Intent on subverting traditional horror stereotypes and bringing his audience a new and fresh experience that still throws back to slashers and creature-features of years past, It Follows is an impressive outing from David Robert Mitchell, a worthy sophomoric effort from the director who previously brought us The Myth of the American Sleepover. It Follows is the indie success story of 2015, after grossing a massive $220,663 from four screens in its opening week and $513,800 in its second from just 32, its VOD release was pulled and the film was rolled out into 1218 screens, pulling $5,341,222 in its first week of wide release – not bad for a film with a $2 million budget and an extremely sparse advertising campaign. Thankfully, this move also saw the movie rolled out into international markets like Australia, a region where the likelihood of a theatrical release was slim to none.
I missed It Follows the first time around when it played in MIFF’s Night Shift program last year, but thankfully the feature was well worth the wait – it’s a fresh, aesthetically rich effort from David Robert Mitchell that doesn’t rely on tired tropes to generate genuine scares. Combining visuals from recent Instagram-tinged, mumblecore-influenced outings and flicks from the straight-to-video era with a fantastic and ominous score from composer Disasterpeace, It Follows is a well-rounded and expertly-crafted cinematic experience. At this point I’ll note that while this review contains no major spoilers, some of the film’s major themes will be discussed, so if you want to go in cold (and you should if you can) I’d advise bookmarking this review and coming back to it later.1
It Follows centres on Jay (Maika Monroe), a college student surrounded by a close-knit group of friends from her school days.2 She is going out with dreamboat Hugh (Jake Weary), and early shots of her floating in a backyard above-ground pool and calmly walking the streets of Detroit lead us to believe she lives a relatively carefree life. While on a date at the cinema with Jay, Hugh becomes frightened by an entity that Jay cannot see, forcing them to leave before the film commences. On a subsequent date, in a set of beautifully framed and scored shots that perfectly portray a carefree youthfulness, they have passionate sex in the back of his car – however not everything is as it seems. Immediately after this act, Hugh chloroforms Jay, strapping her to a chair and exposing her to a demonic being which can take any human form and will follow her (at walking pace) until it kills her, or she passes the curse onto another by sleeping with them. Hugh informs her that if this person is killed by the entity it will return to haunt her once more, travelling down the line of those infected by the curse until it kills patient zero. Hugh then abandons Jay outside her house, leaving her to fend for herself against this unknown force.
Contrary to much of the existing commentary that has been slapped onto the film, It Follows is so much more than a simple STD-scare or emotional-fallout-of-sexual-assault flick like 2013’s Contracted; it has both the intellectual and moral backing to raise it above such exploitative, half-baked films. In fact, in just a few lines with police in a scene after the sexual encounter, Mitchell asserts and reiterates that the sex was consensual and Jay has not contracted any STDs. Instead, the film’s meaning is much more strongly tied to how youth deal with sexual intercourse, focusing on the pressures, the aftermath, and the shaming that some individuals undergo as their reputations begin to literally ‘follow’ them after such encounters. Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly considering the content of his debut), Mitchell’s film is a pretty rich exploration of youth and youth culture even though its plot may come across as a bit sparse. This is probably part of the reason that the film has been described as a cross between A Nightmare on Elm Street (the youth’s banding together element) and Halloween (the focus on a silent stalker), but honestly I think Mitchell’s commentary runs far deeper than the shallow, surface level ‘they’re-all-kids-trying-to-beat-this-monster’ reading this film has often received.
I have always been a sucker for tone, and it is in this area that I found David Robert Mitchell to excel – after the 20 minute mark every scene creeps by with a sense of unrelenting unease, subtly weaving in dread and terror as time passes. Earlier in the film, before it fully transitions into its horrific elements Mitchell places us in a rich, dense-yet-sparse modern Detroit; you get a feel for the place that lingers in your memories, long beyond the film’s runtime. This is really solid filmmaking and is not just reliant on one stylistic element, it really is the sum of all the film’s parts – the cinematography, the colour grading, the score, the sparse script, the performances, and, of course, Mitchell’s assured direction.
Whilst the film might suffer from overhype courtesy of US clickbait-friendly publications, the poster quote that it’s “one of the most striking American horror films in years” holds, if only because it is probably the most simultaneously interesting, subversive, and well-made American horror film to enter wide theatrical release in the last decade; something fresh in a sea of reboots, remakes, rehashes, and terrible ideas.3 It Follows is a very welcome addition into the modern horror canon and its distribution model should serve as an example for similarly deserving independent films.4 I implore anyone with even a passing interest in the film to check it out, the hype has been (for the most part) deserved, and whether you like the film or not, it is undeniably fresh – a nice experiment with a different style of horror filmmaking5 that deserves attention whether or not it’s to your tastes.
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