It Follows review

I can imagine that “It Follows” is a stigmatizing horror film, that one either really likes it, or really hates it.  I find it difficult to conceive of anyone falling into the middling range with this one.  “It Follows” is high concept, has unique execution, yet it lacks the smarminess and pretentiousness that frequently accompanies that type of combination.  Instead, writer/director David Robert Mitchell delivers a stripped down, straight-forward story of one woman, and her group of friends, as they struggle to come to terms with, and survive, a sexually transmitted supernatural entity.

The film is sparse on details unimportant to the immediate narrative.  There is no winding flashbacks, or detours, that give us backstory.  More often than not we are left in the dark about who people are, how they met, and ultimately what they do.  In this modern age of filmmaking, where plots and stories are too often as bloated as their unnecessary budgets, to see this film where simplicity in storytelling not only works, but makes the film better, is a rare and most welcome sight.

I believe the film could be extremely divisive.  If you say “horror film” to the average filmgoer you may conjure a particular image, “It Follows” hardly ever fits ANY of those images, and as an avid fan of horror films, it is a fabulous challenge, and addition, to this beloved genre.  For a horror film it has an exceptionally low body count and there is hardly any gore or blood.  Most of what is there in this latter category is in the obligatory opening sequence, which is twisted and disturbing.  It also eschews an easily identifiable, or even iconic, antagonist.  It also forgoes the standard “how do I defeat this terror” storyline, in favor of a more realistic and immediate solution.  The story elements aren’t the only thing that set it apart, “It Follows” is also filmed and scored differently than any current or recent horror film.

The camera work in the film is evocative and haunting all on its own.  It feels intimate.  There are exceptional moments where the camera almost dances through the environment slowly and subtly reveals pieces of the scene that may, or may not, be important.  When you have one character who is being stalked by an entity only she can see it is fun to try and figure out if someone on screen is a threat or just a person.  By the time either we, or the character, figure it out it may be too late.  David Robert Mitchell understands this in a way many directors do not, and uses the camera and staging to sell the story.  Complimenting the gorgeous camera work is the thrilling score by Disasterpeace.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard a film, much less a horror film, scored with a synth heavy sound.  Disasterpeace manages to use a sound that has been discarded as passĂ©, imbue it with bold freshness, and wrap its aural arms around the decrepit surroundings of Detroit and the terrifying story of paranoia and impending doom.  The dark rumblings, rich pounding, and electric syncopations all served to help strip the story of its time and make if feel more timeless.  It was another fun element of “It Follows” to try and figure out the setting of the film, some elements testified to a 1970s setting, while others clearly screamed modern era, like the hi-tech e-reader Yara uses throughout the film.  I found myself scouring the end credits for mention of composer and score album to add to my collection for the music was both unique and powerful.  It was another strong component in an already great list of things “It Follows” has going for it.

When I walked in to the film, I had heard the strong recommendations, and yet I had my reservations.  As I knew this was a film about a sexually transmitted haunting type thing I wondered if this was a sorry throwback morality tale about loose women paying for their sexuality.  While the narrative may have been stripped down to the most necessary of elements, what I was left with as I walked out of the theater was much grander.  The ending can be considered problematic and I would have to watch the film a few times more to make up my mind about whether the ending is a lame cop out to actually devise a fully functioning ending, or just the director abandoning it as he lacked an ending and thought he could disguise it, or actually a damned fine ending in the long run when one contemplates the entirety of the story.  I would like to think that the ending makes sense and is a functional one, but like I said, I’m not quite sold yet.  What I am happy about is that “It Follows” may be a film about a woman who is cursed by a supernatural entity stalking her with the ultimate goal of killing her after she has sex with someone else infected, but the film veers away from shaming her, making it her fault, or blaming her.  Instead it just progresses from the event and goes from there.  Bravo.

Ultimately, whether you like “It Follows” or not will depend on how  you like your horror.  If you like it up close, bloody, and tense due to the chase then this film will probably not be to your liking.  This film, for me, evoked the paranoid tone of “The Shining” in the way the main character moves through her stages of dealing, or not dealing, with the events.  The way the music and camerawork beautifully compliment the escalation of events and communication of tension is worth noting as well.  There are several great, and I do mean GREAT, jump scares that are used sparingly and fabulously well-timed, but most of the terror comes from just deciphering the hunt.  Is that a threat or not?  Are those echoing steps representative of something malicious? Or something benign?  And ultimately the last two questions the film poses well throughout: how can friends help when they can’t see the threat and how can friends trust the threat when they can’t see it?

I look forward to sitting down and watching “It Follows” again and, not only figuring out my thoughts about the ending, but deciding if this is one of those unique movies I love only once and never watch again.  It is fabulous, unique, definitely worth a watch.  I love it when writers and directors try something new in horror and it works.  I also love watching a film and realizing that something so interesting and unique managed to make it through the cookie-cutter approval system and actually get a wide-spread distribution. Love it or hate it, “It Follows” tries to do something different and that, at the minimum should applauded.  It is a film that deserves to find its audience and I truly hope it does.

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