Director: David Robert Mitchell
Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe
MPAA Rating: (for disturbing violent and sexual content including graphic nudity, and language)
Running Time: 1:40
Release Date: 3/13/15 (limited); 3/20/15 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | March 19, 2015
It Follows is as scary as it is because, in part, it doesn't try to be scary. The film doesn't resort to the cheap scare tactics—the jump-out moments, the deafening stings of blaring music cues, the reliably predictable rhythm of false calm followed by a fake startle before the "real" scare arrives. It doesn't rely on blood and gore as a substitute for horror. In fact, aside from one disturbing shot of a mutilated corpse within the first five minutes, there is really a very limited amount of the red stuff here, and when it does flow, it's not the focus. This is a horror film with a deviously simple conceit at its core. It trusts that concept and follows the idea through its logical points and to its necessary ends. The film doesn't need to try to be scary. It just is.
The film, written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, is first and foremost an exercise in horror, following a group of teenagers as they attempt to escape a seemingly unstoppable entity that has only one goal: to kill one—and, later, more—of them. There's nothing new in this plot, but it hardly matters when the film itself is as singularly focused on creating an imposing sensation of dread and an impending sense of doom as the creature is on its own goals. It's a nearly relentless film, with the deathly threat always behind the characters.
Maybe it's a few hours or days away from the characters, but maybe it's only a matter of minutes or seconds before the thing arrives. We never know for sure until the character sees (or—again—later, characters see) it. The combination of the certainty of the entity's arrival with the uncertainty of the specific time of that arrival is a powerfully frightening thing. We may not know the hour of his coming, but the master is approaching and all that.
The film opens with an enigmatic tease. A young woman (Bailey Spry), seen through a single take that pans along with her movements, careens out of an ordinary house on a quiet street in an anonymous suburb. She's terrified, but of what, we do not know. As she runs, her head is always darting back over her shoulder to catch a glimpse of something that, apparently, only she can see.
We next see her sitting on a beach—her back to the water. She's staring toward the woods. A realization of finality appears on her face. Mitchell's camera stays locked on the trees. Are we looking for something? In the final moment before the camera returns to the young woman, do we actually see something, or is it just the mind creating an image out of nothing? The next morning, the girl's body is on the beach—now lifeless and with a leg bent in an unnatural position.
The opening sequence establishes a permeating atmosphere of the unknown, and even as the details of threat become clearer as the plot continues, the film maintains that atmosphere. The story follows Jay (Maika Monroe), another young woman who lives in another normal house on another sleepy street in an ordinary suburb outside Detroit. She and Hugh (Jake Weary), a seemingly nice guy, go on a date to a movie where we note that Hugh is looking over his shoulder. We know this look well by now.
They have sex in the backseat of Hugh's car, and in the midst of Jay's dreamy afterglow, Hugh puts a cloth over her face. She awakens tied to a chair in a decrepit apartment building. Hugh wants her to see something.
The thing is the "It" of the title. As with any horror movie, there are a set of "rules" associated with this thing, and Hugh relates them in bursts of expository shouts while wheeling Jay away from the always-approaching entity.
It will follow Jay until it catches her, and when it does, It will kill her. She can pass on this curse by having sex with someone, but if It kills that person, it will go back to pursuing her. It can take the form of anyone—strangers or people the hunted knows—in order to trick the intended victim, but only people who have been or are being chased can see It. The film has a lot of cunning fun with that last one. Since none of Jay's companions—her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and her friends Paul (Keir Gilchrist), Greg (Daniel Zovatto), and Yara (Olivia Luccardi)—can see It, they cannot warn Jay if It's nearby.
The thing has a distinct, steady gait. It never speaks, but the walk says volumes: Its only purpose to catch its victim, and It knows it will eventually—no need to rush matters. Mitchell's technique is as simple and effective as the conceit and the rules. He uses long shots and takes so that we can see It coming in the background. Whenever the film moves to a new location, the camera spins around on its axis to take in the entirety of the surroundings, searching for a person who seems to be walking to his or her own rhythm—the characteristic stroll of It. In tighter quarters, Mitchell's camera follows Jay, sneaking and peering around corners with bated breath.
The film does take some respites, and it's in those exhales—always with the expectation that the thing will return at any moment—that Mitchell's screenplay slyly deconstructs some of the genre's more persistent clichés. The concept of the thing seems like a joke, since it's a pretty much a hard and fast rule that any character who has sex in a horror movie is destined to die. Note the way that every male character here (including a couple of peeping boys next door) views Jay. Paul and Greg want to protect her, but conveniently, the only way for them to do so in this particular situation is to have sex with her. Neither of them is opposed to idea, despite the fact that it will probably lead to his death.
These elements are clever and lend authority to Mitchell's understanding of the genre, but the proof of his command of it is in the execution. It Follows is remarkably deft, very scary, and, ultimately, a surprisingly sobering reminder that we all have an It following us.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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