Sunday, March 15, 2015

Review: It Follows

Image courtesy of Radius TWC.
Most of the best horror films offer something more than scares and bloodletting - and David Robert Mitchell's "It Follows" is easily one of the best of the genre in some time. Not only will it likely creep you the hell out, but it's thoughtful, provoking, even poignant at moments and stays in your memory long after you've left the theater.

Mitchell's first film was "The Myth of the American Sleepover," a Linklater-esque drama about a group of teens looking for connection during the course of the summer's last weekend in Michigan.
"It Follows," which makes great use of its Detroit and suburbs locales, is also primarily focused on teens - in fact, adults hardly ever make an appearance - but rather than using 1980s teen dramedies as its inspiration, it has turned toward the horror genre from that same era.

With an eerie synth score reminiscent of "Halloween," Mitchell's film has a touch of George Romero, a healthy dose of John Carpenter and, narratively, an aura and tone that somewhat resembles Herk Harvey's 1962 freak-out "Carnival of Souls." And yet, it has a mind, style and story all its own. It is, without a doubt, one of the more unique entries to its genre in some time.

The film opens with an unsettling sequence. A young woman runs from her home as if fleeing from something or someone, stops in the middle of the street, surveys the scene, runs back into her home, comes back out, drives away in her car and ends up on a beach, where she places a call to her family. Moments later, she is lying dead on the beach with her legs twisted grotesquely back. This is the film's only visually gruesome scene.

The story then follows Jay (Maika Monroe), a young woman who spends easygoing late spring days with her younger sisters and a few kids on their street as summer approaches. Mitchell has incorporated the laid back vibe of his earlier film during some of his sophomore picture's early scenes. Jay spends time with a young man named Hugh (Jake Weary), who takes her on a date to a movie that ends abruptly after something seems to have disturbed him. Not long afterward, they have sex in his car and then, shockingly, she awakens tied to a chair.

Hugh explains to her that he is being followed by a presence - always a person, but a shapeshifter that can take the form of a loved one or stranger - that moves slowly, but is always heading toward its intended victim. If the creature, let's call it, gets to you, it'll kill you. And the only way to rid yourself of it is to sleep with someone else, therefore passing the curse on to another. But if the person to whom you passed it is killed, then it comes back to you, so it's beneficial to warn the person with whom you've slept, so that they continue to pass it along. Although the film's central story revolves around sex, the filmmakers have thankfully not used it as a prudish warning against engaging in the act as many other horror films have done since the birth of the slasher film.

If this sounds convoluted, it's no matter. This is not a film in which plot is the most important element, unlike like the majority of American horror films. "It Follows," similar to last year's spellbinding "Under the Skin," uses genre as a format in which to ponder more philosophical matters.

Toward the film's end, which culminates with what is arguably an act of defiance, a character reads a passage from the book they've been toting around with them - Dostoevsky's "The Idiot." The quote involves the certainty of death and although I can't quote it exactly, this other passage from the same novel is applicable as well: "There is the sentence and the whole awful torture lies in the fact that there is certainly no escape and there is no torture in the world more terrible."

So, what exactly is the creature stalking Jay? It could be anything, but for the purpose of the film, it's arguably the loss of innocence or adulthood. Or even death itself. When one is young, it's difficult to imagine one's life coming to an end, although it inevitably does. "It Follows" is, ultimately, a film about facing down the things one cannot escape.

Aside from being more thoughtful than most of the other recent entries in its genre, "It Follows" is just flat-out scary. The burnt out and dilapidated neighborhoods of Detroit make for some creepy visuals and the unsettling score help to create a constant feeling of impending doom.

And the filmmakers have utilized an ingenious tactic by using tracking and long shot panoramas to allow viewers to spend much of the film searching the edges of the frame and trying to determine whether the slow moving beings heading toward the characters are everyday folks or, possibly, the creature taken another form. The film becomes a white knuckle experience, never giving the viewer a sense of catharsis, even for a second.

"It Follows" is the type of horror film to which all entries into the genre should aspire. It's the type of film that lingers in your memory long after you've seen it and will likely haunt you for days.

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