It Follows (2014)

It doesn’t think. It doesn’t feel. It doesn’t give up.

Throughout cinema history, there have been countless films that have emerged as classics, titles that have defined — or redefined — their respective genres; writer-director David Robert Mitchell’s brilliantly crafted, downright terrifying, It Follows could possibly be the next bar-raising picture, particularly within the horror genre. Back in 2010, Mitchell’s debut feature, The Myth of the American Sleepover, took the whiny teenage archetypes of a John Hughs flick, The Breakfast Club (1985), in an expressionistic direction — the film was a tender portrayal of adolescence in the Michigan suburbs, exploring incoherent yearnings and fading innocence. Within his nail-biting new film, It Follows, Mitchell now turns to ‘80s teen slashers of the Halloween (1978) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) variety and, while elevating them to a more abstract place, conveys the looming threat of adulthood in menacing conditions, making the danger of this feat far more malevolent than the simple emotional vulnerability seen in his former picture. During its world premier at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, It Follows was introduced as a blend of atmospheric classic horror movies — reminiscent to films of Jacques Tourneur, I Walked with a Zombie (1943), whilst encompassing the metaphorical coming-of-age elements of John Carpenter, Halloween (1978) — and described as a strange and ominous supernatural story that offers its fair share of symbolic depth, while its skillfully designed scares come from a very real and authentic place.

... always check the back seat ...
… always check the back seat …

The ‘It’ referred to in the film’s title clearly evokes that classic threat of the sinister ‘unknown,’ which was evidently present within genre pictures of the 1950s — Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) springs to mind — but in a tradition that took hold of horror cinema during the late 1970s, where promiscuous teens became the first to be massacred, the menace in It Follows is unleashed and spread via sexual encounters. Utterly unnerving, relentlessly paced and packed with conscious winks to schlock horror forebears, as well as ‘80s teen flicks, It Follows is a film that needs to be witnessed, standing to be one of the greatest fear-inducing pictures ever fashioned, as it will haunt even the most seasoned horror fanatic’s nightmares for a seemingly long time.

Magnificently photographed by cinematographer Michael Gioulakis, John Dies at the End (2012), with delicate lush imagery, unsettling long takes and voyeuristic tracking sequences, creating a visually rendering dreamy teenage limbo, It Follows is a film predominantly about sexual intercourse; a fear or uncertainty that almost all adolescence grapple with — an act that somewhat signifies maturity and loss-of-innocence. By means of a John Carpenter influenced 8-bit electronic score, composed by Rich Vreeland — who records under the name Disasterpeace — director Mitchell lets audiences know that evil is lurking in and about this nameless Midwest American town from the get-go. The picture opens by establishing the presence of an unseen force, as a 360-degree pan tracks an unnamed distressed young woman, running out of her suburban home and then racing off in her car, attempting to flee from an invisible foe. Alone on a secluded beach, she phones home to reassure her worried folks of her safety, letting them know, one last time, that she loves them, as she comes to terms with her inevitable fate. Moments later, the woman’s broken mangled body is seen on the beach, indicating that she has been the victim of a horrible and vicious off-screen attack. Much like the opening of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975), the ‘creature’ or ‘threat’ is immediately present, even though its true nature remains obscured; however, it doesn’t take long before It Follows defines the danger in a much more clear and explicit manner.

Don't look now ... but there's something behind you!
Don’t look now … but there’s something behind you!

For pretty, untroubled 19-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe), life couldn’t be any better, spending her Autumn lounging about with sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and their friends Yara (Olivia Luccardi) and Paul (Keir Gilchrist), a sweet nerd who holds an obvious childhood crush on Jay. Currently smitten over her new boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary), Jay soon gives in to temptation and, after a seemingly innocent sexual encounter — sleeping with Huge for the first time — the ‘enchanting’ afterglow of sex quickly turns into something exceedingly nightmarish. Jay finds herself strapped to a chair, being held in what appears to be an abandoned parking lot, as a frantic Hugh describes the pending danger of her dire new situation. Huge explains that, through the act of intercourse, he has transferred, to Jay, the presence of a phantom, slowly walking in her direction; this being’s sole purpose is to execute the last person infected during lovemaking. Furthermore, Huge adds that anyone previously ‘tainted’ is no longer — and never again will be — safe, as whenever someone is killed by the entity, the last person in line moves to the top of the victim chain, similar to that of the Final Destination (2000) franchise; the only way to temporarily get rid of the threat is to pass it on to another person through the act of intercourse.

Shortly after the alarming incident, Jay finds herself plagued by something undeniably terrifying; a lingering vision — one which only she, and those ‘marked’ prior, can see — of a mysterious figure slowly moving toward her wherever she goes. Faced with this inescapable burden, Jay and her teenage companions, who eventually catch on to her dread, must find a way to stop the imminent terror that constantly appears to be only a few steps behind.

