Synopsis: For 19-year-old Jay, fall should be about school, boys and weekends out at the lake. But after a seemingly innocent sexual encounter, she finds herself plagued by strange visions and the inescapable sense that someone, or something, is following her. Jay and her teenage friends must now find a way to escape the horrors that seem to be only a few steps behind in this critically-acclaimed chiller that Bloody Disgusting calls “the scariest movie of 2015.”
It Follows 8.0
eyelights: the core concept. the chills. the pulse-pounding electronic score.
eyesores: the nonsensical aspects of the concept. the final confrontation. the omnipotency of the score.
“It could look like someone you know or it could be a stranger in a crowd. Whatever helps it get close to you.”
‘It Follows’ is a 2014 supernatural suspense movie about a teenager who discovers that a curse has purposely been passed on to her by her date through sexual intercourse. Now she is doomed to be stalked by an anthropomorphic mimic intent on killing her – unless she also passes the curse to someone else.
I probably wouldn’t have bothered with this picture if it hadn’t come so strongly recommended by a friend who has decent taste in movies. I don’t even think it would have been on my radar: the title wasn’t especially inspiring and, given that it’s a low budget film with limited distribution, I wasn’t much exposed to it.
But I sure would have missed out. Big time.
While ‘It Follows’ isn’t exactly picture perfect, it’s one of the better horror films that I’ve seen in recent years, along with ‘The Descent‘ and ‘Frozen‘. It takes a simple premise and knows how to run with it – or slowly lumber towards you with it, if one prefers. It’s a positively bone-chilling experience.
The opening shot says it all:
To the sound of dissonant electronic music, a clearly distraught teenager walks out of a house, wearing next to nothing, and wanders into the street nervously looking around her. A neighbour asks if she need help, but she declines. Then her father checks up on her but she ignores him completely.
Then she comes back to the house and right back out in a hurry, gets into their car and drives off. She ends up alone, on a beach, in the dark. She makes a remorseful call to her dad, telling him that she loves him, …etc. Fade out. The next morning, she is found dead and bent out of shape on the beach.
What makes ‘It Follows’ work is that we don’t know what It is and the rules by which its game is played. And although some of that is revealed as the story unfolds, much remains unanswered. And, as we all know, the scariest things are often the ones that we don’t understand. It’s insecuring, unreassuring.
Even worse, we don’t even know what It looks like. It changes appearance and form for the occasion, sometimes to lure unsuspecting victims, sometimes for convenience, and sometimes clearly for effect (why look like an senior, otherwise…?). You don’t know who to watch out for, you’re always scrutinizing the scene.
This creates a sense of constant paranoia, not just in the protagonist but in ourselves, as we naturally tend to try to track the creature – both for fun but also before it can surprise us. This whips us in a bit of a frenzy, knowing that it could be coming from anywhere. And it is there. But where…? And when will it show itself?
Another element that makes ‘It Follows’ scary is the fact that sex, an act during which one is the most vulnerable, doesn’t just put you at risk – it makes you a target. In some ways it’s the most contagious venereal disease because there’s no protection from it aside for spreading it around – a pretty good motivator.
And even that only postpones It.
This is far worse than the slasher film trope that sexually active teenagers will die, because there the death itself is unrelated to sex. Here, sex and death blur (Can you say primal fear? Brrr…). Adding to this is the fact that at least one person is aware that someone is at risk; it’s willful endangerment for one’s own benefit.
Way to add to the feeling of paranoia.
Making it even scarier is the motion picture score, courtesy of Disasterpeace, which consists of synthesizers sounds that would be at home in late ’70-early ’80s European horror films, backed by more modern droning sounds. ‘It Follows’ is flush with it; it fills the room, overtaking the rest of the soundtrack much of the time.
That’s a double edged sword because the picture relies far too much on the soundtrack to create a sense of dread. While the story alone is blood curdling, as I watched it I could imagine how flat it would be with no music. The same could be said of some of the all-time great horror films, however, like ‘Halloween‘.
But ‘It Follows’ isn’t quite of the same caliber: it falls flat on its face at the end, when our protagonist and her friends try to confront It. I simply didn’t understand the logic of their plan – once I understood what it was. It made the resulting scene utterly meaningless and devoid of any real suspense.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
And that leads me to the many questions leftover from ‘It Follows’.
(And what pool has all these open outlets in it anyway…?)
What we know about It:
What we don’t know about It:
It’s all so inexplicable!
But, I guess, sometimes it’s better not to know. I dread the idea of doing a sequel to explore the whole backstory. Look at what happened to the ‘Halloween’ franchise when they did that!
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
Still, ‘It Follows’ it a superior picture on most counts. Granted, I didn’t like the way the camera panned (it reminded me of shot-on-video footage), but I suspect a lot of that has to do with budget. Writer-director David Robert Mitchell at least made attempts to shoot the film in eye-catching and/or novel ways.
One particular sequence stood out: When Jaime and her friends go out looking for the boy she slept with, they go to his school and there’s this 360 degree shot from inside the lobby that is slow enough that we see one potential It coming towards them, but the pan is fast enough that we aren’t sure – leaving us on edge.
The audio was also not to my liking. On top of the afore-mentioned audio level issue on the score, the mix was unusual in that it presented different ambient sounds depending on the footage. So, within the same scene, every cut would present a different audio track. One moment crickets, another moment none.
On the flipside, it was very strong on the surround effects, with things jumping out of various speakers with no forewarning. I was surprised by how effective it was because many higher-budgeted films don’t have such a good soundfield. If you’re armed with a decent surround system, it’s a total treat.
So, all in all, ‘It Follows’ was worth seeing – heck, even the performances were convincing enough for the genre and given the respective ages of the cast. It’s a ‘Ringu‘-esque ride that doesn’t let up the tension for most of its 100-minute run time. If you haven’t yet seen it, put it on your list of to-dos.
Date of viewing: September 3, 2015