The 1980s were filled with horror movies that mixed sex and violence. Promiscuity all but guaranteed a gruesome demise whether it be in a cabin on the shores of Crystal Lake or in a house on Elm Street. Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers could all be seen as an allegory for sexually transmitted diseases, and they weren’t the only films in which sex led to unpleasant results. David Cronenberg used sex as well in his films such as They Came from Within and The Brood. Now director David Robert Mitchell (The Myth of the American Sleepover) uses sex in his own horror vision, though in a more upfront way, as sex passes on a curse involving a supernatural presence that relentlessly follows its victim. It’s a simple, on the nose premise, though this STD can’t be cured with a doctor’s visit. The only way to possibly escape is to pass it on, and hope the next person doesn’t die, because then it boomerangs and comes back. It Follows uses this premise to a satisfying effect, making it one of the more unique and well done horror movies in recent years.
The film opens with Annie (Bailey Spry) fleeing her house. From what we don’t know, but the girl is obviously terrified. We then see her on a beach making a goodbye phone call to her parents, and in the next scene (providing a nice shock) we see her mangled body. Things then shift to Jay (Maika Monroe), who looks forward to her date with Hugh (Jake Weary). The first night doesn’t go as planned, but the next does, resulting in a sexual romp in the back of Hugh’s car. To Jay’s surprise he renders her unconscious, and when she wakes she finds herself strapped to an office chair. Hugh explains the curse to both the audience and to Jay this way, and he encourages her to pass it on as swiftly as possible, and not to die so the presence doesn’t return to pursue him. Jay’s sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and friends Yara (Olivia Luccardi), Greg (Daniel Zovatto), and Paul (Keir Gilchrist) rally around Jay, not truly believing her story but being supportive as best they can. Eventually events convince them, leading to a confrontation and a decision for Jay to make.
There were plenty of ways this film could have gone wrong, veering into cliched jump scares or even campy territory, but Mitchell wisely avoids all of that. When scares come they feel genuine, not punctuated by a loud musical cue or as the result of the all too worn out “gotcha”. The musical score builds tension nicely and turns into some very distinct percussive sounds and disturbing tones when the real menace arrives. The synth based score is very reminiscent of John Carpenter at his best in the 80s (Carpenter’s movies always did have terrific music) and it conveys the proper mood in every scene, whether it be the paranoia of Jay or the group’s jaunts through the streets of Detroit and its decaying neighborhoods. It was a smart move to make the presence constantly switch forms, leaving us in the audience as well as the main character off balance, never knowing if the person walking towards the screen was the menace or just some harmless pedestrian. This helped to keep the tension in the movie high, and when we did get a glimpse of the menace we knew that’s what it was, and it was often frightening to behold. Not frightening in an overt, actor done up with gruesome monster make-up type of way, but in that very chilling way that the menace could be anyone. In that way the scares were far more effective. There was no jump, and it’s over. Instead there was a lingering chill, and a sense of unease that could make you squirm. It’s not the overused visceral, bloody horror that far too many movies use. It’s more psychological in nature, and it’s used to perfect effect.
The cast is all very good, with none of the teens overly portrayed as the typical good looking teenagers of many a slasher film or the CW network shows. These kids all seemed real, and their performances conveyed their emotions in a believable manner. No one made the typical stupid mistakes of the average horror movie, and when finally confronted with the supernatural presence they reacted in a very believable manner. The finale may remind some of the Swedish horror movie Let the Right One In, though it’s effective and different enough to avoid being a copycat. If there’s one knock on the film to be made, it’s on the ending, which is very ambiguous and leaves us with questions that have no answers, save for ones we provide ourselves. Some may relish this ambiguity, others may come away feeling disappointed.
In the end, It Follows is one of the best horror movies to come out in recent years. The cinematography is excellent in how every scene is nicely framed, the music perfectly conveys the mood, and the performances give us believable characters to worry about. The movie never falls into the predictable pattern of other horror flicks, resulting in jump scares or people doing stupid things only to end up in gruesome fashion. Instead we’re treated to something genuinely creepy. Its premise may be a bit on the nose about unprotected sex being dangerous, but it uses that to its advantage, making It Follows a horror movie that will stay with you after the credits roll.
It Follows is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
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