It Follows is a unique supernatural horror that exploded into the mainstream film scene after receiving absolutely phenomenal reviews at the Cannes 2014 Film Festival.
This movie is unique in the fact that director, David Robert Mitchell, doesn't necessarily want to scare you upfront, but more so that he wants to leave a lasting impression in your psyche that will have you questioning what’s lurking around every dimly lit corner for the following few weeks after watching this film. He doesn't achieve this through basic jump scares or overly explicit scenes of brutal carnage, but through unsettling scenes of silence and realism. Mitchell plays off the audience’s desire to know what’s going to happen next, and completely denies them the ability to have any knowledge over the characters. You’re right there with them.
The film was originally created out of a nightmare that Mitchell once had. It was about an unstoppable, yet eerily slow force that would follow him for the rest of his life. Turning this absolute horror of an inescapable fate into a beautiful, yet unsettling masterpiece of the horror genre.
I’ll just touch on the obvious ways that It Follows sets up its eerie and tense atmosphere.
First off, the the entire soundtrack was created by Rich Vreeland, or better known as Disasterpiece. He managed to create a unique sound that was both booming and powerful, yet still off putting with it’s extremely distorted and sporadic synth.
Alongside Vreeland and Mitchell was Mike Gioulakis, the main cinematographer. Gioulakis didn't use a very diverse set of shots, like most horror movies, and films in general. When asked about the inspiration of It Follows’ steady tracking shots in an interview with “Film Maker Magazine”, Gioulakis stated:
[Director David Robert Mitchell and I] talked about a lot of different references. He’s obviously a fan of John Carpenter and a lot of horror from the ’70s and ’80s, but most of our visual references were not in the teen horror realm. We talked a lot about Paris, Texas, Blue Velvet and Rear Window. We’re both big fans of the still photographer Gregory Crewdson and David had him in his look book from day one. [Crewdson’s] photographs have the same kind of surreal suburban imagery that we wanted for It Follows.
Now these are just the simple, obvious tactics that Mitchell employed to enhance the terrifying atmosphere that It Follows presents.
But what about the subtle details that most people don’t tend to notice?
What Year Are They In?
Even before ‘IT’ is even introduced into the story, viewers are bombarded with a multitude of confusing, but easily missed details. Early on in the movie, we see the Main characters, Jay, Kelly, Yara and Paul watching a black and white film (Killers from Space ). This doesn't seem to be anything of importance, as people watch old films all the time. But if you pay attention to any TV that’s actually on during the duration of the movie, you’ll find that it’s always playing a vintage cartoon, or an early 50’s monster movie.
This isn't the only example of era ambiguity though.
The most modern TV that’s actually shown, seems to be from the 80-90’s, and all other TV’s are far older.
When Jay and Jeff head out on their date to the Movies, the actual theatre that they choose has a live organ playing and curtains covering the screen, something that isn't really seen in modern cinemas
As they leave the cinema, you can see that the feature film is Charade; featuring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. [Released in 1963]
The technology seems to be completely random too, as there are absolutely no wireless phones shown in the film, they’re all wired
Paul, Yara and Kelly are all playing with Old Maid cards on the porch of the house, which look as though they’re from the 40’s-50’s
The décor of Jay’s house seems to be ripped straight out of the 70’s, the walls littered with Black and White framed photos of, presumably, their grandparents
But even the pictures of Jay and Kelly are also in Black and White
When Greg goes to his house across the street from Jay, we can see that he has a brand new, modern, stainless steel refrigerator
When Jeff’s car is finally shown, it’s a brand new-looking 70’s era muscle car; even though the streets are littered with modern day junkers
Is Every Season Happening At Once?
Going back to the beginning of the film again, before the title sequence, we see a young girl running out of the house in high heels, short shorts and a frilly tank top. Clearly an outfit for summer, seeing as it was starting to get dark. Now, as Annie runs out of the house, we can see that there are green trees and a beautiful green lawn in front of her house. But as she crosses the street, we can see that there are leaves all over the street, the trees are changing colours, and one house even has pumpkins on their porch. So what season is it? Late Summer / Early Fall? That’s probably what you’re thinking, because we also see Jay swimming in her backyard a few scenes after this. But you’d be wrong.
When Jay and Jeff head out for their date, they seem to be wearing heavy winter jackets, like everyone else in line behind them. Okay, that’s understandable, it’s getting a bit chilly, still late Fall. But then again, as we watch Jeff hastily leave the theatre, the pair pass an auto repair shop, offering “Winter Specials”. So then if there’s hard evidence that this takes place in the winter, why is it always raining. Why wasn't Jay freezing solid when she was swimming. How are they able to go to the beach and enjoy themselves in their bathing suits when it’s supposed to be winter? This dissonance between the seasons helps put the viewers in a state of uncertainty, making everyone feel off for a reason that they can’t put their finger on.
Where Are Their Parents?
This is probably one of the most annoying parts of the entire film. Jay basically gets raped and drugged by Jeff, and the only people that are really there to comfort her are Yara, Paul, and Kelly. Not their Mom or Dad. We never actually see Jay’s mother in full. In the first scene that we see her, we get a side view of her talking on the phone in the kitchen, drinking a glass of wine. There’s also a scene where Jay’s mother is explaining the attack to Greg’s mother, while pouring some more liquor into her coffee. But it’s during the day, so we can tell that she is most likely a day drinker, possibly a reason for why she’s absent for most of the film. Now you could just argue that her Mother is an alcoholic and her Father left, thus leaving the characters in a guardian-less nightmare. There’s also a scene where Greg asks his mother what’s happening when It terrorised Jay’s house, to which she replies “Those people are such a mess.” I don’t think that’s the case.
I believe that Jay’s Father killed himself. The fact that Jay’s Mom is so absent from her life, and that she’s constantly drinking, seem to be signs that she’s coping with an unexpected loss in her life. The main proof for this theory, comes at the end of the film. When they’re all at the pool and Jay finally sees It coming towards her, she repeatedly says “There it is!” And when Kelly asks her what it looks like, she wearily responds with “I don’t want to tell you..” When the audience finally sees It, we can see that he’s a middle aged bearded man, probably in his mid to late 30’s. Now this could be any man, except it’s shown that it isn't. Back at the beginning of the film, when Jay’s getting ready for her date, we can see a few polaroid pictures stuck in her mirror. If you look carefully at the bottom one, you can see a young Jay with a middle aged, bearded man holding her. Looking almost identical to “It” at the pool. This would imply that her Father died fairly close to the date that picture was taken, and has been dead for quite a while. This would explain why the girls are so self-dependant and their mother is constantly drowning her emotion with an excess of alcohol.
The woman at the beginning of the film, Annie, just seems like another run-of-the-mill horror movie bimbo; trying to escape certain death by running in high heels. But that’s not the reason at all. It’s supposed to show how unprepared she was when It showed up at her house. It seemed like she was ready to go out, not to run away from a supernatural entity hell-bent on ending her life. This is also played up to the absolute extreme when Jay and everyone go to Jeff’s hideout. Every opening of the house is outfitted with hanging cans and bottles. This tells the audience that It has a physical body. It can make sounds, It can’t walk through walls, and It’s not a ghost. But Mitchell doesn't let us know that through Jeff’s earlier exposition, he lets us find it out alongside Jay. We’re there with her. We know just about as much as she does, and we learn through Jay’s own investigation.
In closing, the way that David Robert Mitchell uses era and seasonal ambiguity alongside very subtle details about significant plot-lines really helps in building an angst-filled tension that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats until the very last scene.