Halloween may have passed, but the British Winter is well and truly setting in. That means it’s horror season, and it’s as good a time as any to watch and discuss It Follows. This movie was released last year to no fanfare but has received wide critical praise and become something of a cult classic. I would argue that it’s on course to becoming a true classic of the horror genre.
This film is terrifying. There is something about the way the environment, cinematography, subject matter and musical score interact that makes it deeply unsettling. The first scene is perplexing but deeply compelling, and ends with one of the most disturbing yet understated single shots I have ever witnessed in cinema. The standard doesn’t drop from there for a single minute. This is not a film that is played for ‘jumps’ but nevertheless it contains some of the scariest moments I have ever witnessed in a movie. Moreover, it is able to cultivate a pervasive atmosphere of fear that lasts throughout.
For me, the secret of its success is that the film is not just a good horror film but an intelligent film, period. David Robert Mitchell, the writer and director, does a masterful job at telling the story while using a minimum of dialogue and verbal exposition, instead relying on environment, scenery, music, and his talented cast, who use subtle body language to communicate or hint at details of the plot without spelling everything out in black and white. Mitchell trusts his actors and also trusts his audience to be invested enough in the movie to try and work out what is going on, or what a line of dialogue or a single gesture might allude to. He is also not afraid to let you use your imagination to fill in the gaps, which is after all one of the secrets of good horror. Once we know everything about something it loses its capacity to scare us.
The film has a dreamlike quality at times and supposedly had its origins in a dream Mitchell experienced. Certainly the Detroit setting, which seems to combine elements of different time eras, feels like something out of a dream. Moreover the subject matter (fears related to sex, family and mortality) is ripe for Freudian deconstruction. The storyline can sustain a certain amount of analysis, and you can easily draw metaphors with regard to STDs, particularly HIV/AIDs, and also perhaps even things like pregnancy. But we shouldn’t deconstruct the film too far lest it start to lose its magic. This is a film that you should just allow yourself to experience and enjoy, and be thankful that such an intelligent and terrifyingly effective horror film can still be made in this day and age. I found it laughable to read that Quentin Tarantino, while claiming to like the movie, poked holes in how the film failed to stick to its own internal ‘rules’. The basic earnestness and humanity of this film is one of its best qualities and, to my mind, its sheer artistry far surpasses anything that has emanated from Tarantino. He should humbly try to learn from this film rather than criticize it.
Maika Monroe’s performance as Jay is wonderful, but all the characters come across well which testifies to the quality of the script. The musical score is absolutely stellar, being one of the most atmospheric and piercing horror themes I’ve come across in years. Parts of it capture a John Carpenter-esque 80s atmosphere but it also feels utterly contemporary as well, and is really very impressive. The first time I listened to it (at work, with headphones), my eyes literally teared up I was so scared. The composer, Disasterpeace (Rich Vreeland), deserves praise for it.
If you haven’t seen this film, do yourself a favour and watch it. If you’ve seen it already, watch it again. And never stay somewhere that has only one exit.