It Follows is an innovative indi style horror from director David Robert Mitchell. Jay, played by IT girl of the contemporary horror scene Maika Monroe, goes on a date with Hugh, a guy she knows very little. They have consensual sex and yet she ends up drugged and tied to a wheelchair in a deserted underpass. Her date passes something on to her, a monster that follows its host wherever they go until they either pass it on to someone else or end up dead. Hugh is very obliging with information about the entity that Jay is about encounter because if it kills her it goes back down the line to him (Final Destination style) Only the host can see the entity, it can look like anybody; ‘a stranger in a crowd or somebody you love,’ and from the second Jay is unceremoniously dumped at the side of the road in her underwear until the end of the picture it is a grueling and exhausting race against time for her and us to outrun/walk this nightmare.
It Follows is a film built around feeling and impression rather than dialogue, or action for that matter and is a good example of American independent horror’s move towards art house. Whilst the paranoid premise of the film is undeniably conveyed in an original way, the idea that someone has been replaced or taken over by a malevolent copy is a long standing theme within the sci-fi genre. It Follows owes a small debt to films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, (1956, Don Siegel & 1978, Philip Kaufman) The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982) and The Faculty, (1998, Robert Rodriguez) the film itself tips its hat early on to the films of the 50’s in which it has it’s roots, during a scene were the main group of kids sit around a small television watching a late night black and white sci-fi. (if any one can identify the film i would be interested to know) This idea of eating from a bowl of snacks while watching an influential but perhaps overlooked B movie seems to me to be a reference to the other big influence on this film; John Carpenter, the next biggest being Wes Craven.
Films from this new wave of young American horror filmmakers like It Follows, or recently The Guest, seem to engage in a kind of neo-postmodernism where they are obviously heavily influenced by those who came before like JC and Argento, but chose to be much more subtle with their references than their 90’s pop culture cousins like Scream. (1996, Wes Craven) It Follows may begin with a girl named Annie running out of a familiar house in a familiar street looking like she is being chased by Michael Myers but that really is as heavy handed as it gets. (aside from the music) This low fi approach may be in response to a culture so over-saturated with on demand TV and film that the traditional ‘water cooler’ moment has been eroded to a point where it is now unattainable for an individual to have a rounded knowledge of popular culture like the geeks of yesteryear. It has become preferential to include small details that audience members can chose to look for without jarring the flow of the narrative for those without the same referential framework.
The 8-bit, video game style soundtrack is on point yet over the top, verging on distracting, while edging perilously in the direction of style over substance. I like the general idea of the soundtrack and in someways I like the music, but a soundtrack needs to be able to be subtle as well as showy to bring a range of tones to its subject. When someone is simply looking in a mirror and the soundtrack is going hell for leather it becomes almost comical. The sound design on the other hand was really impressive, not just chilling, but one of the only times in a cinema when I feel I have genuinely experienced the fabled ‘surround sound’ experience.
There were a few (I presume) unintentional laughs,the ‘Jaws (1975, Stephen Speilberg) beach moment,’ and the ‘mother as succubus moment’ are a couple of examples. For me this lightness played well against the impressively oppressive terror and added charm to the film. This seems like a good point to breifly mention the recurring use of pretentious literary quotes, that did not fit in at all, but lets move on to the underlying themes of It Follows;
In the run up to its release I heard via word of mouth a lot of people bandying around the idea that It Follows is about the horror of sexually transmitted diseases, and to an extent I a sure that this is the case. On the surface the kids in the film are all quite ordinary, melancholic perhaps, but without any particularly obvious problems. But there is an undercurrent of sexual perversion, abuse, disease, and drug induced mental problems. What follows Jay and the others in my view are the horrors of childhood sexual abuse. We hear about, and at one point catch a faceless glimpse of Jay and Kelly’s mother, but it is not until the end sequence of the film that we become truly aware of the absence of their father. The creature following them goes through many incarnations but it’s final face (look away now if you think this spoils it for you) is the face of her father. The father is the root of the terror that follows her her whole life and blights her future relationships.
The effects of what Jay is given include sleeplessness, anxiety, and an inability to get close to individuals. Embarking on a new physical relationship becomes a huge decision and her decision making in general when it comes to relationships has been impaired. The girls empathetic childhood friend Paul twice questions why Jay has chosen to date/sleep with first Hugh and then Greg over himself. If I were to take a guess I would suggest it is because Jay’s self worth has been destroyed and it is easier for her to do the opposite of what might be best for her. Before Jay gets tied to the wheelchair and stuff gets nuts there are two moments where we are given either a first person perspective, or a general opportunity to empathise with the character; in the garden pool, and post coital in the car. These moments could be seen as the equilibrium before the storm, but to me these moments hint that something was already not right before Hugh passes the thing onto her, something that caused her to make the retrospectively bad decision to sleep with someone she barley knew in the first place.
Jay receives a huge amount of support during the events of the film from her sister and young friends. Adults are largely absent from the narrative, the kids must rely on each other. It is a common theme of the films of Wes Craven that parents and authority figures are at worst a threat and at best completely ineffectual in understanding the issues effecting the young people this, coupled with the idea of staying up all night, is why as I mentioned earlier I see Craven as probably the second biggest influence on the film.
From a horror point of view it would have been best for the end titles to come up over the blood swirling outwards across the swimming pool, but I can understand why the filmmaker chose to clear up a few plot points after that. The ending is in some ways a happy one with an unsettling edge. It is almost obligatory these days to hint that the horror might be inescapable, but in this case it was a necessity. It is a delight to be able to go to the cinema an see a horror film (or any film for that matter) where you don’t know for certain what might happen in the end. I can say with a high level of certainty that It Follows is an instant classic, and will be the joy of film theorists for decades. I fully recommended you see this film.