“This thing, it’s gonna follow you.”
The blending of sex and scares are the staples and hallmarks of classically made horror films. It’s strange, how similar the reactions are, how emotional responses can be steeped in physical discovery and relentless dread. It Follows is a straight-edge ruler, only deviating from the beaten path paved by John Carpenter and Wes Craven with unnecessarily artsy choices solely for art’s sake. Most dispiriting is seeing such a solid premise being killed over and over by genre clichés, limited boundaries, and poor character development. It Follows and its stalking shadow of fright might be persistent, but it is never consistent enough to earn its alarming need to make us feel unsafe, unsure, and unwitting.
Jay (Maika Monroe) is our leading lady, and unfortunately for her and as well as the story, the damsel in distress. She dates Hugh (Jake Weary), which again is an unlucky circumstance. Hugh carries a unique curse he acquired from a one night stand. The movie sets up the rules wonderfully, as do all successful horror flicks. Once you have the curse, “it” follows you at a pace slower than middle-aged mall-walkers. If it gets to you you’re dead, and it then follows the person who gave it to you. If one of those annoying old chain mails from the days of AOL came to life, it would be embodied by the lurking non-entity.
There are some minor characters that I really would prefer not to discuss. Not because they aren’t important – one named Paul (Keir Gilchrist), Jay’s old neighbor, is actually the most developed of the bunch – but I’d rather discuss what is wrong with this movie. It Follows has a truly original, potentially haunting story hinted at from the start. As we go along, it becomes clear, at least to me, that director / writer David Robert Mitchell didn’t know exactly what to do. The film is expertly made and photographed save for a number of extraneous shots that do nothing to build the lack of tension or to keep the story going along. There is no storyworld here. One friend reads on a clam-shell eReader, there are cellphones, yet they watch black and white movies on crappy old box sets and dress like they’re straight from the 70’s-80’s. As for the characters, especially Jay, they have no background until the end of the film. It’s an absolute mess of a story.
The genre clichés ultimately derail the constantly linear It Follows. The group make camp in a lake house. Jay lets her guard down on multiple occasions. And the preposterous ending has no stakes because “it” only follows, so why try to lure a curse into a harebrained boy scout attempt to kill it when you have no idea if you actually can? It Follows could have been subversive. After all, there is a terrific sexual metaphor to be commented on here. The complete detachment between love and lust makes sense. But like a celibate nun, it only sees these carnal sexual acts as negative. Why can’t there be a positive outlook? Better yet, why can’t they buy a one way ticket to Australia? It’d take some time for a sluggish curse to make its way across an ocean. I know, it’s a movie, it can do what it wants. I just don’t think that anything It Follows does is nearly as original or groundbreaking as every single review praises it to be.
My hopes were that the “it” would remain androgynous. That’s what it is called after all. And I wished that it would just follow, rather than standing on rooftops and becoming physically violent. The curse takes the form of people, almost none of whom mean a single thing to the characters. If you’re going to put on a face on an evil seen only by one person, make it matter, make it a part of their history, make it render them frozen. John Carpenter’s classic The Thing works because when the thing imitates an organism, it means something to the characters, and sometimes even becomes them. In the adaptation of Stephen King’s It, the evil once again almost always takes the shape of the unshakable, nightmare inducing Pennywise the Clown. With It Follows, the attempt to anthropomorphize fear takes away from the spectral presence of “it.”
I do a test about 1 hour after I’ve seen a movie. How many characters can I name? In this case it was one…Paul, not the main character. And trust me, I paid close attention. There were no distractions because my theater was empty. I’m certain of that, because as I exited I wasn’t looking over my shoulder out of anxiety; I checked to see if anyone else had even been in there. David Robert Mitchell’s handsome film has a lot to say and never says it. It flirts, using subtle shots and creative decisions that emphasize the psychological torment that comes with human sexuality. Most people will miss that though. If you’re one of those cinephiles who praise any offbeat film produced for the underground independent circle, than this movie is for you. If you like intense, smart scares layered across an original story, I suggest you don’t give It Follows the opportunity to tail you in the first place.
“Whatever helps it get close to you.”
Rating: 2 out of 5