Over the years horror movies have come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. They have featured terrors from an almost endless spring of sources. But I don’t think I have ever seen one where the killer was an STD (sexually transmitted demon) or whatever the heck the entity is terrorizing yet another batch of teens in “It Follows”.
To be honest I still haven’t fully grasped how “It Follows” became such a critical darling. Reviewers have universally fell for it with some even hailing it as ‘the best horror movie in years‘. To its credit it is built around a unique premise (regardless of how silly it sounds on the surface). Also there are some truly arresting visuals including some particularly striking uses of perspective. But it’s the story between the images that unfortunately doesn’t hold up.
The film opens with a cleverly shot intro set in suburban Detroit. A teen girl runs out of the front door of her house and into the neighborhood street. She’s clearly terrified and running from something we can’t see. She makes a circle, runs back inside to grab her car keys, then back out before driving off. For the most part the camera sits still, panning around following her motions in one long take. It gives us our first glimpse of director David Robert Mitchell’s keen sense for tone-setting.
The movie then shifts to Jay (Maika Monroe), an unassuming 19-year-old with a new boyfriend named Hugh (Jake Weary). While on a date the two have a sexual encounter which ends with Hugh chloroforming her. He ties her up and then shares some pretty twisted news – he has passed to her an entity that can only be transmitted through intercourse. He had it, now she does. The shape-shifting entity will stalk her in the form of anyone and only she can see it. He continues to tack on several other weird ‘rules’ we probably didn’t need.
Hugh dumps Jay off at her house and zips out of her life. Thankfully she has her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and two close friends Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Yara (Olivia Luccardi) who instantly believe her even after she starts noticing strange figures they can’t see. A neighbor friend Greg (Daniel Vovatto) also lends a hand. Parents are notable absent in Mitchell’s story which is surely intended to mean something, but to be honest I haven’t had the urge to give it much thought.
The story (written by Mitchell) moves at a very casual pace. It does allow us to get into the heads of the characters as we wait for the next tense, creepy encounter. But not all of the time is well spent and Mitchell’s strength shines brighter as a director rather than writer (at least in this case). His story is overly invested in ambiguity to the point of never having any believable convictions. Sure, there are multiple ways you could read the film, but finding validity within the movie for any reading is a real challenge. And for a story anchored in sexual anxiety, some of the the character’s actions left me scratching my head.
But again, Mitchell’s sense of atmosphere and tone is a real highlight. He has a captivating command of his camera and the fantastic synthesizer-heavy score is reminiscent of classic John Carpenter. The only time he loses it is in the film’s climax – a hokey indoor swimming pool sequence that doesn’t work on any level. It’s an unfortunate way to finish but kinda fitting for a movie so full of ups and downs.
VERDICT – 2 STARS