Ben K., Here…
It’s not every day one can say they witnessed a unique premise in a horror film. Fresh ideas are rare in this genre of dumb character decisions, “jump out” scares, and people falling down for no reason. With It Follows, writer/director David Robert Mitchell actually begins with the common horror trope of teenagers being punished for having sex, but then he spins it into something brilliantly horrifying.
Imagine an STD that takes human form and relentlessly follows you wherever you go. It’s slow, lumbering along in various guises. It could be short or tall, young or old, it could look like someone you know. It’s not going to casually walk after you only to appear directly in front of you a la Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers. No, this thing can’t “cheat”. It’s not going to do anything except walk toward you, but it’s ALWAYS walking toward you. If you drive hundreds of miles away it may take days for it to catch up. But here’s the thing: if it does catch you, you’re dead. Then the creature goes back to hunting the person who transmitted the STD to you.
Of course it all sounds a bit silly, but Mitchell and the actors really sell it. A better title for the film would have been “Urban Legend” had that not already been wasted on a piece of shit from 1998. It Follows has the feel of an urban legend, taking place in no particular time or location. There are old television sets, cars from multiple decades, and movie theaters that still play live organ scores. It’s that timeless tale whispered about in high schools before the bell rings, a sort of “wear your chastity belt” warning to promiscuous kids around the country. Maintain your purity young ones, because herpes could be the least of your worries!
This particular version of the urban legend begins with a young woman running from something no one else can see. She drives to a remote beach, buying herself some time. She speaks with her father, apologizing for not being the best daughter. She makes her peace with the world. The next morning her corpse lies broken and shattered on the shore.
Then we meet the main character, Jay (Maika Monroe), a typical teenage girl who likes to daydream about boys while floating in the pool out back. After getting swept off her feet by Hugh (Jake Weary), a young man she met recently, Jay makes love to him in the back of his car. Without so much as a post-intercourse cigarette, Hugh knocks Jay out with chloroform and ties her up in an abandoned building nearby. When she awakens, he explains the “rules”. The thing that followed him has been passed to her, it can only be seen by her and those it has hunted before. Her only option is to stay alive long enough to pass it on.
To say more would be a criminal act, but make no mistake, this movie excels in creating a genuine sense of dread. I saw It Follows with press only, there was not a single annoying teenager overplaying their terror in the audience, yet folks around me were grabbing each other’s arms and squealing. The monster will likely get under your skin. The simple act of walking through my neighborhood at night has made me think “what if…” about neighbors headed my direction.
Still, in praising the film’s premise and effectiveness, I’m not saying we have a perfect film on our hands. I wasn’t a huge fan of the climax, for instance. Perhaps I will appreciate it once I see see the movie again. Furthermore, I found myself thinking that even more could have been done with such a juicy setup. Perhaps the movie wasn’t completely free of dumb decisions by its characters either.
But damn it, that creepy monster trumps all. The best horror movies aren’t the ones that make you jump out of your seat the greatest number of times. The best horror movies are the ones that stay with you after you leave the theater. When you are looking over your shoulder after seeing It Follows, you will agree it fits the bill.
4 out of 5 Stars
– Ben Keeney