It Follows (2015)
Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Premise: After having sex with her new boyfriend, a young woman is stalked by an evil force that intends to kill her. The only way to get rid of the curse is to sexually transmit it to someone else but if the evil gets the next person then the curse falls back on her.
What Works: One of the most critical aspects of making a horror film work, and one of the most difficult to get right, is creating an atmosphere of dread. There is a difference between frightening the viewer with a jump scare, which is a fairly easy to do, and putting them in an ongoing state of fear. The former lasts a few seconds and is achieved through long pauses and loud interruptions, as seen in the Paranormal Activity series. Creating an atmosphere of dread requires much more skill on the part of the filmmaker but when it is done right it enhances the impact of the jump scares and it results in a movie that is very satisfying. It Follows is an excellent example of a horror film with an effective atmosphere and it is a stylish and extremely well crafted piece of work. The movie is well shot with some striking images. In the conceit of the movie, the evil curse manifests itself as a zombie-like person who walks (but never runs) after its intended victim and only the target can see it. This allows for a lot of great subtle effects in which the evil literally walks from the background and into the foreground. The filmmakers also use sound really well. The audio is mixed effectively and the filmmakers show good judgement for when to overload the soundtrack and when to use silence. The music, credited to Disasterpeace, is often harsh and a little overbearing but it is very distressing like the scores to Suspiria and the 1982 version of The Thing. Like some of the films It Follows is inspired by, the movie is intelligent. The premise of the story could easily be the conceit of a pornographic film but it isn’t and the filmmakers frequently walk the edge of good taste and show restraint where appropriate. One of the interesting aspects of the conceit of the movie is the way it inverts the predominant puritanical sexual logic of a lot of horror films. The moviemakers handle that just right and unlike many genre films, whether they are horror, comedy, or action, the characters of It Follows behave credibly and have a lot of humanity and complexity, which invests the audience in the outcome of the story.
What Doesn’t: The ending of It Follows is abrupt. The film climaxes with the lead character and her friends gathering at a public pool in a decrepit part of town with the intent of capturing or destroying the evil. Why they go to this particular place, what they intend to do, and why they believe that it will stop the evil are unclear. One of the strengths of It Follows is the film’s irrationality; the evil force has the same frightening qualities of the shark in Jaws or Michael Myers in Halloween. However, If Follows lacks a “Van Helsing scene” in which the evil is identified and the rules are established. That does enhance the scariness of the movie but there’s a lack of exposition going into the climax that makes it a little confusing. It Follows is also somewhat anachronistic. The technology of the movie world is both of yesterday and today; the characters watch old black and white movies on tube screen television sets but they also read books on their smart phones. The mix of retro and contemporary content is also true of the themes of this film. In many ways It Follows is a throwback to the horror films of the AIDS crisis such as the 1980s remakes of The Fly and The Blob; in that respect the themes of this movie are out of date. However, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases remain a fact of life and so the themes of the movie are still relevant in a more general way.
Bottom Line: It Follows is one of the better American horror films to come along in quite a while. It is extremely well made and delivers some shocking surprises but what is most impressive is its intensity.
Episode: #536 (April 5, 2015)