It Follows gets a wide release tonight..
It Follows comes at a time where the horror genre has become a recursive echo chamber—endless repeats of worn out ideas, remakes and tropes. While it does borrow from films that have come before it, there is something fresh and contemplative about the story and it has emotions not usually seen in these types of films. It’s honest, and apparent that director, David Robert Mitchell, was making something quite personal and near to his heart.
Jay (Maika Monroe) is a normal teenage girl living in southeast Michigan (where the movie was filmed) who has a mild case of small town ennui. Her new boyfriend, Hugh (Jake Weary), has been acting somewhat strange but she brushes it off as moodiness. After they make love for the first time, she discovers his terrible secret. There is a malevolent entity that follows him around taking on the form of different types of people. It is relentless in its pursuit, though it never moves faster than a brisk walking pace. Even though you can theoretically outrun it, if you ever stop for any reason, it eventually catches up to you and tries to kill you.
The onus of evil spirit is transferred through sexual contact, like some sort of spiritual STD. It is interesting because Hugh figures that because Jay is female, it will be much easier for her to find a new sexual partner to pass it along to. This rather misogynistic train of thought is a fascinating concept, and it adds another dimension to what could have been a generic “demonic stalker” plotline. Jay is conflicted about the idea of giving the demon to another person, just as women are often conflicted about sleeping with a new partner. She is simultaneously ashamed and terrified, having been saddled with this terrible stigma. It also makes for an intriguing dynamic with her friend Paul (Keir Gilchrist) who has a crush on Jay that has been unrequited thus far.
This film has a retro aesthetic with soft lighting and interesting camera framing. The characters use landlines and have old-fashioned tube televisions, but the clothes and cars look modern. It has the effect of making the film seem more timeless, as it’s hard to pin down the exact time period in which the movie takes place. The atmosphere is more realistic and less glossy, which propels the movie towards an indie style. Everything is well-shot, with some artsy scenes thrown in here or there. Not unlike the monster who chases the characters, the pace of the film is slow and unrelenting. There is a definite build-up and it becomes very tense by the end of the film. One small quibble is Mitchell does rely on a couple of cheap jump-scares, but that seems to be practically unavoidable in most horror films.
While It Follows was filmed in southeast Michigan, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of black people in the movie itself. I feel like this was done intentionally by the director, but not for the reason you might think. There is a concept known as “white flight” in which affluent white people move out of urban areas to the suburbs in the outskirts of the city. Detroit definitely has had this phenomenon occur and it is a source of tension sometimes. However, no matter how far away these people move, they still occasionally encounter reminders of their prior home, whether it be a crime on their street or whatever the case may be. In essence, their fears follow them wherever they go. One of the characters in the movie even says, “I remember my mom telling me when I was a child to not go south of 8 Mile—that it was dangerous”. I feel like that one of the layers of this film is a metaphor for the current state of Detroit and how the stigma, the monster, follows the residents of the city no matter where they go.
Rounding out the surprisingly deep storyline is the outstanding electronic score done by Rich Vreeland of Disasterpiece (who also scored the adorable indie video game FEZ). It’s menacing when it needs to be but lush and ethereal at other key points in the film. It sounds like he used a mix of new and vintage synthesizers and it all blends together to make an eerie and foreboding sonic experience. There is an actual repeated musical theme for this score—it’s not just random chords and ambiance. I adore when a film uses a theme in this way, because just hearing the familiar notes throughout the film can evoke strong emotions. For whatever reason, this style of musical score is becoming rarer. The music does lend itself to the faux-retro feel of the film and was a great choice for a horror film.
It Follows is one of the most original horror films I have seen in quite a while. It manages to use common tropes in a new and exciting way and comes highly recommended.