Mitchell has, without doubt, set up an ingenious, uniquely vivid, and heart-pounding scenario within the film’s premise, encompassed with powerful symbolism, where an apparent unstoppable force is out to slaughter the last victim ‘branded’ during the act of sex, much like a ghostly manifestation of a sexually transmitted disease. Though the exact nature of the force preying on these characters is kept enigmatic throughout the picture, there’s enough information given to generate an eerie and uneasy state of affairs, which encompasses a grim, bed-wetting quality. The entity’s physical embodiment however, is best kept secret, allowing patrons to squirm in terror or dismay during its startling reveal and numerous on-screen moments. While the majority of the picture works on gripping tension — which comes at a steady pace with constant velocity — accompanied by jump scares and bursts of intense action, It Follows, also delivers a substantial, yet subtle, amount of violence — just enough to satisfy the gore-hunger in most horror enthusiasts I’m certain — although never being too extreme or gratuitous to harm the artfully crafted atmosphere and creepy mood.

'Oh my ... what big eyes you have ...'
‘Oh my … what big eyes you have …’

Shot on a shoestring budget, Mitchell achieves wonders within It Follows — the picture doesn’t wind up coming across as low key whatsoever — where, rather than utilizing heavy visual effects, the reliance of strong storytelling, a punctuating soundtrack and old-fashioned filmic techniques seize, and steer, the narrative, enhancing the fear factor, making the handful of direct encounters with the deadly force a true visceral charge — a scene where the teens lure Jay’s assailant into an indoor municipal pool, located in the slums, on a thundery night, stands out as a definite highlight.

Setting the narrative inside the tree-lined, sleepy suburbia, in an unnamed location — though the film was shot in and around Detroit — during an unknown time period — it appears the picture could possibly be set in the 1980s given all the old-school television sets and lack of mobile phones — It Follows possess a dream-like quality, reminiscent to nightmares of attempting to flee from a mysterious/ alarming presence in a surreal surrounding. Similar to Mitchell’s previous film, the absence of parents and adults is quite apparent, as the grown-up figures are evidently oblivious to the happenings of the teens, coincidentally going hand-in-hand with the rules laid out within the horror genre, where youngsters are compelled to avoid seeking outside aid. Interestingly enough, director Mitchell has a persuasive knack of validating every outwardly insane choice Jay and her pals make — running into the woods late at night or retreating to neighbor Greg’s lonely family beach-house, for instance — so audiences won’t find themselves shaking their heads in disbelief or raging over the dim-witted choices being made by the characters; a feeling most veteran horror fanatics are all too familiar with.

The cast of young actors, all whom are relatively unknowns, come across looking and feeling like regular teenagers, rather than the glamorous specimens seen in most contemporary slasher/ horror-type feats today, delivering natural and appealing performances, as It Follows relies heavily on its character’s authenticity to succeed. The clear cast highlight is fresh-faced beauty Maika Monroe, At Any Price (2012), whose subdued and innocent girl-next-door portrayal gives the character of Jay real dimension and depth, allowing her distress to come-off as legitimately believable; audiences will no doubt develop a quick attachment to this sweetheart, as I often found myself wanting to jump into the picture to assist Jay through her hair-raising peril.

Speed Dating: Sometimes it works, other times you become a hostage!
Speed Dating: Sometimes it works, other times you become a hostage!

Complementing Monroe’s standout performance is Keir Gilchrist, Dead Silence (2007), who plays Paul — reminding me a little of myself during my own teenage years — Jay’s shy, withdrawn childhood friend who’s continually pinning for her affection, and comes across as being the true hero of the film by its conclusion. Other noteworthy mentions go out to Daniel Zovatto, coming off another minimalist horror film Beneath (2013), who plays Greg, the mellow dude who lives across the street — quickly developing a liking for Jay and becoming somewhat of a rival for Paul in the quarrel for her affection — while Jay’s younger sister Kelly, played by Lili Sepe, in her first feature-length role, and friend Yara, Olivia Luccardi, known for her voice work on Sailor Moon the Movie (2011), are honest and sincere, though the tight script never quite allows these characters to develop substantial personalities.

Being raised on pictures such as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963), encountering It Follows on the big screen brought back countless memories of an era long past, reawakening feelings from my own upbringing — being able to fully relate to the characters, in particular Paul, in his unattainable quest for Jay. Watching B-Grade horror movies with my late mother was a major part of my adolescence and this nightmarish new flick clarified why this portion of my life was so significant, as there is no escaping the inevitability that is growing up; countless years heightened by loss, mistakes, regrets and fears that will forever follow us everywhere we go.

Hold your breath, evil has just surfaced!
Hold your breath, evil has just surfaced!

While being vaguely figurative within its imagery, It Follows is ultimately a scare film that’s made to send audiences levitating a couple on inches above their seats — and wholeheartedly succeeds as everything in this production is at the top of its game — but amidst the ramping fear, there is a sorrowful message about growing up, tainted naïveté and cherished friendship that’s tough to miss, with the film’s protagonists facing anxieties of their encroaching morality, as their carefree teenage years begin to fade away. Packed with the stuff real nightmares are made of, It Follows could, without a doubt, be the quintessential horror film of this era. What Jaws did to beach swimming back in the late ‘70s, It Follows will surely do to sex, working as the best contraceptive about. So no matter what genre you’re into, do yourself a favor and don’t let this spine-chiller pass you by; just like the title suggests, It Follows will remain with you for a lifetime.

5 / 5 – Don’t Miss!

Reviewed by S-Littner

It Follows is released through Rialto Distribution