Until recently, terror was becoming terrible. We suffered years of the Paranormal Activity franchise making the same convoluted film over and over. We endured genre catastrophes like Dracula Untold and I, Frankenstein trying to create horror superheroes.
But ominous cinema, that which slowly unveils its secrets, creating nightmare scenarios that do more than scare, they disturb, is here. David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is now here to keep you up at night and make you look behind your shoulder.
On the outskirts of Detroit, Jay (Maika Monroe) finds herself the target of this relentless, shape-shifting entity—a curse passed on through sex with Hugh (Jake Weary), her handsome but mysterious new squeeze. As he explains, only the afflicted can see the specter, which will sometimes take the form of someone she knows. It will follow her, persistently but always at a walk, until she either falls into its clutches or passes the burden to a new sexual partner. “Never go anywhere with only one exit,” Hugh warns.
Now the succubus is after her and her alone, unless Jay can seduce someone else to become the supernatural killer’s new target. Only she can see it as it slowly walks toward her in an ever-shifting human appearance fluctuating from male to female, young to pubescent to aged. With the help of her sister and a few friends, Jay tries to outrun the ever-changing monster.
What follows is a tour through everyday horrors – threats just out of view, strangers with ulterior motives, faulty self-defense, stalkers with all too much time on their claws. And of course, the sense of sex as a box of problems even Pandora would hate to open.
Primordial dread is embedded in the film’s visual style. Mitchell’s camera visually unifies the characters’ shared world, either through static panoramas that show several characters occupying the same space, or tracking shots and/or pans that follow characters from one end of the room to the other. We’re also given the impression of infinite space whenever Mitchell’s camera stands in for, or is positioned inside Paul or Jay’s cars. In these scenes, the road that stretches out in front of them/us is long, and there is never a set destination in sight. That concept is far more unnerving than any of the film’s more traditional scare scenes, though those are pretty good too.
A big help to that is the score by Disasterpiece. It’s heavily influenced by John Carpenter’s score for Halloween – I think I even heard a few riffs in there – but this score is more electronic and bassy, giving the film a scary, yet modern feel. As good as It Follows is on a surface level, it’s also got social commentary good horror does so well. It’s about the consequences of sex and how a wrong decision can follow you forever, but it’s not sex-ed class. The metaphor is looser and more mythic: Jay and her friends are haunted by the slipping away of their carefree adolescence, day by uneventful day. The fact so many choose the former, and the consequences are dire, definitely adds a nice thematic layer below the terrifying premise.
When I judge a horror movie, the top criteria is how scary is the film. After that, we can look at everything else. It Follows scared me. A lot. Like, more than probably 90% of the other horror movies I’ve ever seen. It’s not a jump at you type of scare, but more of unstoppable, all-knowing, almost eldritch type of horror. If you like to be scared, there hasn’t been a better film in years.