Within the first minutes of It Follows, we know where we are headed. That is not to say that the much-touted horror film from writer-director David Robert Mitchell is instantly predictable, but rather his premise is so ingeniously simple, the inevitable destination will certainly be a dark, terrifying place.
The film opens at night, with a teenaged girl frantically fleeing her house. A few minutes later, unsurprisingly, we see the girl’s mangled, contorted, dead body by the shore of a lake. Mitchell just as quickly lays out the plotline that It Follows will travel. Teenager Jay (Maika Monroe) goes to the movies on her first date with jock-type-dude Hugh (Jake Weary). While there, Hugh is spooked by the arrival of a woman who is apparently invisible to Jay.
Cut to second date and, after the obligatory-car-sex-on-a-moonlit-night, Hugh, in a highly questionable demonstration of pillow talk, covers Jay’s face with a chloroform-soaked rag. When she awakes, Jay is in a decrepit warehouse, strapped into a wheelchair, with Hugh leaning into her ear, nervously explaining, “It’s gonna follow you. Somebody gave it to me. And I gave it to you.” Soon the titular “It” arrives in the form of a lumbering, zombie-like nude woman. Once satisfied that Jay can now see “It,” Hugh — literally — drops her off in front of her house and speeds away. See ya on Facebook!
Infected with a sexually-transmitted-entity (welcome to college!), Jay is now cursed to being pursued by a creature that can take the form of anyone. Her only chance of survival hinges on passing it on to the next hapless victim, through intercourse. Upon hearing of her date-night escapades, Jay’s friends seem surprisingly nonplussed about her new, malevolent social disease, while the ever-attentive Paul (Keir Gilchrist) is smitten with a doe-eyed puppy love that can’t bode well.
It Follows is drawing comparisons to John Carpenter’s Halloween and rightfully so. There’s a similar sense of measured dread: “It” travels with the same casual lurch as Michael Myers’ distinctive walk, the commonplace setting of the suburbs invites a “This could happen to you” quality and parents are for the most part suspiciously absent, not unlike in Halloween or, for that matter, Charles M. Schulz’ Peanuts TV specials.
Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis does a deft job of using 360-degree pans and keeping the lighting at a creepy Instagram-dim, both techniques helping propel the film forward. More notably, Disasterpeace’s music score of pulsating synths and ambient washes is one of more the effective soundtracks for horror flicks in recent years. The combination of inventive camera work, a pulse-pounding soundscape, Mitchell’s use of recurring motifs, like bodies of water, and scenes that contrast the suburbs with the ’hood, helps further elevate It Follows above typical horror fare. Most important, Mitchell’s script is free of any needless subplots and stays on point. There is really only one story: A malicious being that is bound to kill is on the prowl.
Mitchell deliberately sidesteps some of the conventions of many teen horror movies to great affect. There is none of the goofy, comic relief that sours many films in the genre. He leans into a minimalist approach, with a fairly low body count, and he doesn’t waste time on random, needless carnage. In fact, with such a short trail of corpses, waiting for the inevitable slaughter of the next victim only sharpens the edginess of the plot.
There’s the fairly typical ongoing undercurrent of the body + sex = horror/death trope in It Follows, sadly the same horrifying equation that pursues me each morning when I stagger into the shower, keening in self-revulsion. But in using the film’s expected sexual encounters, invariably employed as a scare set-up in countless other teen horror movies, Mitchell takes a simple idea and stacks the rest of his storyline on top, which works in part since his low-key, tight style ensures It Follows never becomes self-referential, i.e., “Look at what I am doing with the teen/sex/horror movie.”
It Follows stumbles in a few places. At one point, the kids decide to visit an abandoned building in the ghetto, ostensibly to flee from “It.” But Mitchell uses the location for reasons that are somewhat obvious for its spook factor and it’s an ultimately needless moment in the film. Even worse, in the closing scenes, Mitchell throws the whole damn game by resorting to the very same horror movie clichés he spent the previous hour-plus trying to defy.
Those missteps aside, Mitchell has created a worthy and imaginative horror film with It Follows, albeit one that might crush any chances of taking it to the “next level” on that crucial second date.