It Follows

April 1st, 2015 by Vomitron

It Follows   It Follows poster 01 83x120 reviews horror Director: David Robert Mitchell
Writer: David Robert Mitchell
Release year: 2014

You can run, but you can’t hide.

After a casual sexual encounter on a date, Jay finds herself in a very tight spot. Her one-night-lover comes with a terrifying secret and will leave Jay with a final warning: her untimely death is heading towards her. It can be waiting for her right around the corner. It can manifest when she least expects it. Anywhere. Any time. Any day. Any night.

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(mild spoilers may follow…)

Writer/director David Robert Mitchell took a pretty common notion as the central idea and turned it into something highly fascinating and downright nightmarish: our human fear of sexually transmitted diseases. Though Mitchell‘s film has absolutely no intention of playing advocate for practicing safe sex or even saying (unprotected) casual sex is “evil.” Nothing related to all this is ever mentioned throughout the film. Instead, Mitchell‘s focus and determination are very clear: to make a decent, no nonsense, mature and consistent teen horror film. Mitchell took the idea of contracting a deadly affliction through sexual intercourse and placed it in the realm of the supernatural. And we’re not talking in terms of vampirism or some fantastic, fictional virus here. He came up with something far more original. And he even invented a fairly easy solution to survive “the curse.” But those affected by it will soon find out it’s by far not as easy as it sounds to get rid of the persistent malevolent force they evoked. The thing is that the “thing” Jay summoned, didn’t start with her. And it will not end with her. Safe to say that Jay and her friends now have a big problem out to get them, and they will have to find ways to elude it until they can find a way to stop it.

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The teenagers in ‘It Follows’ feel real, as if they exist in world somewhere in-between a Larry Clark and a Gus Van Sant movie. They’re clearly on some holiday/spring break and deal with the boredom by hanging out, watching films, going out on a date. The film is solidly cast and all actors and actresses deliver good performances. Especially Jake Weary (as one-night-stand Hugh/Jeff), with his glaring Wes Bentley charming/scary type of looks, stands out and Maika Monroe capably leads the rest of the cast into despair as the tormented Jay. Another fine thing about ‘It Follows’, is that the story seems to be set in a timeless world. I for one was relieved to not see the (teenage) characters obsessed with cellphones or, for that matter, the whole film being dominated by modern technology (laptops, internet, etc). Instead we see a vintage TV set playing and vinyl records in certain interior settings. Although there are some deliberate anachronisms you can spot, like a girl operating a pink electronic info-gadget or certain cars that seem to be coming from different decades. On the contrary of what you’d expect, all this does not distract but instead helps to create a fictional world within an uncertain time frame (it mainly feels like late ’70s/early ’80s most of the time).

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To make it clear right away: ‘It Follows’ is captivating. It wastes little time with drawing you in, and once in its grip, it will only tighten. However, afterwards when you have time to catch your breath again and ponder things, some questions might surface about the story. Where are the authorities? What’s the police doing about this? What about the parents? With teenagers telling crazy stories like that, you’d expect health care to become involved: so no family issues, no psychologists or psychiatrists? Every film, as a work of fiction, through characters and story, is supposed to create its own universe. It always relies on audiences to suspend their disbelief to some extent. And every time a film succeeds in doing that without the audiences being aware of it while watching, we’re dealing with a good film and a capable writer/director. Mitchell succeeds very well in sucking the audience into the world of fright created by our teenage protagonists, simply by putting us as viewers very close to them. We might see a police car in a certain scene, or one of the teens could answer a question from an authority figure, but all in all the adults in ‘It Follows’ – parents included – are kept in the background and never even shed any further light on in most cases. Lack of character development? No, because it’s not their story. The events that happen to the teenage pack is where the focus lies. And by putting them upfront at all times, the audience has no problem feeling along with them. Mitchell stays consistent with this approach, and it works for the better.

