John Carpenter must be proud.
That was my first thought after walking out of It Follows, an eerie new teen horror film from director David Robert Mitchell (The Myth of the American Sleepover). Much like the short film A Ride in the Park from V/H/S/2, this feature length supernatural horror flick contains a premise so shockingly original that it will make question the validity of the fact that this idea hasn’t been tried before.
In the film’s spectacular opening sequence, we see an impressive long take that follows a young girl as she runs out of her house, half clothed and disheveled. She seems to be running from something, and the camera, which spins around in circles concealing whatever “it” is that she’s running from, does a fine job at keeping the mystery alive. After this, she drives to the beach, calls her father and says goodbye, and stares at the thing that appears to be coming after her. The next morning, her corpse lies on the beach.
This is all set to a moody atmospheric track that sounds not unlike that of John Carpenter’s Halloween, but this being louder and more pulsating in the cinema. After this sequence, we meet our main set of players, the main one being Jay (Maika Monroe, The Guest), a teenage girl who lives a quiet suburban life in Detroit. Being a teenage girl with, um, “needs,” Jay also has a strong liking for boys. There is a lifelong friend (a nice guy), but of course she won’t go for him. He’s in the friendzone, and the one she does choose to be with is the 21-year old tough guy, Hugh (Jake Weary).
But in this particular horror movie, the tough guy with the beard and bad boy charm just happens to be carrying a small (significant) secret. He is the carrier of a curse, one that is given to another person only through sexual intercourse. Being the teenage couple that they are, they have sex. Of course they do. After the deed is done, he admits the truth about passing the curse along to her.
The curse is that something will always be following her; walking, not running, giving her plenty of time to get away and gather her thoughts, but also leaving her with the stress of constantly looking over her shoulder. It’s unknown what exactly what “it” is, but it can only be seen by the subject and it always looks like a person. And it’s always, always walking. And to be completely honest, seeing the thing lurking in the background walking as slow as Michael Myers is deeply unnerving. The movie then becomes about her struggles with this curse, always seeing “it” following her, trying to get her friends to believe her (she is the only one who can see it), and trying to decide if she wants to give the curse to someone else (by having sex with that person). The trick of it all is that if “it” kills its victim, it goes for the person that last had the curse, going down the line to the person who started it. What happens when that person dies? I don’t know. Does anyone really care? At least we’re getting a horror movie with a hook that’s original and cool.
It helps that the material is handled with talent. David Robert Mitchell directs with a fine eye and sets up every scene with a sure and sudden magnetism. Nearly every shot is large in scale and the camerawork (set up by Mitchell and shot by cinematographer Mike Gioulakis (Item 47, the short film from Marvel Studios) always has a trick or two up its sleeve, sometimes giving us long takes while other times following characters in creative fashions.
It Follows is a scary movie, and I don’t say that too often. There were moments in which I was gripping my arm rest in fear, and that alone is enough praise to warrant a watch. But the genuine scares alone aren’t what make the film great. The most impressive and enjoyable aspect of the film is the score by Disasterpiece. Much like the music in The Guest, this score is so reminiscent of John Carpenter’s Halloween that when met with the display of the film’s setting (a modern suburbia that looks exactly like a late 70s neighborhood with modern vehicles), it feels as if we’re watching an alternate version of Carpenter’s work. It’s symphonic, atmospheric, and brilliant, perfectly crafting a dreary mood and always allowing the scenes to feel like ones from a late 1970s/early 1980s horror production. That throwback style and love for early horror cinema is what makes It Follows a winner in nearly every category. It doesn’t hurt that the film’s climax is intense, smart, and gripping. So is the film itself. This is the kind of horror we need more of.
Rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content including graphic nudity, and language
Starring Maika Monroe
Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell