David L. Garcia
The scariest scene in “It Follows” does not feature a zombie, a vampire, or a freak with a butcher knife. There are no screaming teenagers (not yet, anyway). There is no creepy lullaby, no demon, no ski mask, no chainsaw, no possessed child, no shaky camera footage, no shrieking blonde, no torture chamber, and no blood. There are no visual effects.
There is, instead, a group of twenty-somethings, lazing by a lake. Unbeknownst to them, a figure is slowly walking towards them. They casually debate over whether to get up and go swimming. The figure continues to walk.
Take my word for it, the suspense of that scene is so gut wrenching, so tantalizingly drawn out that you’ll probably have to lean down in your seat and stare at the screen through your fingers. “It Follows”, an incredible new horror film, is the real deal, a scary movie that creates palpable dread and terror, while never allowing itself to lower its ambition or insult its audience’s intelligence.
The film has been widely praised for its originality, and it’s no lie; not since Nightmare On Elm Street has a horror movie’s premise been so unshakably haunting. Jay, a teenage chick from the Michigan ‘burbs, sleeps with this hunk she’s been seeing. She then wakes up bound to a wheelchair, with the boy explaining that he has passed on a curse: she will now be followed by a shape-shifting monster, only visible to her, that will follow her unless she sleeps with someone else and passes it on. Until she does, the thing will always be there, walking towards her, a death that can be delayed but never truly outrun.
The film was inspired by a childhood nightmare of writer and director David Robert Mitchell, and he has done a hell of a job re-creating it. The film works because it steadily builds up an incredibly dark, ominous tone and then sustains it, trapping you, like the worst kind of bad dream.
The film’s scenes were impressively (and surprisingly) understated. Take that scene at the beach. A normal scary movie would focus on the monster, keeping the thing on screen for as long as possible. Mitchell chooses to show us the monster entering the scene, walking behind Jay, just for a second or two before cutting away. We can’t see the monster, and the suspense doubles by the second as we watch Jay’s friends, who can’t see the monster walking up behind her, just sit there. Is it still coming? Will Jay notice? We don’t know! Finally, after ten agonizing seconds, Mitchell shows us the monster again. AGH!!!! It’s right there! Behind you!! GET UP! MOVE!!!
Mitchell’s film is also beautiful to look at, full of wonderfully composed wide shots and some impressive 360º pans. His direction is sure, but he’s not a snob; Mitchell sneaks in several homages to classic horror films, even if they run contrary to the film’s attitude (None of the characters seem stupid enough to run from the monster in heels, but one of them does it anyway) His sensibility is spot-on, and I’m already looking forward to whatever he comes up with next.
Let’s be fair though; Mitchell doesn’t deserve all the credit. He was given a lovely performance from relative newcomer Maika Monroe, who portrays Jay with a realistic blend of intelligence, innocence, and increasing desperation. And electronic musician Disasterpeace works wonders with the film’s score, a chilling storm of idiosyncratic loops and retro synth that washes over you like a shower of spiders. Even if you still don’t want to see this movie, look up the soundtrack on Spotify, and wait for the hairs on the back of your neck to rise.
I adored this film, but I’d rather not overhype it for you. The film does have some qualities that I’m sure won’t appeal to everyone. For one, the pacing is fairly slow, and there’s a bunch of shots of teenagers just sitting around, thinking deep, unhappy thoughts. The ambiguous ending will also infuriate some people. I loved how the film ended, but the friend I saw it with absolutely did not.
That said, you really should go see this. Seriously. If you have gone to a movie theater, walked up to the guy at the box office, and shelled out fifteen bucks to see “Annabelle”, “Insidious”, “The Lazarus Effect” or any similar waste of marquee space, please go see this. Do yourself the favor. “It Follows” is proof that with a little ambition, effort, and creativity, a horror movie can transcend the parameters of its genre, and become not only a great scary movie, but a great film period.