It Follows (2014)
Today’s guest reviewer is longtime friend, Steve Spatucci. Steve and I have known each other since high school and he loves horror, sci-fi, and all things geeky as much as I do. He saw IT FOLLOWS last week (I still haven’t been able to get away to see it yet) and he agreed to write up a review for me.
Besides being a talented artist and great drummer, Steve is also a great writer. You can check out everything that is Steve on his website, and you can also check out his novel, BREACH POINT, for free.
IT FOLLOWS gets dread right because it takes the time it needs to set up its world. Though it starts with a prologue that shows us the deadly potential of the threat at the core of the story, the movie then wisely backs off and lets its characters slowly drift into view.
Those characters feel real – painfully real at times – and that authenticity is the main reason why IT FOLLOWS has generated the advanced buzz that heralded its release. When we meet Jay (Maika Monroe), her sister, and their friends, the group feels so much more like actual people than the typical teenagers found in most movies – horror or otherwise – that it’s striking. The movie is absent of a “lets go ‘round the dinner table” scene where we conveniently learn about each character and their relationship to Jay. There’s more of a European/arthouse sensibility here. The movie trusts us to learn as we go, and because of that, we actually care about its characters once the trouble starts.
That trouble comes not in one form, but many. And Here There Be Spoilers, so if you want to keep your IT FOLLOWS cherry unpopped (highly advised), you should skip over the next three paragraphs (yes, three paragraphs of spoilers – this is complicated stuff).
Jay goes on a date with a guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). Things start off okay as the couple heads out to see a movie, but the evening takes a turn for the strange when Hugh points out a girl at the theater who Jay can’t see. They leave the movie abruptly to eat at a diner before retiring to Hugh’s car for a parking lot romp – after which Hugh gives Jay the kind of treatment that typically comes pre-and not post-coital in a horror movie: he chloroforms her.
Jay wakes up tied to a wheelchair in an abandoned building. But don’t worry – this is all for her own good (my words, not his) because, as Hugh explains, their sex act has passed a curse onto Jay: a supernatural something that can take the form of a friend or stranger that will now stalk her wherever she goes, killing her if it catches up. The “It” will follow her on a direct path – it won’t divert its course or try to hide – which isn’t necessary anyway because except for those who’ve already been its primary target, it can’t be seen (yet, as we learn later, it does have a physical form). And the only way Jay can get rid of the curse (kind of) is to have sex with someone else – even though she’ll always remain in danger because if that person gets killed, she will once again find herself at the head of the line, so to speak.
Hence the wheelchair bit – Hugh has a vested interest in Jay believing his story (a technique he may have learned by trial and error). When the figure of a naked but not-quite-human woman appears from the wooded periphery of the abandoned building, Hugh demonstrates its pathfinding abilities as he rolls a terrified Jay away from the creature’s reach. It’s enough to convince Jay of the story’s truth, though when Hugh drops her off at home in front of her sister and friends, she struggles with what exactly to tell everyone – and what to do next.
And that’s where the fun starts. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell handles each aspect of his film with a deft hand. Slow pans and 70s style zooms bring an Altamaneqsue feeling to the proceedings. The story meanders naturally as it takes us deeper into the situation. Sometimes objective camera moves morph into subjective ones where we, the viewer, take the place of the threat… or possibly not. It isn’t always easy to tell who we are and what we’re looking at. Supposedly safe environments like schools and hospitals come with their own built-in problems – each passing teacher or nurse just may be… you know. Jay comes to learn that more isolated surroundings tend to work better – as long as she stays focused.
We eventually learn the “rules” of the threat, though neither we nor the characters are ever quite certain that what’s laid out for us is 100% true. It’s all a best guess by those who have a history of being stalked by the creature, whispered down the lane from one target to the next. No one has time to question the origin of the creature – it’s enough just to learn how to deal with it. This Dogme 95-ish take on an urban legend that lends another dose of believability to the story, as does the half-assed plan the characters work out in the end to put an end to the threat.
In terms of actual on-screen horror, Mitchell only gives us a few moments here and there where we actually see the threat – but trust that those moments are well-chosen. In the sometimes long spans between the glimpses of horror, it’s often us, the viewer, creating the threat from whole cloth – scanning the edges of the frame for whatever form it may have currently taken. The story moves well, with near-silent scenes (many in bodies of water) often bludgeoned by bold Carpenter-inspired synth stabs.
Mitchell places his story in an ambiguous timeframe. Is it the present, the near past, or an amalgam? More than anything the movie tells us not worry about it – though the absence of most modern technology (except for the prologue) helps to further keep the characters off-kilter as they try to stay one step ahead of the threat.
IT FOLLOWS isn’t really “heroic horror” where you feel like all the characters have to do is put together the clues they’ve gathered to work out a plan to defeat the monster. Nor is it a slasher flick where we gorge ourselves on a growing body count. This movie feels different from the start, and when things aren’t tied up cleanly by the time the credits roll, it feels like the only way a movie this original could end.
Director: David Robert Mitchell (& writer)
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 3 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Steve Spatucci