Sundance 2015 Review: ‘It Follows,’ It Terrifies
Back when human beings were still stuck in caves and pretty sure our own shadows were nightmare demons out to get us, the horror genre was born. In the following millennia we successfully fabricated shocking beasts and eldritch gods to torment us, to the extent that by 2015, it seemed like practically every damn scary thing had been invented, and exploited so often that they no longer seem to have any effect on our jaded psyches.
While David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows isn’t entirely unique – it probably owes at least a little to the works of David Cronenberg, Stanley Kubrick and Takashi Shimizu – it certainly feels different, and it engineers some truly frightening scares that horror hounds are bound to find surprising. That’s about as original as you can get in such well-trod territory. No amount of anecdotal evidence can keep It Follows from feeling unique in the 21st century horror landscape.
Maika Monroe (The Guest) has just slept with her new boyfriend, only to discover to her horror that he gave her something that will follow her around the rest of her life. No, it’s not HPV (although obsessive-compulsives everywhere are likely to find the parallels to sexually transmitted infections especially unnerving). It’s a homicidal specter that follows her around wherever she goes. This wraith has a built-in supernatural GPS the leads it directly to its next victim, and the only escape is to pass it on to somebody else through more sexual intercourse. At least, until it kills them, and turns around to follow you all over again.
The rules of the damned in It Follows are intriguing and frightening. The never-named apparition will follow you forever, for instance, but it has to follow on foot. You can briefly elude the monster by driving away but it always comes back, leading to one shocking moment after another in which Mitchell’s impeccable wide shots gradually reveal a single individual gradually making their way into the foreground, while the oblivious protagonists ignore the audience’s pleas to RUN! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!
The heroes of It Follows are memorable, and sensitive enough to make mistakes, but calculating enough to come up with at least a few reasonable attempts to stop the monster in its tracks. (One imagines that hightailing it to the coast and taking the first overseas flight to Guam would be a pretty good trick, but that’s probably the most notable possibility that they never consider.) There’s not a single character in Mitchell’s film that fails to elicit our sympathy, and so their demises always resonate like a tuning fork from Hell.
It Follows culminates in a strangely thrilling conclusion that seems to place the heroine is as much if not more danger than the villain has planned, but in the moment, it’s the most hair-raising moment in a film with no shortage of suspenseful set pieces. If you take nothing else away from It Follows, it should be that Mitchell’s measured camera movements and dedication to slow burn scares with big, terrifying payoffs are worth the price of admission alone. That It Follows also evokes genuine real-life anxieties for the ultimate in audience involvement is particularly tasty gravy.