Thursday, June 15, 2017

It Follows (2015)

Originally posted April 28th, 2015

It could look like someone you know or it could be a stranger in a crowd. 
Whatever helps it get close to you.

The best horror films reach deep inside an audience's mind and tap into their primal fears.   The unfortunate majority of studio horror movies substitute tension-killing jump scares and gratuitous amounts of gore for genuine terror and scary fun.  So when I hear good buzz surrounding a new horror movie, as I did with It Follows, I get pretty excited.  Disappointed I was not; in fact, I'll be damned if It Follows isn't the best horror movie to come out since The Conjuring (although I have yet to see The Babadook... let's just go with "best American horror movie").  Unsettling, nuanced, and horribly beautiful in too many ways to count, It Follows fulfills its promise to linger with you long after you see it.

A young, gloomy college student named Jay (Maika Monroe) lives a perfectly average life in suburbia.  She becomes cursed by her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary) after having sex with him for the first time.  A person will follow her wherever she goes, walking slowly toward her until it catches up and kills her.  It can look like anyone, so Jay's guard must constantly be up.  She confides in her friends, and they try to find ways to kill the creature following her, but it seems as though the only way she can escape the curse is by having sex with someone else to pass it on.

In all honesty, I think Hitchcock and John Carpenter would have liked It Follows.  The tension and suspense are so on point and nerve-wracking that half the time I forgot I was even watching a movie.  Typically, modern horror movies have unlikable characters, nonexistent plots, and unlikable characters.  It Follows is like a defiance of all those elements; the horror comes from slow builds and intense payoffs, the plot builds and the story is constantly moving, and the characters are sympathetic.  I care about Jay, her fate, and the fate of her friends.  The rules of the curse are laid out clearly, and rather than becoming tired in the second act, it only gets more interesting and terrifying.  Because you care about the characters, you're constantly in anticipation of the creature's next appearance.  Sometimes the creature is already in the scene and you don't even know it yet. This is damn good horror movie-making.

What adds to the unsettling mood is the world the characters inhabit.  At first it appears to be modern day.  But the cars and fashion seem to be straight out of the 70s, the movies everyone watches are from the 50s (and all their televisions have rabbit ears), and one of Jay's friends has a small, electronic device that she reads books on.  Add to that the magnificent, synth-tastic music by Disasterpiece, which adds a sharp 80s flair, and you're placed in a world that's just a little off and uncomfortable in all the right ways.  I'm so tired of movies with droning, forgettable soundtracks, so listening to this intrusive and eerie score was really satisfying.

Director David Robert Mitchell has created a movie akin to experiencing a nightmare.  Drawing from the best elements of the original Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street movies, It Follows is the rare horror movie that focuses on suspense rather than gore, smart characters and a tight story instead of idiots played by models in a convoluted series of events.  The actors in It Follows give very naturalistic performances and look like real people, which means not everyone is conventionally attractive.  The world, despite how otherworldly it feels, looks lived in and authentic.  The subtext about STDs, sexual anxiety, and the fear of inevitable death add untold amounts of substance that can be picked apart and analyzed upon multiple viewings.  Despite my slight confusion about the ending (maybe I just don't get it yet), I can't say enough great things about this movie.