A film review by Craig J. Koban April 16, 2015



2015, R, 100 mins.


Maika Monroe as Jay  /  Keir Gilchrist as Paul  /  Olivia Luccardi as Yara  /  Lili Sepe as Kelly  /  Bailey Spry as Annie  /  Daniel Zovatto as Greg  /  Jake Weary as Hugh

Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell

Within the first five minutes of the new $2 million supernatural horror film IT FOLLOWS I realized that I was in store for something decidedly more eerie and unnerving than the obligatory dead teenager/slasher flicks that have dominated cinemas for decades. 

Director David Robert Mitchell’s film (his second after THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER) opens with relatively serene and dreamlike shots of a typical suburban landscape.  Any fleeting moments of peace are quickly undone by the sudden appearance of a half-naked and disoriented adolescent girl that flees from her house and then proceeds to stumble her way through the neighborhood in one of the many bravura tracking shots in the film.  This young woman is utterly terrified.  Of what or whom…we are not sure.  She gets into her family’s car to escape from her unknown and seemingly invisible pursuer and ends up at a local beach.  The next morning this girl is dead in the sand, with her limbs broken, twisted and contorted in sickening positions.  

Now that’s how you open a horror film. 

IT FOLLOWS is a genre effort that certainly adheres to many time honored – and overused – horror/thriller conventions (teenagers fearing for their lives while all alone in their houses while battling otherworldly entities, made-to-order “Boo!” moments, and so forth).  However, the manner that Mitchell teases us with them and then completely subverts our very expectations of these types of films is IT FOLLOW’s coup de grace.  The film is a ghost story, to a degree, but labeling it with such petty descriptors almost does it an injustice.  Mitchell’s work is such a rare breed of horror thriller that doesn’t place emphasis on torture porn gore and bloodshed, but rather on an escalating sensation of dread and unease throughout.  IT FOLLOWS is more of a tone piece about establishing and building nail-biting and measured tension.  In a relative age when so very few horror films don’t seem to care about truly getting under one’s skin, Mitchell’s effort is progressively refreshing for generating creepy and unsettling imagery and making us feel terrified.  That, and his underlining premise has a Meta self-awareness about horror films while speaking on allegorical levels about the nature of adolescent sexuality. 



The nature of sex has always figured into horror films, albeit for the purposes of cheap titillation.  IT FOLLOWS has slyer tricks ups its sleeve in the sense that it’s about teens that, yes, have sex, but in its case there are drastic consequences to the act in terms of the film’s overarching premise.  Instead of using sex to accentuate scenes for exploitative purposes, Mitchell seems to use it to explore the very nature of sexual unease and anxiety.  Sex is actually used here to fuel the aforementioned supernatural stalker for…well…stalking its prey.  One of the early victims in the film is Jay (Maika Monroe), a teenage girl that is excited about her upcoming date with a hunky young man named Hugh (Jake Weary).  Their date goes through the usual motions and is capped off by some nocturnal sex in his car.  Pillow talk, per se, should have come next, but Jay is then drugged and is taking to an undisclosed spot by her date – gagged and bound – and that’s just the beginning of her hellish predicament. 

Hugh, it seems, doesn’t want to kill her.  Rather, he’s trying to inform her that a curse has been transferred to her via their recent sexual intercourse.  The curse takes the ethereal form of just about anyone that only the carrier can see.  The only way for poor Jay to get rid of such an affliction is to pass it on to the next host by having sex with him/her.  There are some catches, though: If the carrier dies then the curse reverts back to the previous carrier and the chain begins again.  The cursed spirit is capable of being hurt – albeit momentarily – but cannot be killed in any normal manner.  Like a virus, it just keeps hopping from host to host, without a cure in the world.  It follows its victim without any remorse, fear, or adhering to any moral compass. 

Of course, Jay thinks all of this is pure hogwash, but as the film slowly and methodically progresses clear-cut evidence rears up to support all of Hugh’s claims.  Jay’s friends – including Paul (Keir Gilchrist), Yara (Olivia Luccardi), sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), and Greg (Daniel Zovatto) – thinks she’s borderline insane, but even they begin to change their tune when spooky random events begin happening around them.  The performances in IT FOLLOWS helps sell its decidedly out-there premise, and young Maika Monroe has the thankless task of making Jay a teenager of authentic despair that’s paralyzed by soul crushing fear.  The fact that Monroe gives such a soulful and haunting performance – that palpably grounds the film’s otherwise outlandishness – is to her credit as an actress.  Unlike so many other manufactured, cookie-cutter horror films that contain performances on pure autopilot, Monroe’s terror feels jarringly convincing all throughout the film.  

Something needs to be said about Mitchell's chilling aesthetic here.  IT FOLLOWS is an unqualified triumph on a level of sustained mood and nerve-rattling menace.  The finest examples of horror genre respect the nature of slowly and methodically building to pressure cooker payoffs, whereas far too many modern films are so inanely impatient and must get to a scene’s big reveal in fear of losing the audience.  Mitchell respects the attention spans of his viewers more than his contemporaries.  He uses silence and the agonizing fear of what’s to come as his main weapons.   He also knows how to make impeccable usage of Rich Vreeland’s masterful synth-heavy music score, which swells in the background at times to accentuate the unease and, during quieter scenes, compliments the film’s more introspective moments without calling too much attention to itself.  Very few films use sound design and music to such intoxicating and hypnotic levels as this one. 

Mitchell is a maestro behind the camera as well.  His overall style has echoes of Stanley Kurbick and John Carpenter mashed wonderfully together to evoke the trepidation of his characters.  When his camera is not stationary and giving us wonderfully composed static shots of interiors and exteriors, Mitchell gets more exhilaratingly voyeuristic in his tracking shots, some of which involve smooth and brilliantly composed 360 degree pans that give us a sense of the spatial relationships between Jay and her friends to the environment around them.  IT FOLLOWS is a film where seemingly no environment is safe and secure.  Bedrooms have nightmarish levels of claustrophobia, whereas the open expanses of beaches, parks, and neighborhood streets feel like one big twisted menagerie of endless geographical starting points for the “stalker” to vengefully lash out an any given time.  The environment around the film’s poor young souls becomes as oppressive as the monster that hunts them. 

IT FOLLOWS is a deliberate and slow film.  It certainly tests patience.  Mitchell takes his time in building up his story and characters.  Yet, his leisurely approach is what makes it so suffocating to endure throughout.  It’s the anticipation of what’s to come that’s so compellingly frightening.  IT FOLLOWS also takes great relish in teasing us about its very twisted premise: Are these kids crazy?  Are they all in a collective dream and/or nightmare?  Is the film a social commentary on the nature of sexual violence and STD’s run unstoppably rampant?  Is the monster an existentialist manifestation of the teenagers’ repressed sexual urges and fears?  The film is infinitely smarter than typical horror fare in the intriguing questions it asks without daring to answer them (even the film’s beguiling and ambiguous final shot has the audacity to throw us for one final head-spinning loop that calls upon us to make sense of everything that transpired beforehand).  

Horror films for years have monotonously celebrated the barbaric taking of young life.  IT FOLLOWS doesn't make its characters pathetic puppets being served up for the mindless slaughter.  Instead, it places psychological weight on its victim’s shoulders and taps into their inner conflicted fears of their own sanity and dire uncertainty of the unknown forces around them.  Unusually intelligent, richly atmospheric, and altogether terrifying, IT FOLLOWS is a genre busting original and one of 2015's most supremely assured films.  

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