(Maika Monroe) is hunted in IT FOLLOWS.
Here she's comforted by her sister (Lili Sepe)
It’d be a real stretch to call IT FOLLOWS a slasher, yet I’ll still review it here for two reasons. One it is a brilliant movie and well worth your time. Two it borrows, plays with and subverts enough subgenre conventions to make it worthy of conclusion. It also takes the 80s slasher adage of have-sex-and-die to its logical endpoint – where sex will kill you in the most horrible way imaginable.
The film centres around Jay (Maika Monroe – last seen in another film with slasher leanings THE GUEST (2014)) and her disaffected, yet amiable, friends and sister. She dates a hunky guy called Hugh (Jake Weary) a few times, and continues to do so even after he freaks out after seeing someone at a revival showing at a cinema. Eventually they have sex near an abandoned building (this is Detroit) in his car. So far, so teen romance. Yet this perfect moment is broken and smashed to pieces when he chloroforms her and ties her unconscious body to a chair on a floor of the derelict office block …
Jay awakes to him apologising profusely. He tells her that he has slept with her to pass on a curse. This curse means that she will be pursued by a figure walking slowly, yet determinedly, towards her – and if it catches her it will kill her. It could look like anyone and could even look like one of her friends or family. She can outrun the creature, but it will never give up and will relentlessly keep coming for her. The only way she can end the curse (or in reality delay it) is pass it onto someone else through sex. It would then be in her best interest that that person stays alive, otherwise the thing will revert back to pursuing her and working its way back down the line of sexual conquests.
comes in curious shapes in IT FOLLOWS.
Dropped at her home in a state of despair, her friends initially find it difficult to swallow her story and wonder if her delusion is from some kind of trauma. This is made worse by the fact that only those under the curse can see the pursuing ghoul. Trying to put this behind her she narrowly misses the clutches of the first visitation during a class at school and once again barely manages to escape its murderous advances in her own home. Soon her friends realise that this is not a delusion but she – and even perhaps they – are in mortal danger … IT FOLLOWS looks back over its shoulder to the 1980s for much of its running time. Its highly effective, driving synth score is more than a little reminiscent of John Carpenter’s music for HALLOWEEN (1978). Many of the fashions hark back to the 1970s and 1980s, yet this is much more than merely a throwback retro movie.
Curiously, the film is not really set in any time recognisable. The teenagers watch black and white sci-fi on a 1950s TV set, whilst one reads an eBook on a reader that has not been invented yet. Their bedrooms would be more suited to the elderly than to young women. A cinema has an organist and a neighbouring family listen to old time radio shows. The film feels modern yet retro. It is a film out of time – and, of course, that’s intentional.
The reason for this is perhaps the whole thing is a dream – or more specifically a nightmare. Visually the film is very reminiscent of HALLOWEEN (the suburbs where the teens live is a dead ringer for Haddonfield) and despite the ever changing face of the boogeyman it is pure Michael Myers evil (complete with slow walk). However, it is this dreamlike feel and logic that points more towards Elm Street than Haddonfield. Where the Elm Street films – especially the later ones – hit you over the head with violent and surreal imagery, IT FOLLOWS is mostly much more subtle. The film’s biggest nod to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET comes when Jay spies her neighbour Greg (Daniel Zovatto) in mortal danger from her bedroom window and rushes to try and warn him (Johnny Depp's character was called the similar sounding Glen).
is no hiding in IT FOLLOWS.
For most of us, when we dream, we do not question the internal logic of the dream whilst we are in it (like the characters in the film). Maybe after waking it will occur to us how strange certain elements were. This may explain why the characters in the film do not seem fazed by the seemingly incongruous and old-fashioned objects they find themselves surrounded by. Monroe gives a very good performance as the troubled lead, but she seems either almost half asleep and dozy or plagued by night terror freak outs (all fitting, of course). In many scenes she's in water – perhaps suspended in the amniotic fluid of her own nightmare. Again, in dreams certain people can appear recognisable yet not fully formed. Like a fever dream version of the PEANUTS cartoon, adults are mostly heard but not always seen. The face of Jay's mother is hardly glimpsed and adults play little role and give less comfort in IT FOLLOWS (matching the naturally introverted nature of many teenage dramas).
I found the film frightening – yet a number of people I saw it with did not. The music, sound effects and effective use of the widescreen all conspire to make a very unnerving experience – and breathtakingly scary in some places. The fact that the apparition, although not visible to the naked eye of those who are uncursed, is solid enough to need to break windows and smash doors to get to the accursed it is a very real physical threat – and will simply never stop coming. This leads to some genuinely heart-stopping moments. However, it is not a film which everyone will love and will undoubtedly split audiences, like THE BABADOOK (2014) (a film that I did not particular care for but won much critical acclaim). It is not surprising that IT FOLLOWS did not play the multiplexes in my city, but was shown at a local art house cinema. Certainly, the depictions of awkward teenagers is more BOYHOOD (2014) than FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). However, despite the fact that the film is essentially about the fear of sex and repression, the indie sensibilities of the movie only go to make IT FOLLOWS seem even more believable. Because the characters would rather sit around on the porch playing Old Maid (another odd flashback) than battle the supernatural it only makes them seem more real. However, it would be a mistake to think that the film doesn't deliver on the requisite chills and thrills – every languid moment of self-reflection is followed by a passage that should keep even the most hardy awake at night.
Robert David Mitchell has indicated that he would like to return to horror in the near future. That can't come soon enough.
female:1 / male:1
1) Female found dead and twisted
2) Male killed (method not clear)