A girl runs out of her home. Her neighbor asks what’s wrong, but she says she’s fine. She’s clearly not. Her worried father follows her. She runs a circle around the street, walks back into the house with Dad, hurries back out, boards a car and drives off into the night. And so begins It Follows, a scary and intriguing indie gem which can be described either as an effective minimalist 80’s slasher homage or a most elegant execution of the world’s dumbest horror movie cliché.
It Follows in a Nutshell
After the eerie chased-by-nothing cold open, we’re introduced to girl-next-door Jay (Maika Monroe), a young and nubile thing whose eyes betray more running thoughts than the average slasher-flick teen. Oh, sex is on her mind, of course, as is expected in a girl her age, but she’s contemplative about it, almost innocent. She doesn’t seem deluded enough to think she’ll only give herself up to Mister Right, but at least it would have to be someone smart and charming. And cute. Definitely cute. Someone like Hugh (Jake Weary), who seems the right balance of deep and oh-so-hot.
Jay and Hugh have sex in a parked car, and this being a horror movie means one of them is toast. So Hugh drugs Jay and ties her to a chair in an abandoned site and thus the movie’s twist premise is revealed (don’t accuse me of spoiling this since it’s made pretty clear by the trailers and the film title): Hugh, whose real name is Jeff, reveals he just passed something to Jay with their coitus. Now she’ll be followed by… something… that’s really slow but will twist her bones into abstract art if it reaches her.
The only thing she can do to avoid it is to pass it on to someone else the same way, which will set sex-killer’s radar onto them. If “It” murders her last lay, its scent goes back to her. Oh, and this thing can look like anybody, even someone she knows. Will she run? Can she escape? Would she knowingly condemn a total stranger? Or worse, one of her friends?
You’d probably thinking: “That sounds like the prelude to a death scene from a Friday the 13th sequel, minus Jason Voorhies and multiplied to feature length”. And you’d be absolutely right. What’s surprising, though, is how very effective this approach turns out. By not having the monster be someone or something specific, you create constant suspense. Death can literally walk right up to your face in the world of It Follows and you couldn’t do a thing about it. It’s a feeling to which we can all relate on a primal level.
What writer/director David Robert Mitchell (The Myth of the American Sleepover) has done is to take the 80’s slasher genre and distill it to its minimalist essence. Unexplained supernatural stalking killer? Check. Bland small town/country setting? Check. Barely-hidden pro-teen-abstinence subtext? Check. Creepy synthesized score à la John Carpenter? Check (courtesy of Richard ‘Disasterpeace’ Vreeland of Fez fame). Mitchell mixes these elements with a less-is-more approach (reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Ridley Scott’s Alien and Jennifer Kent’s recent aussie gem, The Babadook), then couples them with performances which are really much better than what the material deserves. The actors playing Jay and her friends are not clueless adolescents, so when they act scared you believe it. Keir Gilchrist (It’s Kind of a Funny Story) is especially effective as Paul, Jay’s childhood friend who wishes he was more than that.
My only pet peeve is with It Follows is its climax, which I won’t reveal, but suffice it to say that using practical rubber-and-latex effects instead of CGI would’ve been more appropriate for an 80’s horror tribute. Still, it’s a minor detail that doesn’t detract from a great example of what you can accomplish with limited resources and great imagination. It Follows is creepy and fun, scary and thoughtful, all at once. You start watching it and you remain engaged throughout. The result is a true, well deserved feeling of dread that lingers long after the credits have rolled.
Available on Blu-ray, Netflix and the iTunes Store.
Movie title: It Follows
Movie description: A truly effective distillation of horror's basic elements.
Date published: 2015-07-03
Director(s): David Robert Mitchell
Actor(s): Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Jake Weary, Lili Sepe, Olivia Luccardi