The horror genre has become like the rom-com genre to me; there is a lot of content generated, and most of it is pandering garbage. In the midst of that garbage, there are a handful of hidden gems every year that pleasantly surprise and are genuinely enjoyable and rise above the mediocre genre fare. And it’s easy to over-hype them because it can be like finding an oasis in the desert. And then there are some that rise to the best that the genre has to offer. It Follows is a film that I fully believe rises to the best that the horror genre has to offer.
It Follows tells the story of Jay (Maika Monroe, from the under-seen 2014 film The Guest), short for Jamie, a 19 year-old who has a sexual encounter with a guy and soon finds out that some unknown force is making its way toward her because of it. With a growing sense of unease, she enlists the help of her sister and close friends to try to escape this supernatural thing that is stalking her. Whatever it is, it is always coming towards her, she can put some distance between it and her, but it is always coming. And it can take any form.
Writer/director David Robert Mitchell has crafted a haunting movie. The idea for the story apparently germinated from a recurring nightmare he had as a child, of a mysterious person walking toward him. That nightmare is effectively conveyed through this film. There are a lot of horror flicks that will employ a slow-walking monster (a zombie, or a ax-wielding killer maybe), and here it is expertly done. The film is dripping with this sense of creeping dread that builds and builds throughout the 100 minute runtime. It stirred up connections to The Ring, Halloween, and even Invasion of the Body Snatchers for me.
Technically, the films is a real treat. There are great haunting wide, still shots throughout the film, which makes it even better when things in the background approach the foreground of the shot, where our main characters are most of the time. And the score by Disasterpeace (Rich Vreeland) is haunting and mesmerizing, evoking classic synth scores of late-70s, early 80s horror. Visually, the film maintains a late-70s aesthetic too, as most of the vehicles look like they belong to that time period, as do the TV and appliances seen. At the same time, there are cellphones used semi-regularly, and even a futuristic, make-up case-style e-reader that one of the characters is reading Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot on through the film. All of this, and a third act sojourn into the urban decay of Detroit, helps create a nightmare reality for the film.
Thematically, there is a lot of subtext going on. Obviously, there is the well-trodden path of teenagers/young adults and the manifested fears of sexual experiences. This is haunting in the form of an STD, which I thought was very inventive and original, much like Teeth was a unique twist on the horror of teenage hormones and sexuality when I saw it. This movie has more than just sex on the mind though. Aside from Dostoyevsky sprinkled throughout, Jay goes on a date to see Charade playing at the movie theater, and the influences of John Carpenter and other horror and suspense directors are clearly woven into the fabric of the film.
The moment I realized how truly effective the movie was occurred on my drive home from the movie theater. After spending an hour and a half scanning the background of shots on-screen of out-of-place people or someone slowly walking toward the camera, I found myself doing the same thing driving down the road and in the mostly empty parking lot of the grocery store I stopped in on my way home. Much like how Jay had contracted something that was following her throughout the movie, a piece of the movie left the theater with me. Great movies stick with you. You take a piece of them with you, they follow you from the theater, and they change the way you look at the world around you, even if it’s briefly. It is a rare thing for a movie to change the way you look at the world. Only three months into the year I feel fairly confident in saying I have seen the best horror movie of the year in It Follows.
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars