It Follows (2015)

 Written & Directed by David Robert Mitchell

The genre of modern horror films has never really been up my alley in terms of filmic experiences. There are droves who will flock to the movie theater late at night to catch the latest gory rampage or spine-tingling jump scare movies. The “found footage” genre is still going strong nearly two decades after the success of The Blair Witch Project. While I can find it within my heart to appreciate that other people appreciate these types of horror movies, I often find the gross-out or cheap scare approach to be lacking in imagination and instead preying on the scared wits of its viewers (like me, I’ll admit it, the jump scares get me). But just because the jump scares work on my psyche doesn’t mean I’m enjoying the story being crafted, by the execution of the scare. So how refreshing it is to see a filmmaker delve into the past to accomplish something new in this era of horror films. David Robert Mitchell manages to be original all the while totally lifting from the horror classics of the 70s and 80s with It Follows.

Genre can be surprisingly cyclical, which is why when It Follows opens on a scared young woman running around a suburban street at twilight, I instantly thought of something like Halloween, a film, among others, Mitchell has clearly drawn on to create the mood and atmosphere of It Follows. Jay (Maika Monroe) is our heroine. She has been seeing a guy for a little while, and finally decides to do the deed with him, but this action soon leads to an eerie outcome. With the creepy sense that someone, or something, is following her, Jay is scared and on the run with the help of her friends, who don’t fully understand the visions Jay is having. The unknown is what makes the story effectively creepy. We are often most frightened by that which we cannot know. Not understanding what is following her, or how to get rid of it, makes the experience all the more terrifying for Jay.

In a way, the miracle of a horror movie like It Follows is its ability to remain grounded. A lot of what constitutes the genre any more is the supernatural, and while there is an undeniable element of that in It Follows, by basing the story on very real characters in a very real setting, using very real cinematography and staging, the film avoids feeling too produced and fake. The gritty, nearly unfiltered camera places the viewer right into Jay’s neighborhood, into her house, into her terrifying circumstance. The setting of this mood and atmosphere immediately buoys the film above anything else I’ve seen in recent years. The strongest, most effective horror films are those which ground themselves in enough reality to pull the viewer in, and those which create a memorable setting and mood, a foundation out of which the creepiness can effectively exude. It Follows has these elements and some to spare.

In addition to the real performances of the cast, Mitchell manages to utilize stylish camera movements in tandem with a very big and intrusive score which further builds the It Follows world into something both memorable and nostalgic. The blending of cool e-readers together in a world that otherwise feels directly out of a 1980s horror film, complete with old cars, tube televisions, old movies and dated fashion certainly brings to question when the film is supposed to occur, but it is also a direct homage to the many films which influenced Mitchell’s work. The big, intrusive score for instance recalls Halloweenwhile also building its own unique flair. While some may find the score distracting, I felt it aided the film’s ability to not only be effectively creepy, but also to distinguish itself stylistically from other horror of today.

So while much of what makes It Follows great can be traced back and called derivative of past classic horror, Mitchell’s penchant for simplicity pays off in terms of his ability to deliver a seriously creepy film. By leaving the “it” so ambiguously defined, Mitchell preys on the psyche of the viewer, forcing definition, or lack thereof, to permeate throughout the film as the sense of doom for our heroin builds and builds. “Simple” and “permeate” are the two words I seem to settle on most when pondering It Follows. Simple in its premise and execution, yet the story and creepiness permeates throughout that simple framework to create a film that is new, fresh, and unique, while also being true to its origins and predecessors from the 1980s. It Follows will likely be one of the films I most want to revisit come the end of the year.

***1/2 – Great

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