It Follows (2014)
Starring Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Jake Weary, Daniel Zovatto.
Written and Directed by David Robert Mitchell.
Right, this film takes a sexually transmitted disease to a whole other level! I actually saw this film quite some time ago, and have watched it several times since. The title immediately engaged with me, and had me questioning all sorts of possible stories. Does that mean the film was already working? I’m not sure what’s going on but it’s been a while since I’ve seen a decent ‘modern’ horror film – the old classics remain the best. Mainly because, the best scary ideas are simple. Stop trying to over complicate a horror narrative! It Follows features an implacable, malign spirit that looks like a succession of relatively anonymous, random people. Some are obviously wounded or distressed, and some are simply spaced-out. This entity walks towards its victim at an even but relentless pace. If that isn’t creepy enough, once cursed the victim can run or drive a great distance to gain respite but the evil phantom will eventually find you. As a prologue featuring a previous victim demonstrates, the results of getting caught by this thing are shocking and terminal. With a marvellously suggestive title and thought-provoking exploration of sex, this indie chiller will definitely please any horror fan wanting a decent scare. A horror fan just like me!
Maika Monroe plays Jay, an easy-going, grounded teenager with an ordinary suburban life in Detroit. She appears to have a sister of a similar nature, and friends that are quirky but committed. Everything starts off just very tame – it really builds tension. It all sounds simple enough, but when Jay is suddenly disrupted by a traumatic sexual experience and the subsequent plight of being stalked by an unstoppable malevolent force, the horror element really kicks in. At this point it really could have gone two ways for me as you HAVE to keep the audience believably engaged. This is the very point in which I’ll turn off or carry on. As the lead in a horror movie, you are the audience, and you have to provide the structure of real life in very unrealistic situations. It Follows however, really did this. I’m a fan of Jay’s character and the shift in stereotypical horror casting. Jay was obviously going to be the one to challenge this evil force, and she wasn’t going to be killed off any time soon. It was nice to have a heroine for once in a horror! She was strangely endearing too – you’ll know what I mean if you watch it.
I always enjoyed cinematography at university. When I first started studying film, I was warned I would never be able to watch a film ever again in the same way. Eurgh, this is truer than I wish to believe. Thanks to this all too real revelation, I was of the opinion that Mitchell’s camera work visually unified the characters’ shared world, either through tracking shots and/or pans that follow characters from one end of the room to the other or the static panoramas that show several characters occupying the same space. We’re also given the impression of infinite space whenever Mitchell’s camera stands in for, or is positioned inside Jay’s or her friend Paul’s car. In these scenes, the road that stretches out in front of them/ is long, and there is never a set destination in sight. It’s all about getting away. That concept is far more unnerving than any of the film’s more traditional scare scenes, though those are good too. For me, the classic back and fourth motion whereby something gets nearer every time you go back to it really worked. It’s so unassuming! Watch the scene at the beach and you’ll totally get it.
Rich Vreeland’s soundscape on this film also gave me the creeps – the contribution absolutely made the film what it was. The crescendos were timed perfectly, and that horrible high pitch scream only heightened my sense of total fear for Jay. It was so different too! It really was a less is more approach, a personal favourite of mine. It was so subtle and relaxed. It made the premise of the film believable, as if this could actually happen to any of us.
After reading some reviews, a lot of critics were so focused on the representation of adolescent sex rather than the horror element. A lot felt it was a bad reflection, and represented negative emotions attached to love and intimacy. I don’t think I read into it as much as this. I saw Mitchell addressed these concerns, by saying “We’re all here for a limited amount of time, and we can’t escape our mortality,” he said, “but love and sex are two ways in which we can – at least temporarily – push death away.” Maybe he was referring to the fact that although Jay ‘picked up’ this curse through sex, it was actually also her only way out. Sorry but, I was too creeped out by the beach scene to take any notice of this!
The film doesn’t go without faults – I think some will find some gaps in the narrative or perhaps need something more. I would say though, if you want to be scared or feel just a little on edge (weird we want to feel those things right?!) then I would give It Follows a watch. It’s subtle, true to the time in which it’s set and truly frightening. Four stars!