Full Disclosure: I know and have worked on set with Michael Gioulakis, the film’s Director of Photography. But like Roger Ebert, I’m confident that I’ll have no problem giving my unbiased impressions of the film. Also, I won’t pretend to be a horror movie buff, so feel free to take these impressions with an additional grain of salt (you know, on top of the usual one).
Normally, I wouldn’t be particularly interested in watching a horror movie (although, I do often like them), but the praise for It Follows has been almost off-the-charts positive since it was released last month. The reality is that I can’t ignore a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And given that it wasn’t a slasher/torture horror movie (I don’t often like those), I decided it was worth checking out and seeing if it could live up to the hype. While I’m not sure it’s the greatest horror movie I’ve seen, it was the hauntingly unpleasant experience I had hoped it would be.
Jay (Maika Monroe) really likes Hugh (Jake Weary), the guy she’s been dating. But after their first serious sexual encounter, things take a disturbing turn when Hugh reveals that he’s passed something far more sinister than an STD on to her: a relentless creature will now hunt her until it catches and kills her unless she passes the curse on to some other lover.
One thing that struck me about It Follows was how much of the horror takes place in broad daylight. It’s easier to scare people at night because the dark tends to feed into our fears and let our imaginations run wild. But It Follows doesn’t rely on the conventional dark to terrify us. The radiant, typically protective sun does nothing to bother the inexorable “It” (and its titular following). With the light providing no sanctuary, the characters were vulnerable at any time of day, keeping them (and us) constantly on edge and allowing a general sense of discomfort/unease to be cultivated and maintained from start to finish.
On top of its fearlessness, It is special because It can and will be anyone. Whether in the guise of loved ones or strangers, It will come for you day and night and it’s a distinct possibility that you won’t see it coming. The subtle, understated nature of this monster (in contrast to a shrieking, hideous cliché) enhances how terrifying it really is. Of course it’s supernatural, but that simplicity gives it a strange and unsettling sense of realism.
Part of me enjoys the sensation of the cheap, jump thrill that seems an integral part of the horror movie formula. But most of me prefers the way It Follows toyed with those kinds of expectations, instead building a consistently creepy atmosphere and then weaving in the scares organically… but also hinting at scares that would in fact never come, often leaving the audience satisfactorily manipulated/punished for bringing outdated expectations in with them. The film also does a great job of leaving things ambiguous, not being driven to constantly explain things that don’t need to be explained and instead often providing clues and simply trusting viewers to fill in gaps themselves. It’s always a great feeling when a film has some faith in its audience’s intelligence.
Besides Keir Gilchrist (who played one of Jay’s close friends and semi-love interest), I haven’t seen any of the film’s actors’ previous work, although many of the faces felt vaguely familiar. There’s always a risk using relatively unknown actors (a reality that most independent films have to contend with) but the cast of It Follows is effective and convincing as this group of teenagers trying to navigate a bizarre and terrifying predicament. No one performance (other than Gilchrist’s, I suppose) stood out to me (possibly a good thing), allowing the horror of the story to be the focus the entire time.
The movie isn’t particularly long, but I did run into some issues with the pacing. At a few points, I was tempted to check my watch (although it never got so bad that I surrendered to the temptation). There were a few minutes here or there that could have been trimmed to make everything feel tighter and tauter, but it bodes well that that’s probably my biggest complaint.
While It Follows isn’t a movie that throws nonstop scares at the viewer, it manages to do something far more interesting by building and maintaining an atmosphere that keeps the viewer’s heart rate elevated for the duration. There aren’t so many peaks of terror, but there also aren’t many valleys of tedium. It Follows is the kind of horror movie that’s palatable to horror buffs and haters both. It should be seen.