One of the strongest horror films of the year
Right before I saw David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows at my local theater, I was greeted with previews for forthcoming supernatural horror films like Before I Wake, Insidious: Chapter 3, and the remake of Poltergeist, all of which could’ve probably taken clips from one another and I wouldn’t have even noticed. This is how basic and thoroughly unimpressive horror has gotten over the last few years, and with 2014 being one of the worst years for horror films financially, I was more than happy to drop money down to see It Follows, which had its video-on-demand release subsequently postponed so it could open wide in theaters following exceptional reviews and financial success in a handful of theaters.
Is It Follows worthy of such praise along the lines of “the best horror film of the decade,” “one of the scariest films ever made,” and so forth? Sadly, no. I can only recall the overblown hype of Paranormal Activity 3, where each ad came equipped with a warning that the last fifteen minutes of the film would “scar you for life.” I sit here three years after seeing the film and I still sleep nights and don’t need daily therapy, let me tell you. I sometimes think critics either speak too soon or simply want to see their name stamped before advertisements, claiming such outlandish assertions that could not only be disingenuous to their actual viewpoints but, in turn, set unrealistic expectations up for films that leave the audiences disappointed.
Make no mistake however, for It Follows is definitely worth seeing and is bound to be one of the strongest horror films of the year. Even if we consider its few shortcomings and some instances of serious monotony, I’m more than happy to support this little festival darling and commend it for what it does well. As I stated, just before you settle into watch the film, you’ll more than likely see previews for horror films made by people and studios who have simply stopped trying to make good, memorable films and copped out at settling for mediocrity. Here’s to a film that went left when most of the pack went right.
After an opening sequence that hooks you from how absurd it is, we focus on Jay and Hugh (Maika Monroe and Jake Weary), a couple of twentysomethings out on a movie date. In the theater, Hugh notices a woman in a yellow dress, who apparently cannot be seen by Jay or anyone else, and orders her out of the theater. When the two are alone in their car, following sex, Hugh takes a chloroform rag to Jay, knocking her unconscious and ties her to a wheelchair. It’s here when Hugh informs Jay that something has been following him for a long time but only he can see it. It often appears to be a naked woman, but can take the form of anyone, even the people you know and love, and passing it on occurs by having sex with another person. The soul will follow whomever is affected by its curse at walking pace, and if it catches up to Jay, it will kill her, and proceed to go after Hugh.
Jay is dropped off at her home, stripped of all her clothes and bearing the resemblance of a rape victim. With that, Jay’s closest friends do their best to understand and help cope with this newfound supernatural force that is only made more difficult to combat being that Jay is the only one who can see it.
It Follows is an early candidate for one of the most beautifully shot films of the year, and more than likely to be the most beautiful looking horror film of 2015. It has a delightful moodiness to its cinematography, captured crisply by Mike Gioulakis, as it uses a dark purple, gray, and teal color palette to look simultaneously uninviting and immersing. Colors like blood red boom with the feel and visual power that echoes Dario Argento, almost like an homage to “Suspiria” in look and feel. The story moves with the kind of slowburn intensity we’ve seen from horror directors John Carpenter and Wes Craven, or even Ti West, if we’re talking more contemporary.
The real aesthetic treat here is how Disasterpeace’s music combines with the film’s cinematography. The use of heavy, bass-rattling synthesizers makes the film look and operate like a horror film of the 1980’s to the point where looming tension becomes almost overcompensating in the way it appears to be taking over the entire film. The synths are loud and unsettling, and at times, can really propel the film to a suspenseful climax. Other times, however, they are obnoxious for the sake of being obnoxious and slightly disrupt the tonality Mitchell sets by making the film operate on a low-key playing field.
While the plot appears confusing, It Follows is surprising in how little there really is to it. Teenagers walk around, run from ostensibly nothing, comfort one another through sex and aimless conversations, and assure one another that it will all be okay amongst discussing different ways to combat this force. It’s almost like Larry Clark made another horror film, as the tonal shifts feel like they’re almost part of a coming of age film in addition to a horror film. These shifts aren’t bad, however, as they function nicely to the film’s more suspenseful elements by slowing the action down but never coming to a grinding halt. There’s an unevenness, but it’s not made as apparent as one would presume.
I find this is largely because of how well everyone works together here. With Gioulakis evoking consuming cinematography, Disasterpeace emphasizing a score that’s alive and intense, Mitchell taking screenwriting and directorial risks for his genre (employing long, clean shots that provide for a beautiful sense of location), It Follows is sound on almost all fronts. The only negatives that arise from the film are occasional structural burdens, or the fact that, towards the end of the film, its idea seems to change to fit the situation and create something unexpected.
Nonetheless, It Follows is a film to see and support, for it’s one of those many opportunities we have as consumers that we keep blowing to see quality entertainment. It’s almost like voting in elections; vote now and hopefully experience something that will satisfy you in the future. Even if It Follows, isn’t the perfect gem some have claimed, I’d rather see a pretty good independent horror film than a mediocre or downright abysmal carbon-copy that’s spit into 3,000+ theaters with nothing but money in mind. There’s heart in It Follows and that, at all times, is evident.