By Nick Anstett
Elm Staff Writer
Genuinely good horror movies have become events in and of themselves. In a market that’s overblown with jump scares, haunted houses, slasher-pornos, and found footage shaky cam, it’s hard to find films that are trying to scare in truly inventive and unnerving ways. It’s part of what made last year’s “The Babadook” such a runaway hit. Writer and director David Robert Mitchell’s microbudget indie horror film, “It Follows” continues this hopefully new trend of artful and intelligent scares.
Jay Height (Maika Monroe) is a teenager living in Detroit who is pretty much content to lounge about in her pool, talk with her friends, or go on dates with her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary). When Hugh and Jay sleep together for the first time, everything seems perfect. However, Jay awakens to find herself strapped to a chair in an abandoned building where Hugh reveals a terrifying secret. Hugh is the subject of a supernatural stalker, a being that can take the form of anyone. It follows him at all times and can reach him in places more remote than he would have thought possible. The only way to escape this creature is through passing its relentless pursuit onto someone else through sexual intercourse. Hugh himself was the victim of this through a one-night stand, yet even he isn’t safe with the creature’s attention only diverted as long as the new recipient is alive. With the new horror of Jay’s life now apparent, she finds herself attempting to escape a never-ending nightmare with no conceivable escape.
The concept within “It Follows” is refreshingly unique. It’s a not-so-subtle metaphor for sexually transmitted disease and sexual paranoia, but the message is conveyed effectively and disturbingly. It taps into groping fears and anxieties of adolescent physicality with unnerving atmosphere and dread. Jay’s emotional journey through the horror that her sexual awakening has brought upon her provides a strong and emotional character arc amid the scares. Maika Monroe plays her role with understated sadness. There’s a refreshingly human quality to how the characters within “It Follows” behave. There’s rarely a moment of stereotypical horror film stupidity or cliché. Jay’s friends band around her and try to protect her even if they do not fully understand the force they are up against. It may stretch too far into mumblecore territory for some viewers, but the interactions between Jay and her teenage compatriots feel natural and are often times oddly insightful and entertaining.
However, what truly makes “It Follows” such a memorable horror experience is the handling of its supernatural antagonist. Outside of the rules explained at the outset, there never is an attempt to explain where exactly “it” originated from or why it does what it does. It’s simply a relentless force that terrifies through its omnipotence and prevalence. There’s a feeling of inevitability throughout “It Follows,” and it prevents the characters or the viewer from ever feeling truly safe. Mitchell smartly plays with the creature’s shapeshifting abilities, allowing for the audience to constantly be peering into the background to see if the creature is approaching. We don’t always get our answer, but it turns simple pedestrians into vehicles for fright and horror. The anxiety is palpable and inescapable. This is bolstered by the smart use of an anachronism fueled Detroit as its backdrop, allowing characters to slip and linger in crumbled buildings and urban decay. It may not satisfy those that are more in tune for more traditional contemporary scares, but those that are willing to slip into the film’s mood and conceit will find themselves digging their hands into their armrests.
If anything proves to be truly uneven about “It Follows” it is its nostalgic ‘80s synth influenced score by Rich Vreeland, aka Disasterpiece. The music itself is distinctive, vibrant, and instantly memorable. When it clicks with the film itself, it works wonders and does a great deal to add to the tension of the scene. However, it is also equally intrusive often undermining moments that perhaps would have been better suited without it.
“It Follows” is an entertaining departure from conventional horror movie tropes and style. It tells a truly unsettling story filled with metaphor and psychological tension. For those willing to step into its world and let it work its tale upon you, you’ll find yourself looking over your shoulder for days to come.