Director – David Robert Mitchell
Cast – Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary
Release Year – 2015
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Hype can be both a blessing and a curse. Hype gives small low-budget films the chance to achieve a wider audience via a theatrical release, but it also sends in viewers with unreasonably high expectations. In 2009 it was Paranormal Activity, in 2013 it was You’re Next, in 2014 it was The Babadook, and in 2015 the “little horror film that could” is It Follows. The first horror flick (also his sophomore film) from writer/director David Robert Mitchell, this 100-minute effort is minimalist horror in the vein of Romero and Carpenter, with a hint of Argento – styles we have not seen since the 70s and 80s. Despite amazing cinematography and one hell of a musical score, It Follows does the one thing we all wish to achieve from a horror film…it scares you.
After the young Jay engages in a strange sexual encounter with a new flame, she learns that the sex passed on a curse to her where an unknown, evil entity will follow her everywhere she goes until she passes it to someone else or is killed by it. Unwilling to ruin the life of another person, she does the unthinkable and chooses to fight the evil herself.
Mitchell’s story kicks into high gear with an opening sequence that sets the tone for the horror to come. We are introduced to Jay, a student with just the right blend of naivety to give her an innocent appeal. It does not take long for the sex act to happen, and it is then that the spooks begin to hit the screen. I personally loved the source of horror and found it to be a terrifying situation to be in. After the sex, Jay is subjected to terrifying visions of the evil stalking her, casually walking toward her in the form of various persons, both living and deceased. The antagonists move slowly, with a brisk walk being as fast as they go, and this tactic results in slow-burning tension that intensifies as the evil gets nearer. The rules are simple: if the evil catches up to her it will kill her, and then go down the line to the persons who had it before. She can run all she wants, even drive, but the evil will never stop stalking and will eventually catch up to her, forcing her to move again. I loved this tactic because it allowed me to put myself in her shoes and imagine what I would do. This also resulted in some relief where we see her get to enjoy herself a little bit out in the country, buying time by creating distance. As expected, her situation is hard to believe, especially when you consider that her friends cannot see what is following her. However, they learn that hard way that she is indeed telling the truth, and her nightmare becomes theirs as well.
For a slow-burner there sure is plenty of horror for the viewer to enjoy. From the opening sequence to the final scene, the horror never relents for more than a moment or two, staying in line with the notion that “it” never stops following. The length of time between scares fluctuates, but time is irrelevant here because Mitchell’s direction will already have you hooked by the time the scares hit the screen. He expertly employs wide-angle lenses to immerse us into Jay’s environment, whether it is in her spooky home, hanging on the porch, or on a lakeside shore with her friends. Another benefit of this is the wide angles allow us to see behind and around Jay, and because of that you will constantly catch yourself trying to see if “it” is following her. Sometimes you’ll see it, and sometimes you won’t, but nonetheless he engages the audience with fascinating success. This allows us the literally feel the same paranoia Jay is going through, and that is genius. Along with this cinematography comes amazing atmosphere, heavy in gloom, shadows, and a slight hue that made this a visually engaging piece. Along with this comes one of the most incredible modern day horror scores I have heard, and my favorite since You’re Next. It comes off in the vein of the greats I mentioned earlier, Romero/Carpenter/Argento, and is another engaging aspect that sucks you in. Above all else, what has surprised many viewers are the great acting performances from literally everyone involved. Low-budget horror flicks are not known for this, so the accomplishment is a tremendous one. Actress Maika Monroe (The Guest) steals the show as Jay, and we watch as she expertly portrays a character that is forced to endure emotional extremes from one polar end to another. I found all of the characters to be likable, which is another element that envelops the viewer into the experience. There were numerous opportunities for this film to fail, and it did nothing but succeed and break every stereotype in the genre.
Overall, It Follows is a genuine experience that focuses on placing the viewer in a position to experience true horror without cheap jump scares or clichés. The writing is fantastic and Mitchell’s direction is solid on all fronts, making this one of the best horror films of recent day.