ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

Jay Height (Maika Monroe) is a suburban Detroit teenage girl who spends her days relaxing in her raised swimming pool (much to the delight of the young, peeping tom boys next door), and hanging out with her best friends – sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and neighbors Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Yara (Olivia Luccardi). One night, while out on a date with Hugh (Jake Weary), the get some bumping and grinding going on in the backseat of his car.

Not a good idea in horror films, just saying.

As you’d expect, something bad does follow when Jay is chloroformed by Hugh, waking up later on tied to a chair. He explains to her that he really means no harm, but says he had no choice. He’s passed something on to her, something that was first passed on to him by someone else. He can’t explain who it is or what it is, or how to get rid of it. Whatever it is, it’s coming after her in a variety of forms, and until she can figure out how to get rid of it, she’s stuck with it.

Uh – what is herpes, Alex.

With all the gimmicks, remakes, found-footage formats and lazy jump scares that have become commonplace for horror films, you’d think that the once proud genre has ironically turned into the least scary of them all. But every now and then, we get a little gem that pops up and reminds us that horror will not, in fact, go gentle into that good night. Last year it was Oculus, The Guest (more a thriller than a horror, but you’ll just argue semantics if that situation ever happens to you) and The Babadook. The year before it gave us You’re Next and The Conjuring. This year, it’s It Follows.

Brought to us by writer/director David Robert Mitchell, in his second feature-length film following the coming-of-age drama The Myth of the American Sleepover, It Follows does all the things a great horror film needs to do. Mitchell isn’t interested in making us jump in cheap ways. There’s thankfully no dopey “mirror shot”, which if I see again in a horror film, I swear to God I’ll set the screen on fire. Sure, there are maybe one or two startle moments, but overall, this film is able to effectively unnerve us like a nightmare that seems to have no end in sight.

Which for me, continued after the movie was over as my dad pretended to follow me from a distance as I made my way over to my car.

Although clearly inspired by horror maestros John Carpenter and George A. Romero, Mitchell brings more than enough of his own flavor to the film. Combining a nice blend of contemporary and retro sensibilities (gotta love the tube TVs), his style and vision are set up beautifully within minutes of the opening scene – a ten minute tracking shot (wide-angle lenses were used for a more expansive look) that follows a frightened girl running from whatever “it” may be. There’s barely any dialogue in those introductory moments, aside from some background dialogue, but there’s a heavy sense of fear and urgency all throughout that scene through the girl’s performance, the tone established by Mitchell and Rich Vreeland’s suitably off-putting synth score (another nice touch that’s reminiscent of vintage Carpenter).

And this is all before we’ve even met the female protagonist.

Much like what Jennifer Kent did with The Babadook, Mitchell generates a lingering feeling of creepiness through mood and atmosphere. The pacing is deliberate, allowing for the tension to build in a slow yet persistent manner that moves much in the same way the mysterious being moves after its victims. What really heightens the tension, though, is the excellent use of sound, which ranges from maddening silence to the dissonant tones carried out by the score. The trick to not being scared when watching a horror film is not to cover your eyes, but your ears. Sound is crucial to horror more so than any other genre, and here it is put to great unsettling use.

As for the story, it’s easy for people to assume the “it” that follows is an allegory for the spread of STDs, and I can definitely see how one can make an argument for that theory. Themes of predation and the anxieties that accompany teenage intimacy are noticeable, and of course, sex coming with consequences and an abundance of nudity always feels right at home within horror (the nudity here isn’t exploited for gratuitous sleaziness, but used to create a disturbing state of vulnerability). Mitchell, however, isn’t interested in hammering home a moral story, and leaves the interpretation open. There’s no lengthy explanation from the CDC, an ancient book discovered by the teens that tells the origin of the creature, or a reveal that it was the government or global warming. All we know and need to know as the viewer is that whatever it is is, and it’s after its victims.

And as Spielberg and Hitchcock have proven before, the fear of what is unknown and (or) unexplained is much more terrifying than that which is out in the open.

Following the great supporting work she did in last year’s The Guest, up-and-comer Maika Monroe turns in another strong performance, this time carrying the film as the lead. With this only being her second substantial role, Monroe, surrounded by an unknown but still dependable supporting cast, convincingly sells her character’s despair, frustration and paranoia as she tries desperately to be rid of whatever it is that’s stalking her. She shows great potential to be a headliner someday, and hopefully she gets more opportunities to branch out into other genres.

Yeah, she has us sold for sure as a scream queen, but typecasting can be a bitch, especially when you possess real talent.

Smart, fresh, and above all, frighteningly fun, It Follows is a fantastic sophomore effort from writer/director David Robert Mitchell that relies on gut-wrenching suspense and an atmospheric dread to send its viewers’ heart rates soaring. Add some fine craftsmanship by Mitchell and his crew, and a strong lead performance from Maika Monroe to the mix, and you have one of the creepiest, most entertaining films of 2015.

I give It Follows an A (★★★½).

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