In David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, teenager Jay (Maika Monroe) and her new boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary) share an intimate moment in the back of Hugh’s car following a date. When the deed is done, Hugh goes to retrieve something from the trunk while Jay monologizes about how strange it is to no longer be a child. She is then promptly chloroformed by Hugh.
Hugh later informs her, when she comes to tied to a wheelchair, that he has regretfully passed on to her a terrible curse. It may take the form of a complete stranger or a close loved one, but it will always follow, painfully slow, until it gets you and brutally kills you. Jay can choose to pass it on like the world’s scariest STD or she can try and run from the lumbering husks of human beings, but she can never stop it.
The film is a quietly haunting horror gem that turns the genre’s sex trope on its head. More than that, though, it is a chilling and grim allegory about life. Characters in this film are quick to reminisce on childhood memories and wax melancholy about better days now passed. These adolescents are just coming to terms with the realities of the world (say, for example, sex), yet they still grip on to the ghosts of their fading childhood. Hugh wishes that he was a little kid during a people watching game in which the player finds a person in a crowd that they would like to switch lives with. Jay spends time floating in an above-ground swimming pool in her backyard. Her friend (Olivia Luccardi) laughs at farts and reads books on a tiny clam shell device.
This is what is embodied in the sex-based curse. The monsters are, like the realization of looming adulthood, an ever-present, always inching closer, inescapable reality that always gets its victim despite their attempts to flee from it. Have sex once, and you’ve got it: adulthood (in this case, in the form of murderous supernatural zombies). The horror of this film goes beyond the grotesquely naked, sunken-faced anomalies that creep toward their helpless victims. No, the terror is the fact that time is forcing us closer and closer to our ultimate end. It might be a slow fate coming, but it looms in the back of our minds, always keeping us aware of how precious each moment truly is.
Seemingly every facet of It Follows works to cement this theme. The writing continuously pushes memory-laden dialogue and images of childhood and puberty, regardless of how in danger the characters are. One glaring example of this is when Jay, having just escaped from the crawl-paced monsters, sits on a swing in the middle of a park, as if the slight rock of it will protect her and send her back to a day when she did not need to worry about such adult horrors.
The score, too, marks the thematic connection between the supernatural horror of the movie and the real horror of impending aging. With the haunting twinkling of piano keys and the ferocious blare of dark synth chords, the music in this film (composed by Disasterpeace) dares anyone to try and not shiver in fear. But the score is also like life: it is always changing, sometimes shifting toward the sinister and terrifying, but always remaining elegantly beautiful and a tad mysterious. Ominous and spine-tingling, the score wraps It Follows up in a black, unsettling bow.
It Follows isn’t without its faults. Some scenes are redundant and slow. One scene in particular takes the time to completely re-iterate the premise of the film (just in case somebody walked in late, I guess). Aside from these moments where the intensity grinds to a halt, this film is full of nail-biting suspense.
To put it plainly, this film does the horror genre right. David Robert Mitchell utilizes almost every shot for some sort of effect. Whether it be a static underwater shot of Jay, her head disappearing in her own reflection, or a winding 360 degree pan that reveals a stalking person getting closer and closer and closer, the cinematography successfully enhances the suspense. For the first half-hour, every other shot is accompanied by the question as to whether or not we are seeing the POV of some lurking killer.
The plot introduces an original take on a done-to-death horror cliche. Sex is not obligatory, it is essential to the fear. But it is modest, as opposed to the horror movie convention of using raunchy sex scenes just to put butts in seats.
Most importantly, the fear derived from this film does not stem from shock value or jump scares (although both are certainly present as well). Instead, the film scares by manifesting our finite time as a stalking predator that is always around even if we can’t quite see it. In the end, we can run as much as we want, but we’re better off just letting go and allowing the creeping truth to press on, making its way toward us from a distance.
This is the best horror film of the year thus far. I don’t think I’m saying anything controversial by stating that. In every scene, I found myself picking apart thematic elements and symbols. This is a film I will certainly re-visit in the future. It seems to have staying power in the genre, even if it may not succeed in its impromptu nationwide release.
If you enjoy the horror genre, you should see this movie. Like last year’s The Babadook, It Follows terrifies without cheapening the thrills with scare tactics that lack creativity or artistry.
I loved this horror movie. If you like quality horror, I feel like you will like It Follows, too. You can find it on Amazon below:
Have you seen It Follows? If so, what did you think? Does it do the horror genre proud? Or was it slow and boring? Let me know in the comments!
As always, thanks for reading!
–Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)