Monday, 6 April 2015

Something Wicked This Way Comes: "It Follows"

Warning: Some Spoilers Ahead 

From the beginning of writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows- which opens with a tracking shot following a frightened teenage girl as she’s running from an unseen...someone?...something?- you know you’re in very capable hands. I was genuinely hooked from the beginning; and while I wish the film explored its concept a further and threw a few more narrative curveballs, as a piece of filmmaking It Follows is well worth any discerning horror movie fan’s time.

Our main character is 19-year old Jay (The Guest’s Maika Monroe). She has been dating Hugh (Jake Weary). After they have sex one night, Hugh chloroforms Jay. Hugh then reveals he has passed on to her a curse: an entity that can take the form of anyone- whether it’s someone you know or a complete stranger- which only someone with the curse can see. The entity will keep following you until it kills you. Jay eventually enlists the help of her sister- Kelly (Lili Sepe)- and her friends- Paul (Keir Gilchrist), Yara (Olivia Luccardi), and Greg (Daniel Zovatto)- to help her defeat the entity before it kills her.

This is pretty much all you need to know about the premise of the film. It’s the type of basic set up which burrows in to your psyche. If Psycho and Jaws made you afraid of having a shower and going in to the water, respectively, then It Follows will make you paranoid of the people around you. In other horror movies revealing what the evil force looks like early on ruins a film's mystery; but since the entity takes a different form each time out (many very grotesque) there’s an inherent suspense of not knowing what it’ll look like next. Mitchell plays on this un-surety, notably in a later scene with Hugh- whose real name turns out to be Jeff Redmond-which sets up the potential of the entity being there (Jake still isn’t rid of it) - but it’s just a false alarm.

By giving the entity a different form each time out enhances the mystery of what it actually is. In another film we would get more of a back-story concerning the history of what this creature/demon/etc. is. But Mitchell isn't interested in exploring a dense mythology for this entity. He’s more concerned with how the entity works on a metaphorical level. The fact that the curse is passed on sexually makes the entity something like a sexually transmitted disease. And like a STD, passing it on doesn’t mean you’re free of it. The film can be read as a darkly comic cautionary tale for safe sex.

Besides the STD metaphor, I feel the film both reinforces and subverts the teen horror tropes- explained by Jamie Kennedy’s character in the original Scream- of the girl who has sex getting killed and the “final girl” or heroine typically being the pure virgin. In It Follows having sex can get you killed but Jay isn’t a secondary character who gets killed after having sex she’s the main character. Moreover Jay isn’t demonized for having sex nor portrayed stereotypically as a “dirty girl.” For Mitchell, Jay is no less “pure” for having sex.  
Monroe was good in The Guest but I think she was overshadowed by Dan Stevens’ performance. In It Follows, allowed to take centre stage, Monroe really shines. It’s not a flashy performance but she has a laid back and natural charisma which endears Jay to us. And Mitchell’s camera loves her. On a side note, during an early scene I thought to myself that all she needed was head band and she’d be a great Gwen Stacy for the next Spider-Man series.
I think old-school horror fans will take a certain amount of pleasure from It Follows, particularly admirers of legendary director John Carpenter’s aesthetic. While it’s risky for an up and coming filmmaker to homage an iconic director’s work (“You’re no John Carpenter”), I think Mitchell is able to pay tribute to Carpenter’s (and other filmmakers' work) while still crafting something that’s distinctly his own. Despite this only being Mitchell’s sophomore effort he’s an extremely confident filmmaker, with a firm grasp of pacing, camera movement and atmosphere. While he does provide some jump moments, he doesn’t rely on them too much; instead he focuses on images that are truly and deeply frightening. There are moments in this film that I think will unsettle even the most seasoned horror fan.

While It Follows is very stylish film, it’s never so stylish that it overalls the film. In fact, the mood of the film is often very subdued. Mitchell allows character moments to breathe. While I feel the characters needed to be developed a little more Mitchell's characters are still distinctly human and not merely fodder for the entity. Even Jay isn’t completely vilified- he’s as much a victim as anyone. The heart of the film- character-wise- is the relationship between Jay and Paul. He clearly likes her and we learn they shared a kiss when they were younger. They have a few nice scenes together, particularly the conversation they have before the horror really kicks in to gear.

I do wish the film travelled a different narrative path as it headed towards its climax. Instead it settles in to a more conventional type of climax. I also wish the film’s ending had a little more punch- though I understand that Mitchell likely wanted a subdued final note. Despite these few disappointments, on its own terms, It Follows is an absorbing and effectively spooky horror film, full of unsettling and beautiful images- as well as a star-making performance by Monroe. If you’re a horror fan, seek this one out.