a few hours' respite, but all the while the thing is still walking ever-patiently towards you.

Not only does It Follows nail its key menace, but it also ties it into sex: that perennial horror movie element. It is easy to draw allegorical connections about a curse than only affects you when you sleep with somebody. Is It Follows actually about sexually transmitted infections? Or AIDS? In truth I suspect it's a lot simpler than that. It Follows is a film that walks very closely alongside 1980s horror film traditions, and in those traditions sex is simply a bad thing to have and sees its participants morally punished by horrible things.

That nostalgic treatment of the 1980s horror movie extends throughout the film, including the way it is shot and particularly its excellent Rich Vreeland musical score. This is a solid second-generation horror film, one that seems heavily informed by the filmmakers and genre conventions of the director's childhood. There have been a bunch of these kinds of retro-cool independent horror movies in recent years, and this is certainly one of the stronger entries. It is worth noting the film's slightly surreal pseudo-period setting: it feels like the 1980s, but there's no real attempt to make it period accurate. The tone does most of the job for Mitchell without going to extremes.

Maika Monroe gives a strong central performance as the desperate Jay, and she is surrounded by a strong supporting cast who make their relatively ordinary characters feel realistic and believable. That is key to It Follows' main strength: in a Stephen King-style fashion it presents something uncanny and horrific puncturing an everyday, deliberately banal world.

The film is not perfect, of course. For one thing its pace is perhaps a little too slow for its own good, and it could easily have lost 10 minutes from tighter edits and a more suspenseful pace. It also loses its way to an extent as it reaches its climax: the nature of the supernatural threat is deliberately vague throughout, which makes a satisfying resolution close to impossible. The good, however, definitely outweights the bad by a long margin. This is a really worthwhile and atmospheric independent horror film. I look forward to see what Mitchell does next (apparently a neo-noir titled Under the Silver Lake, due some time in 2017).

1 comment:

  1. I'm dying to watch this movie again, ever since another reviewer put the thought in my head that it's not actually about sex or STDs, but about mortality, that other sexually transmitted disease, and the awareness of mortality being the true marker of adulthood. Hence the final lines of the film, and the title, because death follows us all.

    Anyways, as you say one of the better horror films of late. Wish they were all this interesting.

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