IT FOLLOWS Movie Review
Of all the horror movie tropes that have become synonymous with the genre the one that taps most directly into our primal fears, the one that feels like it has been ripped straight from our collective nightmares, is the slow walk. We’ve all had that nightmare where someone, or something, is slowly stalking us down and no matter where we go or how fast we run we cannot get away. The slow but relentless pace of our approaching demise. All the greats have made use of it, from Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees to the endless hordes of Zombies, all of them are slow, but they’ll get you all the same. The slow walk is so creepy that David Robert Mitchell has built a whole film around it.
It Follows… uh, follows, Jay (Maika Monroe, fresh off the awesome The Guest), a bright girl in her late teens who has just started dating a cute boy. The relationship soon turns physical, and to Jay’s horror she catches something… unexpected. Someone begins following Jay. Someone only she can see. It can look like anyone, a complete stranger or the most cherished of friends. It never talks. It never runs. It never stops. All it does is follow. And if it catches you? …You don’t want to know.
It’s a nod to the old slasher cliche of once you screw you’re screwed, but It Follows gives it a nice twist: The only way to save yourself (temporarily) is to pass it on to someone else by having sex. The subtext is far from subtle but it gives the film an appreciated layer of depth none the less. This type of meta referencing usually results in something arch ala the Scream series but It Follows plays it mostly straight. The characters aren’t one note archetypes, but typical down to earth teens. Jay and her friends care for one another (they are essentially a self sufficient family unit, as almost no adults appear in the film) and fully invest in what’s happening, rather than scoff at the ludicrousness of the situation. They don’t quip sardonically throughout (which is not to say they aren’t funny) but react realistically, weighing up their options and the physical and moral toll those options will take. The premise may be high concept but the characters ground it.
The characters allow us to suspend our disbelief which in turn allows the film to be filled with a number of unusual flourishes. One of them is the previously mentioned lack of adults. Another is the anachronistic technology that everyone uses in the film. All of the kids have modern cell phones but the TV’s they watch are all straight out of the 80’s. And what household still uses typewriters? Large swaths of the movie take place in a derelict, abandoned neighbourhood, giving the environments a ghost town feel. These touches, along with the Carpenter-esque soundtrack, give the film a throwback vibe to when horror films had a bit more personality than the lazy genre offerings we get today.
But for many all that really matters is how scary the film is and it is here that It Follows may lose some people. This is not a movie built on jump scares. Yes, there are one or two jumps and they are effective enough but it is not that kind of horror. This is a film that is powered by dread. Whatever it is that is following Jay does not hide and jump out when you least expect it. It walks, slowly, sometimes visible from a mile away. Jay sees it coming but is powerless to stop it. We feel her fear. Or at least we do for about half the film. When Jay, and by extension the audience, is not fully aware of what is happening to her the film is at its most unnerving. It is easier to create tension when we don’t really know what is going on, just that something is very wrong. But once the “rules” start to become clear the IT in It Follows isn’t quite so terrifying. The film is never less than creepy but it won’t have you turning on all the lights in the house and struggling to sleep at night either. For some that may be damning, but It Follows is worth sticking with.
The kids that form the central group are all likable and the bonds that are formed and strengthened throughout their nightmarish ordeal warm us to them as much as they do each other. The hairs on the back of your neck may stop standing on end after a while, but your affinity for the characters and your fear for their safety will keep you on the edge of your seat until the credits roll.
Some have taken umbrage at the movie’s seemingly anti sex message but I think that reading is missing the point. It Follows isn’t so much taking a stance as it is making use of an established and well known slasher movie cliche and giving it a modern twist. Yes, sex is a large part of the plot and subtext, and there are a few wry gags on the preconceived notions of promiscuity, but the film’s message is a broader one. Growing up means many things and one of them is accepting that each and every one of our deaths is out there somewhere. Heading straight for us. It might be able to be slowed, but it can’t be stopped. It’s out there. Years, months, minutes, miles, or meters away, we don’t know, but it’s coming. The film’s final shot sums this up perfectly. We just have to carry on living until it catches up.
It Follows may not chill the blood but it is an original idea in a genre that often sorely lacks in them. It is creepy, stylish, clever and inventive, and consistently surprising.