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In some ways the structure of the film and the type of horror it presents also shows some similarities with the original Japanese ‘Ringu’ (1998). Aside from having this vintage, almost relentless slow-brooding nature, we’re also dealing with some form of curse here that can linger and stalk those it affects for days. Mitchell even pulls out a similar horrific card trick early on in the film: the reveal of a freakishly killed victim. You have no idea what’s going on or how it happened, but it’s the key event that sets off the mystery. In ‘Ringu’ (and its subsequent, quite decent American remake from 2002, starring Naomi Watts), the first dead body pops up in a closet, with its facial features contorted in agony. In ‘It Follows’ we are presented with an equally shocking image of a corpse on a beach, its limbs bloodily twisted beyond human flexibility. Differently staged, those two shots both have the same, hard-hitting impact and mutual purpose: we are warned that things will get worse and profoundly disturbing.

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Another comparison with a milestone horror film might come to the surface: Wes Craven‘s ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ (1984). While ‘It Follows’ still is a very different film, I’ll admit that it’s not too far-fetched to think about Craven‘s landmark film. Even Daniel Zovatto (playing the neighborhood’s coolster Greg Hannigan) his mere looks might have you reminiscing the young and handsome Johnny Depp in ‘ANOES’. Heck, the whole build-up of the events that lead to his character’s death in ‘It Follows’ even seems to be referencing Depp‘s last bedroom moments with Freddy Krueger. In 2010 Hollywood studios deemed it the right time to update and re-vamp ‘ANOES’ for a new generation, with the release of a redundant remake. Well, forget about that. For those of you who insist on pointing out possible influences of Craven‘s classic on ‘It Follows’ – yeah, I know, I just couldn’t resist doing that myself – you may as well consider the latter the real ‘ANOES’ for a new generation. A generation that has no desire to mindlessly consume big budget popcorn horror remakes. Because ‘It Follows’ does things differently, and exercises a whole different appeal, as will become evident on many occasions throughout the film. Already comparing both aforementioned death sequences, you’ll notice that Mitchell doesn’t use the same exaggerated visual language (when it comes to special effects and bloodshed) that Wes Craven preferred. And the outcome is equally good, if not perhaps even more effective.

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It might be so that Mitchell did sneak some subtext into the film about the lives of the teenagers. Or it might just come with the territory and it’s for you to look into it, since it are notions merely touched upon and never elaborated on. It are general themes like ‘teen angst’ and ‘coming of age’ that may rear their heads, which seem inevitable in teen family dramas but a bit less obvious in a film that essentially handles a teen slasher formula of sorts. Relationships and conversations with adults are kept to a minimum of mere interactions, and also this makes sense in your average teenage world. As teenagers – or most people in general, for that matter – usually turn to peers first for solving their problems. For the sisters Jay and Kelly Height (Lili Sepe) and their friends it makes even more sense, since their mother figure is portrayed as an emotionally distant character (with a possible drinking issue) and a father figure is lacking from their family (possibly deceased, less likely to be divorced, given that a family portrait is casually shown in one photo). All little hints that confirm why this pack of friends turn to each other and take matters into their own hands. Or well, if not because of all this, then there’s the simple truth that kids growing up usually feel misunderstood by their parents anyway, often fueled by an inability towards decent communication in your average family. And it’s clear we’re even dealing with a broken family in this case. The general fear of the unknown and that urge of human nature to personify those feelings of dread is also present as a main theme. Which in reality is often a useless, delusional feat, since anxieties live as emotions inside us and fear doesn’t exactly come with a face. Mitchell splendidly plays with that throughout the whole film, as the evil that pursues Jay may look like anybody. It can appear in any human shape or form and you’ll only start noticing it when time is running out.

