Note: This review was originally published back in January 2015 as part of our coverage for the Sundance Film Festival.
Fear is found in the dark. Fear is found in the silence of an empty bedroom before bed, without the comforting sounds of an A/C running, a ceiling fan spinning, or a heater kicking on. What if someone is inside our closet? What if they’re making their way down our hallway, only steps from our bedroom door? What if they’re under our bed? In David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, these fears are explored only to be expanded upon. It turns out knowing exactly what is out there and even seeing it can leave you just as frightened as the fear in the unknown.
It Follows follows (haha) a young and inexperienced Jay (Maika Monroe), whom after a sexual encounter finds herself haunted by a presence that wants …what, exactly? Mitchell’s film doesn’t get bogged down with origin stories or the whys and whats of its antagonist’s intent and is all the stronger for it. Too often in horror films a ragtag team of teenagers get chased, a few wind up getting got, but one or two eventually discover who or what is after them, ultimately solving the problem by exorcising or straight-up killing the assailant. There is not a high body count in It Follows. There is some exposition but enough mystery to leave both the audience and the characters to wonder, “Why is this happening?”
The premise of Mitchell’s plot can be looked at as a cautionary tale against random hook-ups, and that’s fine for any potential think pieces or discussions one wishes to create. However, It Follows never forgets that it’s first and foremost a horror movie and one in which the writer/director has chosen a popular activity of youth (and really any) culture as a catalyst for the terror to come. It’s a new take on the old adage that anyone who has sex in a horror movie must die, because as opposed to the unwritten rules in a Friday the 13th film, it’s literal in It Follows.
Once the scares start to come, they rarely let up. Mitchell, in only his second full-length, does an incredible job of creating horror not only in small houses in the middle of the night but in beachfronts with the sun shining down, in schoolyards on an overcast day, and in the middle of an empty street with nothing in sight. The movie will draw comparisons to Adam Wingard’s The Guest as a mini-tribute to the films of director John Carpenter (both films happen to feature rising star Monroe). However, while The Guest embraces the Carpenter of the mid-‘80s, It Follows bows down to the Carpenter of the late ‘70s.
Nods to the famous director are found within its synth-heavy original score by Disasterpeace (don’t worry about the goofy name, for his music is highly effective), which falls in line with the aforementioned The Guest as well as 2013’s Cold in July soundtrack. There are even specific scenes that are taken from Carpenter’s past. One such scene takes place in school, where we find Jay sitting in the corner of her classroom and seeing something eerie outside the window, echoing Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode near the beginning of Halloween 37 years earlier. Mitchell’s focus on tension over gore calls back to early Carpenter, as does the likeable cast he’s assembled — the kind of ensemble you hope survives as opposed to one you’re cheering against. Well, Linda’s kind of a pain in the ass in Halloween, but that’s another story.
The highest compliment I can pay the movie is that its moments of horror play out like something from an old children’s ghost story. It’s not hard to imagine finding the tale within the pages of a collection of folklore akin to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (now with sex!). This review deliberately holds back the major events of the film so as not to spoil the surprises, and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to avoid all of its trailers. Go into It Follows oblivious to what you’re about to see, and you’ll exit terrified. It lingers.
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