by Philip Price
This could have gone rather bad were director David Robert Mitchell not completely sure of how he'd be able to pull it off. Because, let's face it: the idea of someone walking after you isn't exactly frightening at first thought and could easily be interpreted as comical were it not presented in the right way. Presentation is key and Mitchell has this down to a science in “It Follows” as everything from the framing to the movement of the camera and into the accompanying score is drilled down to precision so as to evoke the most effective reactions. In that the film feels so specific in its making allows for the final product to feel assured in its execution and thus its ability to play on the minds of those taking it in for the first time. As much as people like to imagine we are smarter than the characters on a screen, especially in scary movies, “It Follows” makes one question that confidence by building up the mystery of the circumstances and pitting both the characters and everyone watching them in a race against time whether they realize it or not. While things could have gone one of two ways really easily with this simple yet somewhat profound little horror flick, the quality of the production and the keen sense of being able to capture exactly what he wanted has seemingly allowed for Mitchell to create a horror film that isn't necessarily as scary as it is intimidating and eerie. One could easily read the synopsis and laugh, one could easily read the synopsis and find it trashy given the certain set of rules with which the film’s central conceit operates, but in understanding why it all works as well as it does and why it makes sense, why certain elements are more than critical, is to see it play out with your own eyes and try to deny the cool yet disturbing feeling that washes over you and takes you in. That is what “It Follows” does best, that is why it deserves the praise it has received so far; because it takes you into its world and doesn't let you go. Even as you leave the theater it raises the hair on the back of your neck making you turn your head to check if anyone's there.
Much like last years “The Guest,” but with better consistent utilization of its soundtrack, “It Follows” plays off the nostalgia of films from the ‘80s. The John Carpenter references and visual cues run rampant as the film is set in the eternal autumn where neighborhood lawns are always covered in multi-colored leaves and the clouds hang over the rooftops as if ready to release a deluge of bad weather at any time. The sense of a new school year, hanging out with friends on couches after the long school days and eating Cheetos while watching old movies is fresh in the film’s aesthetic. The setting isn't really as important as the feeling though and the feeling, the atmosphere, the tone is where “It Follows” finds its strength. Also like “The Guest,” we understand that nothing necessarily new or fresh is being told to us here, but it is the way in which it is conveyed that feels fresh and exciting. Even the way things are being done are nothing new, but that we are able to recognize them, that we are able to quickly understand the headspace of Mitchell and what his intentions were is somewhat exhilarating and we applaud him because we realize how well he ultimately pulls it off. From the opening shot that sets the camera up in the middle of a quiet, suburban neighborhood and spins itself around in a complete 360 (a technique used several times throughout the film to great effect) as a single point of focus makes her way across the canvas to entrance us I was hooked. It was all there in a way that simply made sense and as the film continued building on its story and adding layers it only upped the amount of tension and sense of looming danger that becomes inescapable for our main character and her group of friends. As with many a solid film, “It Follows” does begin to lose its way as it closes in on its climax. Resorting to not so much a resolution, but one last, big final plan that really has no grounds to stand on and that we don't necessarily see the point in wasting the effort on.
We are first introduced to Jay (Maika Monroe) as she takes a dip in her backyard, above ground swimming pool. She is pretty, but not overly confident in herself. She seems level headed and articulate, but is not beyond being seduced by her childhood ideals of dating and riding in cars with boys being brought to life. So, when Hugh (Jake Weary), a new guy she's dating, takes her out to the beach and romantically begins to kiss her she is not opposed to going all the way with him in the back of his car. At first, there seems no reason to think anything more of the fornication, but then Hugh drugs her and knocks her out and ties her to a chair in order to make sure she sees a mysterious force that has been following him that he has now passed on to her. The rules are explained hastily in that Jay has to have sex with someone else to pass the curse on to them, but that it still stays with her because if the person she passes it on to is killed it reverts back to her and on down the line. It is a vicious circle, but it can't run after you or hop in a car or anything super ridiculous – it simply walks. It walks until it reaches you. It can take any form, that of a complete stranger or someone you know and love. Jay is hard-pressed to believe Hugh at first, but instead is shaken by the trauma of being drugged and tied down and forced to witness what she likely thinks of as a hallucination. At her side are her younger sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and their friends Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Yara (Olivia Luccardi). As Jay comes to realize the curse might actually be real and continues to see strange, zombie-like figures trailing her that no one else seems to notice she begins to go further and further down the rabbit hole. Fellow neighbor, Greg (Daniel Zovatto), joins the group in order to help Jay and her friends figure out what to do next, but there is hardly anything they can do except remain on the run. It is in this predicament that Mitchell finds himself with a movie that could easily feel laborious from one location to the next, but instead he eases from one scene to the next with pacing that escalates rather than remains stagnant.
While wholly stylistic, “It Follows” hinges on the credibility of its performances and what this young cast is able to bring to the understanding of this period in their lives. The core group that make up the film’s heroes all exist in that transitional stage of being full-fledged teenagers to that of functioning adults. It is a telling time, that strange time right after high school when anything seems possible yet going to community college makes it feel as if you've simply graduated to another grade with the ability to come and go as you please. The freedom is more readily available, but you're not exactly sure what do with it. It is the placing of the characters in this stage of life that only adds to the rather off-kilter, leaning toward creepy vibe that the film contains throughout. Each of these kids live at home with their parents, but the actual adult presence here figures little into the lives of our characters as they don't rely on them to solve their problems, but instead understand the circumstances they've created are fully their own to deal with. This not only gives the audience a slight hint of unreliability in these pre-adults in wondering if they'll actually be able to handle themselves, but it makes for a genuinely moving experience where we wish for a resolve that we know will likely never come even after the final shot fades to black. The performances are earnest and honest in that we root for Jay and her co-horts to somehow outsmart a force beyond their understanding while the camera work and sound design only warn us to be hesitant of how close we get to them. It is a tricky line to walk, an interesting side to take in that Mitchell has essentially created a large metaphorical drama with horror elements that we become invested in due to the characters yet unabashadly fear because we understand these peoples sentencing right off the bat. That this tale is told with so much style and cool is what allows for us to actually enjoy it and relish in the fact that anything old can be made into something new with the right approach.