Every once in a while a horror movie comes along that receives high accolades from both fans and critics alike. It Follows is one such film, garnering the “must see” tag and building up a lot of steam from the internet hype train. After finally getting a chance to watch it, I’d say some of that praise is well deserved. Click the jump to see why.
It Follows tells the story of Jay, who has a frightening curse passed onto her by an acquaintance after some sexual escapades on a date. Details on the sinister force are intentionally minimal. All we get for an explanation is that there’s this evil force, it slowly follows you (by walking) until it kills you. The only way to deter it is to pass on the curse to someone else through intercourse, and that just delays the inevitable because once it kills them it comes back for you. Oh, and only people carrying the curse can physically see this thing.
A menacing tone steeped in nostalgia for classics like Halloween is established from the first scene. Director David Robert Mitchell could be accused of borrowing too heavily from early John Carpenter works, but It Follows has enough original ideas to keep it from feeling derivative. There’s a lot of retro goodness here though, including a synth score from musician Disasterpiece, who is best known for his work on indie game FEZ. One of my favorite tricks that David Robert Mitchell borrowed was the use of still wide-angle shots. It was so refreshing to see that in the current horror landscape drenched in “shaky cam” found-footage movies. The location use of a crumbling Detroit landscape south of the 8 Mile only further reinforced the overall sense of uneasiness.
As Jay is continually stalked by the entity in its many forms, her friends seek to help. This brings up one of my only major issues with the flick. The dialogue is just far too flat and deadpan at points. I get what the director was going for. A lot of 1970’s and early 1980’s horror movies were great at understated dialogue and building tension via space where the monster WASN’T around. It Follows over does it though. There are scenes where the cast’s delivery feels like they are all on Quaaludes and it tends to drag within the 100 minute running time. Some more pointed dialogue could have been used at points since it seems like sometimes the group is completely disconnected from their current situation even after they’ve all accepted and experienced that the creature is real.
Another gripe I had was the relative malaise that seems to overwhelm the characters in the final act. Without getting into spoiler territory, It Follows does not have a happy ending. I suppose you could read into the plot as one giant metaphor for the feelings of sexual guilt and disillusionment teens and young adults feel, but let’s not get too pretentious about this, it’s a movie about killer ghost stalking people. The ending didn’t bother me, in fact, I liked it. What bothered me was the film's climax never really hit home as hard as I felt it should have after all the build up. Also, certain characters make absurd choices that not even a hormone-addled teenager likely would in real life.
Back to my earlier statement, there’s a lot to like about It Follows. Minor flaws aside, it is one of the best horror movies I’ve watched this year. It’s highly effective in what it sets out to do and manages to evoke plenty of terror without relying on gore or cheap jump scares. However, go in with tempered expectations because a lot of the hyperbolic praise it has received (I’m looking at you “Horror film of the decade” tagline) could set viewers up for disappointment, and that would be a shame.