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‘It Follows’ has the ability to make the mundane look terrifying. To turn reality into a nightmare, often when you least expect it. One well-crafted scene has the events on a seemingly relaxing day at the beach suddenly escalating to frightening proportions. Moreover, it’s also a key-scene in the plot as it turns Jay’s friends into believers. What they just experienced, has them now convinced that what’s happening to Jay is real. The tangible threat sucks them into this supernatural reality, and it does the same with the viewer. If by then you’re not “getting with it” already, you might as well give up on the rest of the film all together. But if you are, then just like the characters you’ll start to feel very uncomfortable and on your toes. Often even, you might find yourself looking at people in the background of any shot to see if one of them might be It

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And now that you’re along for the ride, the film will have more highlights in store for you. Next to conjuring up highly effective haunting images (e.g. the eerie tall man appearing in the door frame looming over Jay’s friend), Mitchell also knows how to masterfully craft suspense. The swimming pool scene is a prime example of that. Sculpted like a classic example of fright cinema, this sequence might even take you back as far as 1942 when Simone Simon was being stalked by an unseen panther during a nightly swim in Jacques Tourneur‘s ‘Cat People’. Remember the swimming pool stalk & chase sequence in ‘The Faculty’ (1998)? Where Robert Rodriguez went for boisterous special effects and relied on impressive creature designs, Mitchell uses more minimalistic means but still manages to have his scene reach the same level of intensity. The tension and adrenaline increases to such limits, that by the end of the scene I literally found myself leaning quite some inches forward in my theater seat. And Mitchell actually uses little more than good editing (basically applying a riff on the “now you see ‘em, now you don’t” technique), subtle visual effects, balanced lighting and a tense score. And he manages to shape it into one damn scary action sequence. Speaking of the score, Rich Vreeland‘s soundtrack is amazing, full of tension and works very well the way Mitchell applies it. It’s a purely electronic score, often composed of pulsating soundscapes and distorted drones, with your occasional synth theme thrown in the mix. Only on one small occasion it threatened to misfire (unintentionally funny as opposed to intentionally scary), but things don’t derail and it’s only one moment in an otherwise flawlessly scored picture.

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There must be something in the water. Or in the air. And it feels global. It’s clear to me that the most interesting films coming out in the horror genre nowadays, are coming from film makers who have either showcased their talents already with efforts outside the genre or at least dare think beyond its boundaries and conventions, thereby bringing a new approach to it and a fresh breeze of air throughout fright cinema in general. Quality indie-horror seems to be on the rise and it’s as if a new wave just recently started, bringing us independently produced films marked by authenticity and a unique vision. It feels as if this wave could have been spearheaded by a film like ‘Under The Skin’ (2013), and now in 2014 we bear witness to similarly shaped dark and offbeat, character-driven genre efforts, all fairly low-key in their set-up but highly effective in their execution. Films like ‘Honeymoon’, ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night’ and ‘It Follows’. And surely these are not the only examples. It’s the kind of genre films that manage to appeal to our human emotions as well, without even resorting to pseudo-intellectual/psychological gibberish. They don’t go flat out bonkers, they don’t present us convoluted plots, but instead handle a ‘less is more’ kind of approach, they’re more about mood, pacing, timing, mystery, focus and making their sparsely sprinkled shocks and scares count when they have to. Honest, daring and at times innovating new horror cinema, where its creators do not shy away from experimenting and exploring new ways of expressing fear, dread and anxiety. There’s no denying that a director like Jonathan Glazer shows a distinct voice of his own in all his work. But recently young film directors like Leigh Janiak, Anna Lily Amirpour and David Robert Mitchell are showcasing a strong, independent and unique voice too. And their tales of terror seem in sync with each other. What’s even more interesting, they’re not likely to become pigeonholed as horror film makers any time soon. They seem to be well comfortable and capable enough handling other genres as well.

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After more than a decade of big budget remakes, strenuous cash-in sequels and hordes of uninspired zombies and vampires flooding the genre film market, I’d say this is pretty much what horror cinema needed: an uprise of independent, uncompromising, creative film makers with enough integrity and fresh ideas to bring their own films to the screen, showing us that how to please a mainstream audience is the least of their concerns. Boils down to some pretty ballsy film making all the same, if you ask me. Could it be we’re witnessing the prelude to exciting times for the horror genre?

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Trailer on YouTube.

 

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