Director: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe
It entertains! As the closing credits rolled on “It Follows,” I concluded that I had not merely witnessed an outstanding American horror movie. With arms outstretched, my fists pumping high up in the air, I knew that I had just seen the best horror movie yet produced in the current decade. How the creative geniuses behind this instant classic managed to pull this off is quite simple. I’ve been saying for a long time now that if I were ever to make a horror movie myself, I would want to do it in the style of a late 1970’s/early 1980’s horror flick. This is the era of horror that, for me, has no equal. The greatest of these movies also knew how to creep their audiences out by choosing atmosphere over buckets of blood, and by making the killer a seldom seen but ever-present force of nature. The creators of this movie appear to have as much respect for that period in horror history as I do, as the aptly titled “It Follows” marches in lockstep with the likes of John Carpenter’s “Halloween.”
Jay Height (Maika Monroe), a Michigan college student, is on a movie date with Hugh (Jake Weary) playing an innocent game of “If you could trade places with anyone in this room…” The object of the game is to guess who the other person has selected. When it’s Hugh’s turn to guess, he points out a woman whom Jay cannot see. This has Hugh visibly disturbed, and he insists that they leave the theater together right away. Some time later, the two have sex in the back of Hugh’s car, after which Hugh renders Jay unconscious with chloroform and ties her to a wheelchair. Jay’s situation is already bad enough but, as Hugh explains, it’s about to get a whole lot worse. He swears he has no intention of harming her. That’s fine except for the fact that, through their consensual sex, he effectively already has.
Hugh’s explanation is this: The same entity that has been silently, slowly chasing after Hugh will now turn its attention towards Jay. That is, of course, unless she can find someone else to have sex with, in which case the entity will shift its focus onto them. The catch is that, if it should kill that person, it would then come back to haunt Jay. This is why Hugh is so keen on Jay getting busy, because her death would mean that he would once again be the main target. No one knows where this thing came from or who its first victim was, only that there is just the one of it. It makes up for its shortcomings by being very clever. It can appear to its victims as anyone, either as someone they know or just a random face in the crowd. Either way, it absolutely never will stop stalking you until it has killed you.
Jay has a hard time convincing her friends of what’s going on, choosing instead to have them stick close by to keep an eye on her. After she flees from the entity a couple of times, together they all track down Hugh, whose real name is Jeff Redmond. Jeff’s only new piece of information is that he believes he originally caught the curse from a one-night stand, after which he says that his and Jay’s close proximity to one another is putting his life at risk, and so he demands that they leave at once. Thinking him crazy, Jay’s friends remain skeptical until it catches up to her at Greg (Daniel Zovatto)’s lakehouse. After that, they begin to formulate a plan as to how to be rid of it once and for all. Not without casualties along the way, this plan climaxes at an abandoned pool.
“It Follows” is definitely not perfect. It makes little sense for Jay and her friends to have a calm sit-down with Hugh/Jeff after his earlier behavior. The rules for how the curse is passed on aren’t quite as clear as maybe they should be, leading to a host of unanswered questions. You’d be better served to just go along with it, which I did. Also, it’s hard to believe these characters could ever think that a gun could be effective against the entity after it’s established that bullets only slow it down. Then again, so many characters from the “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” films made similar lapses in judgment, and we forgave it then.
Far outweighing the movie’s mistakes are its strengths. The jump scares are kept to a minimum (I think I counted two), of which I am in total favor. The cinematography is perfecto. I’ve not been as contented by a movie’s cinematography since the first time I saw Dario Argento’s “Suspiria.” So much is going on in certain shots that it’ll take several more viewings (which I am gleefully prepared for) to soak it all in. My favorites are the shots from the point of view of the neighbors looking in on Jay’s manic behavior and, in particular, the shot looking in through the windows of various hospital rooms before finally ending up in the one where Jay is resting. No matter the chaotic situation she is facing, these shots demonstrate how life around her continues to go on blissfully unaware, a perspective that’s rarely shown in horror movies. One of the best assets of “It Follows” is its retro synthesizer score by Disasterpeace, resulting in the most memorable main theme of any horror film in the last thirty years.
The ambiguity of the film’s ending is another thing I love about “It Follows.” With the final shot, it is left up to the viewer to decide what happens next. Do our survivors continue to live on, always looking over their shoulder from here on out, or are they as doomed as anyone else who has encountered the entity? If the very 1980’s-style theme of Sex=Death carries on from this point, their chances probably aren’t very good. Personally, I’d like to see things left right where they are. I know how tempting it is to turn even the most moderately well-received horror film into a franchise, and I hope that “It Follows” can be one of the few allowed to stand alone. In this way, I think its legacy would be better served, especially if it paves the way for other retro horror titles in the near future.