Every once in awhile, a horror film comes along that rises above the usual tropes that plaque the horror genre. For every ten horror films with teenagers getting rowdy, blood and guts splattering on your screen and cheap scares involving a telephone ringing, there is usually one film that is able to rise from the ashes- in 2015, that film so far is 'It Follows'.
Director David Robert Mitchell follows up his debut film "The Myth of the American Sleepover" with the eerie "It Follows", a film that is as difficult to describe as it is beautiful to look at. Its part your high school Sex Ed class, part John Carpenter’s "Halloween", but its equal parts terrifying. The film is centered around young teenager Jay, played by the great up and comer Maika Monroe ('The Guest'), who, after what seems to be an innocent one night stand, is all of a sudden followed by a mysterious, unknown "force" that was passed on to her by Hugh (Jake Weary) during said sexual encounter. After the dirty deed has been done, Hugh informs Jay of what he "passed on" to her and gives her the ground rules: if it catches up to you it will kill you and in order to get rid of it, you must pass it on to someone else. Embarrassed and ashamed, Jay reluctantly shares her ordeal with her closest friends Paul, Yara, Kelly and Greg (Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe and Daniel Zovatto, respectively). Together, they try to figure out ways to help their fragile friend, who's slowly losing her grip on reality.
Like "Ginger Snaps", "Teeth" and "The Babadook" before it, "It Follows" boasts a competent female lead who, to quote Neve Campbell in the brilliant "Scream", is not “some big-breasted girl who can’t act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door”. On the contrary, Maika Monroe can act. Very, very well. She has a very bright future as much more than a scream queen. She plays Jay as a confident, competent teenage who makes a bad decision and must live with the consequences. She never ventures into "woe is me" territory and never seems helpless, even while losing grip on reality. She acknowledges the consequences she must live with and shows remarkable thoughtfulness in terms of who she "passes it along" to. It is revealed fairly early on in the film that Paul is in love with Jay, even volunteering to be her get out of jail free card just so she won't suffer anymore. Instead of taking the easy way out and jumping at the chance, Jay thoughtfully weighs her options and thoroughly considers the ramifications to come from such a decision- there is no damsel in distress here. David Robert Mitchell does a good job of putting Jay in situations where if she were to throw in the towel, it'd be conceivable and hard to blame her. But he and Monroe do an even better job of not allowing Jay to cave in and to continue to march forward- granted, with a little help from her friends.
What makes "It Follows" stand out above other horror films is its message. At its heart, the film is a metaphor for STD's and the effect they have on those who contract them. The shame and embarrassment, the damaged reputation, and how "it follows" someone even after it's been "passed on." When he is confronted by Jay later in the film, Hugh reveals to her that even though he passed it along to her, he can still see it and it still follows him. We see this a lot in our own culture; no matter how far removed someone is from any sort of sexual controversy, not necessarily STD's, it follows them for a very long time (Kim Kardashian, anyone?) Robert David Mitchell does a great job at handling this subject matter with class, never getting offensive or preachy, and never demeaning his characters for their actions. Instead, he chooses to focus on the effect that it has on someone's psyche, he just so happens to do this in the context of a horror film. What Mitchell also manages to do is make his film an absolute visual treat- it's stunning for a horror film. One of the best looking films I've seen so far this year. No- it's one of the best I've ever seen. Seriously. Stunning landscapes, lush colors, brilliantly clever framing that throws you right into the film, allowing you to inhabit the world these kids are living in- which makes the film that much more interesting and chilling. Couple this with an all electronic score from Disasterpiece, a'la John Carpenter, and you have an all out assault on all the senses that makes for one hell of a viewing experience.
The one thing about the film was maddingly frustrating to me was trying to pinpoint what time period these characters inhabit. While the look and feel of the set pieces scream the 1980s- the clothes, the cars, and one particular item used by a character (which does not exist even in today's world) all look like they belong in the modern day. Unfortunately, such inconsistency took me out of the film in some spots and it was frustrating. Such care went into the construction of the tone, atmosphere and development of the film and its characters that it was a letdown to see one major part of the film seem so thrown together and incomplete. It was ultimately not enough to make me really dislike the film, but it was enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth.
All in all, "It Follows" is a visually stunning, more than competent, fiendishly clever entry into the horror film canon, one that I think will ultimately stand the test of time and live on as a timely and cautionary tale of the cause and effect of one's actions and how all it takes is just one mistake to soil one's reputation- no matter how hard you try to move on, "it follows." See what I did there?
This is Jovanni, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.