What follows is my review of David Robert Mitchell’s new chiller It Follows
Firstly, let me say that it is very difficult to discuss the film without going into it’s central premise. So, if you’d like to go and watch it without any prior knowledge of what “It” is and why “It Follows” then stop reading now.
Still here? Excellent! On we go!
Ok, we need a description of the set up to really understand how the creepiness of this movie works, so this is where the spoilers start. That being said, it’s nothing you won’t get from watching the trailer! We open with a pseudo-80’s suburban neighbourhood somewhere in America, and immediately establishes it’s slightly hypnotic tone with languid direction that is happy to linger in a slightly daydream-like fashion on little details in the frame. This is reinforced by the young cast, who are all shown to be lazing their way through a very normal day to day life. Television with friends, playing games and underage drinking when they can get away with it. The standout here is Maika Munroe as the central character; Jay. She immediately grabs your attention as the outsider who is coasting through life interacting with her younger sister and friends in a dream-like way. The only time that she starts to feel solid and present in the moment is when she meets up with her new boyfriend Hugh, played with a fantastically squirmy energy by Jake Weary, on their latest date. The date ends up with them both in the back of a car where nature takes it’s course for the two hormone-fuelled teenagers, and that is when the film starts to twist its hypnotic feel into something more nightmarish. Jay discovers, in a scene that is truly creepy, that by sleeping with her, Hugh has made her the target for something that is only referred to as “It”. The idea behind this creation is the movie’s prime selling point; a new twist on the killer who can’t be stopped that we all know and love from countless horror movies. The difference here is that this creature can take the form of any person it likes in its efforts to get close to Jay, which it will only do at walking pace. Of course if it gets hold of her, she dies and if it succeeds in this it then moves back to stalking Hugh. For her safety, but also his, Hugh urges her to sleep with someone else as soon as she can, because this is the only way to rid herself of her new stalker. All this happens within the first fifteen minutes of the film and sets up a beautifully paranoiac atmosphere that only builds as the story continues. From then on we follow Jay’s efforts to either avoid, escape or pass on “It”.
Films where teenagers have sex and are then ruthlessly hunted by a killer are ten a penny, and you can thank John Carpenter’s “Halloween” for inspiring most of them. “It Follows” certainly owes a debt to Mr Carpenter’s 80’s slasher opus, but not in the way that you might expect. This movie takes the basic premise of sex equalling death and takes it to another level. These teenagers are spared the albino Shatner mask, incestuous undertones and sharp objects that defined Michael Myers and his cheap clone, Jason Voorhees. Instead they are subjected to a creeping dread that slowly builds throughout the film and is only focussed on one character at a time. This is a nice change to the standard of gruesomely picking off the peripheral characters that leaves the hero/heroine to fight the antagonist alone in the final reel.
The main strength of this movie is the director’s ability to build on the atmosphere of tension that this creature following our heroine creates. From the first time you see “It” walking inexorably towards Jay you are constantly on the look out for anyone in the frame who was not there in the previous shot. Any one who leaves a scene and then returns at walking pace without saying anything is immediately a suspect, regardless of who they are. Every extra in the background could be “It”, no one is above suspicion. This clever trick prevents you from ever really settling, and keeps you on edge with the characters throughout their journey, in a way that is quite reminiscent of the paranoia so masterfully created in John Carpenter’s other 80’s horror classic “The Thing”.
Speaking of the characters; each and every one of them feels believable and relatable. There are no wannabe heroes, no ex-marines with a plan. This movie is populated with a group of friends who don’t really know what is going on, aren’t sure if they believe what Jay is going through and are just motivated by the fact that they want to stick together and keep each other safe. None of them are sure of themselves or their abilities, no one has a plan and everyone is questioning what the hell is going on most of the time. Any adults that do turn in this film do not come off so well. Whenever they do appear they are barely noticeable in their effect on the main character’s lives, and this is a plus. It leaves the teens to rely on themselves and one another, and increases the feelings of isolation that they are experiencing.
The other fantastic influence the audience’s tension levels is the score, which is one of the most brilliantly intrusive synth-based scores I’ve ever heard. A large amount of the film is silent but for the ambient noise of the environment, but in moments of tension the synth kicks back in hard and loud, howling in concert with the audience’s nerves. This ends up not only reinforcing the tension and horror that is on screen, but also making the audience both dread and anticipate the return of the screeching score almost as much as the titular “It”. The last time a score held this much sway over a horror movie was horrific whining screams of Tobe Hooper’s original 1974 classic, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”.
So, we have a film that is filled with atmosphere, builds a brilliantly realised world with believable characters who you actually care about, and an innovative twist on the central threat for them to deal with. Surely we have an instant classic on our hands? Unfortunately, that isn’t quite the case. Although we have a huge amount of plus points to enjoy the movie runs into problems as soon as the initial fright of “It” fades and the audience has a bit of time to grow used to what Jay and her friends are facing. These problems are mainly due to the almost inexplicable decisions that most of the main characters make throughout the last two thirds of the film. Without going into further spoiler territory, I regularly found myself mentally shouting at the daftness on display at points in the story. To begin with you can put this down to the fear of the unknown threat that “It” presents, but as time goes on you have to start to wonder at the gang’s inability to formulate any plans which have even a slight chance of helping matters. Although this can become a little irritating at times, it is the only real downside in this movie and by no means a deal-breaker when put against the sheer creepiness of the film as a whole. Overall this is a pleasingly different take on horror that needs to be seen by as many people as possible, it’s just a pity that the plotting isn’t a little tighter to make this into the classic it deserves to be.
Four Moons out of Five. Chillingly good!