Hallelujah, it looks like the horror genre might finally be making a comeback. For a while there in the earlier years of the 21st century, it seemed like the well had almost run completely dry and there was nothing but a parade of shitty remakes and/or sequels, and worst of all, the mainstreaming of the torture subgenre, which came and went in a mercifully limited time frame. But in the past couple of years it seems like more creative, understated genre entries have been popping up more and more, with an emphasis on clever ideas and solid filmmaking, rather than cheap scares and shock value. And the place where the horror genre has been thriving for the past decade or so is the independent market, which is where It Follows comes into consideration.
Fresh off his more straightforward debut The Myth of the American Sleepover, director David Robert Mitchell helms this eerie little gem, which plays out like a feature length episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and I mean that in the best possible way. The main premise behind this film is one which begs the question that what if the scariest thing about a monster isn’t the moment it gets you, but rather the moments when it’s coming for you?
The plot is as follows (he he): we meet a young woman named Jay (played marvelously by Maika Monroe) whose life is forever altered when her short term boyfriend drugs her and reveals that he passed along to her a curse or demon of sorts through their having sex; a bloody, fetishized shape-shifter which can assume the likeness of friends or strangers alike. That said, its presence does have one major advantage for the prey, in that “it” doesn’t move quickly or even briskly, but rather it merely walks and follows its target relentlessly. This setup forces Jay to be constantly on the run, and always looking over her shoulder, realizing that if she doesn’t act soon, she will spend the rest of her life running from and tying not to be done in by this mysterious “it”.
Right from the opening frames, this film is clearly intended to be a feature length tribute to the genre styling of yesteryear as done by John Carpenter – similar to last year’s The Guest, which also starred Maika Monroe – right down to its wide open suburban aesthetic and the synth-heavy albeit sometimes overbearing musical score, which is at its most heavy-handed during Jay’s first solo encounter with It.
But David Robert Mitchell also brings a lot of originality to the table and is able to inject some of his own personal sense of style and pacing to the proceedings, with several passages of the film being communicated almost entirely through visuals and with little to no expository dialogue, which is extremely rare to see done within the genre, at least now-a-days, and the effort is more than welcome in a film of this type. And the smart choices in cinematography often speak for themselves, offering lots of wide open spaces for the “it” to be hidden somewhere in the frame, unbeknownst to the characters in the foreground as the entity approaches, with some of the most memorable sequences featuring slow 360 pans around a particular setting, all the while “it” gets closer and closer with each reveal.
Indeed, It Follows’ greatest asset is the combination of its extremely likeable cast of characters and the delicious sense of atmosphere. Mitchell does the cast a lot of favors by crafting realistic teen characters that are given room to breathe within the story, and get to react to the plot in a natural, realistic manner, as any normal person caught in the same situation would. It makes the film play out like a more slightly demented variation on the archetypal coming of age summer drama, as if a normal teen story is constantly being interrupted by a high concept horror scenario.
And am I the only one who thinks reading this film’s premise as a mere STD metaphor is a little restrictive? While it’s admittedly the most clearly identifiable and surface level interpretation of the plot, there’s a lot more worth discussing that just leaving it at “STD metaphor” really oversimplifies it. The proverbial “it” at the center of the story not only takes many forms in a literal sense, but could also serve to represent a variety of things in a metaphorical sense as well.
Unlike the countless young women from the 80’s teen horror catalogue this film seeks to pay homage towards, Jay isn’t being punished for her sexual activities, or at least not as the story continues to move forward. In the grand scheme of the film’s narrative, she just might be learning how to deal with the consequences of entering a new phase in your life while being at such a young age, which entails taking on bigger responsibilities and more emotional maturity. Lead actress Maika Monroe has also commented on how “it” can serve to represent either regret or shame, or the impending inevitability of death that’s always there. These interpretations can be seen mostly clearly in the film’s haunting, unexpectedly moving final moments, and definitely open the door to there being many hidden meanings at the film’s core rather than just “fornication = spooky and dangerous.”
Look, if you have any interest or respect for the horror genre beyond getting an occasional fright or two whenever you’re in the mood, then It Follows is something you must seek out immediately. For a true horror fan, it really is the complete package: a pulpy thrill ride, empathetic emotional journey with likable characters, and an extremely well crafted independent feature. It once again proves that while a good horror film can scare you while you’re watching it, a truly great horror film will stay with you long after watching it.