It is not every movie that references both T.S. Eliot and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Even fewer do so successfully. Perhaps only one such film falls into the horror genre. Horror movies are so often laughable that even being a modestly well-made film can render one noteworthy. “It Follows,” however, is more than noteworthy; it may well be a perfect film. Every aspect of the film—score, cinematography, screenplay, lighting—has been meticulously designed, each contributing another layer to the film’s overwhelming sense of dread. “It Follows” is at once groundbreaking and utterly foundational, taking one of the most atomic ideas in horror and creating around it a work that feels fresh and new. With aspirations beyond merely scaring the audience, the movie transcends the trappings of its genre and explores the questions of serious cinema.
Its premise, however, is simple. A pretty young blonde, Jay (Maika Monroe), goes out into the woods with a guy she has been dating, Hugh (Jake Weary). The two have sex in the back seat of his car. After their tryst, Jay wakes up, disoriented in a parking garage and bound to a wheelchair. Hugh tells her that when they slept together, he passed onto her a sort of curse. There was something following him, and now it is following her. It has no name. It can take any form. Apart from this, it has no special powers. It simply follows.
The sense of impending doom in “It Follows” is aided in large part by the synth-heavy score by Rich Vreeland. Vreeland, who writes music under the moniker Disasterpeace, gained notoriety for the grainy 8-bit soundtrack he created for the indie video game “Fez.” He brings the same feeling of eerie nostalgia with his score for “It Follows.” Despite being Vreeland’s debut in film scoring, the music in the film sounds instantly classic. The title theme could well be played alongside John Carpenter’s 1974 theme from “Halloween” completely suitably.
Even the film’s potential failings turn out to be assets. The acting of the young cast often feels stunted and unnatural, but this—along with the sparse and occasionally forced dialogue—only adds to the mood of alienation.Indeed, this unnatural dialogue is successful in part because of its scarcity. In many scenes, the principal characters sit together in silence, conveying their ennui in their inaction, freed from the limits of language.
Set against the backdrop of a deteriorating Detroit, the action of the film takes on a dark note. In one scene, Jay and her friends are driving along a suburban road when the focus of the camera drifts to the buildings outside the car. The graffitied walls and broken windows of the abandoned factories they pass are nearly as haunting as the thing that follows them. In fact, in its dilapidated ubiquity, the crumbling city seems to stalk the young adults with eerie persistence. The choice to set the film in the heart of the Rust Belt provides more than spooky scenery—it is a subtle hint at the film’s central theme.
Woven throughout the film’s gripping chase sequences is a meditation on the ephemeral nature of youth. Early in the film, Hugh jokes that he would like to be a child again so he could once more have the freedom to defecate wherever he might please. Jay laughs the comment off, but the joke seems to linger. The teens in “It Follows” are young. With each encounter with their persistent stalker, each time just barely evading its clutches, their lease on life runs down. Even as the credits begin to roll and the audience watches two kids walk hands-clasped into the sunset, there still exists a nameless, faceless specter lurking in their wake—death. Slowly but surely it follows.
“It Follows” is more successful as a film than most horror flicks. It is beautifully shot and scored, but its content is what sets the film apart from its peers and elevates it to the more serious but no less exciting cadre that is art. Instead of offering its viewers 90 minutes of cheap scares, it uses horror to grapple with questions that truly haunt. Because unlike curses or demons, the horror at the center of the film actually exists. Slowly but surely it follows. It will always follow.
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