It has been difficult trying to convince people to watch this film without overselling it or without making the premise seem silly. When I do manage to successfully explain the premise of this, people assume it’s yet another splatter film full of guts and gore but no story. I can’t truly blame people for not lining up to see this right away because I myself wouldn’t have made an effort to see it on the big screen if the Alamo Drafthouse hadn’t recommended it to me.
I believe the best to describe It Follows is to say that the film is a love child of Lynch and Cronenberg, adopted and raised by Carpenter to appreciate Hitchcock films. The premise resembles something Cronenberg would’ve thrown at audiences in the 70s and 80s, mixed with something Lynch would think of using lingering shots to creep up on viewers with subtle but uneasy images using mundane, every day objects. To top it all off, the atmosphere is built up by using Carpenter’s style of camera angels, out of focus background characters, movements and the constant eerie feeling of the characters being watched. All that is enforced by a fantastic score that emphasizes all the right elements of a horror film.
The premise may seem strange on paper, but it works really well on screen, perhaps because of its uniqueness. There is a sexually transmitted curse. Once a person is cursed, they are then stalked by an entity only they or another cursed person is able to see. This entity can be in the form of a total stranger or someone they know. The only way to survive this curse is to pass it to someone else through intercourse. If that person is killed by the curse, the curse works its way back to the previous person, and so forth. This entity isn’t given a backstory or a motive; it just does what it does, which I personally find a lot creepier than a seven-minute flashback explanation using unlikely methods.
In my experience, the best way to scare an audience is to unleash the terror at them in subtle ways so it has the chance of creeping into their subconscious and striking them when they don’t realize it. That is most definitely the case here. The death at the opening of the film isn’t even shown on screen. The very first scene in the film is done in a single take. We’re shown a frightened young adult running from something. She’s completely unsure of what she’s doing. All she wants to do is get away from whatever is chasing her. Her reaction, combined with the atmosphere. is enough to set the mood without extensive explanations or overdone visual aid. Even though the setting is a neighborhood that appears perfectly friendly and safe, with at least two people around willing to help the soon to be victim, the film immediately establishes and conveys the mood of something being off and that something bad is about to happen.
An alternate but terrible way to open this film would have been to include a marriage of jump cuts, jump scares, buckets of blood and loud noises. These methods are fast, cheap and poor ways to open film and dilute the real world fear for me. Of course I still enjoy splatter horror films but in all honesty, they are more fun than scary. Real terror is the kind that manages to sneak into your subconscious, past the walls and frighten you when you’re least prepared for it. It Follows manages to deliver that at pretty much at every turn throughout the entire film.
The actors are simply fantastic. I don’t recall seeing a young cast before who managed to deliver as much as the cast of It Follows, but like everything else in the film, it’s evident that the director was in full control of the project the entire time. It would’ve been really easy to destroy a film with such an “odd” premise with bad acting, but luckily this was a flawless combination of great talents all rolled up into one.
It felt amazing to finally see a film that works on a technical and subtextual level. On the surface this may seem like a metaphor for STD, and to some that is all it may come across as. However, I felt that it was more of a subtle social commentary on how society has come to perceive virtues and morality regarding the sexual conduct of teens and young adults. The one thing that is certain is that this is a well-crafted horror film that utilizes every trick across the genre and doesn’t slow down when it comes to raising the anxiety levels of its viewers. I came out of the theater during daylight and apparently I brought the film with me because I felt paranoid walking to the car.
My only two concerns are:
- The film are that it won’t be well received because of poor advertisement and limited distribution. People who are eager to see it are having trouble finding a theater that is showing this film and others are closed off to it because they seem to think this is another mindless teen horror flick without substance.
- Conservatives will see this film as an allegory and it will reinforce their belief of how premarital sex destroys lives.
If this film doesn’t do well at the box office, I sincerely hope that it has a cult following on the level of The Evil Dead, Blade Runner, Brazil, and Dredd, because It Follows belongs up there with them.