Over the past several years horror fans and critics have tended to pick an independent horror film and lavish huge amounts of praise and attention on them. Often declaring them as instant classics of the genre. But these films often prove very divisive. With other audiences claiming the films are overrated, not true horror films or simply not good. Examples include Hereditary (2018), The Witch (2015), The Babadook (2014) and the subject of today’s review, David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows (2014). Does it deserve its divisive reputation? Let’s find out.
Jay (Maika Monroe) is a teenager enjoying all the foibles of growing into adulthood. One-night Jay decides to sleep with her new boyfriend for the first time. Afterwards, she is knocked out and taken to an abandoned building. There her boyfriend reveals he has passed a curse on to her. A shapeshifting creature which can take the form of anyone has begun following her and it wants her dead.
Her boyfriend then disappears leaving Jay to deal with the threat on her own. The one positive is that the creature only follows her at a walking pace, so Jay decides to use this to her advantage.
Along with her friends, she tracks down her boyfriend to get an explanation out of him and they learn that the only way the creature can be stopped is to transfer the curse to someone else. But can Jay bring herself to put another person in harm’s way or will she try something different?
What did I like?
The hyperbolic claims that It Follows is simply not a good film is baffling. Purely from a technical point of view, the film is great. As a horror film, It Follows has a firm grasp of how to create tension through its presentation. Using long takes, interesting camera movement and good actor direction to build anxiety about where the monster is and when it will strike. The score also builds a tense atmosphere through creating both a confrontational and quietly eerie soundscape.
The acting is also superb. With the story centred around teenagers, the film could easily become laughable if the cast weren’t believable. But all the main actors feel like real teenagers. Maika Monroe particularly stands out as an incredibly likeable, sympathetic and genuine lead. Her monologue about remembering her youth near the film’s beginning carries great weight because of her delivery. And the way all the friends talk about their childhoods and the antics they get up to gives a feeling of true friendship, allowing us to easily invest in their situation.
The film also pays tribute to older horror films in effective ways. With a synthesizer-heavy score, a stalking camera and an unknowable slow moving, shapeshifting monster, evoking the feeling of John Carpenters older horror films. But the film also has a very modern outlook.
Instead of simply killing characters for having sex or exploiting them for pointless nudity, It Follows is more a tale about teenagers coming to terms with the vulnerability of their bodies. Many scenes have Jay looking over her body and showing how she feels different now because of the danger brought on by the monster. But she never shies away from sex. Her challenge is choosing what to do with the burden she’s been given. As an extension, the women are not solely victims, like in many other horror movies. They take an active role in dealing with the threat, and they call the shots when it comes to sex. While most of the men are cowardly or self-centred. A far cry from the puritanical traditions of many older horror films.
This amalgam of traditions makes the film almost timeless. Ensuring most generations will be able to get something from watching it.
What did I not like?
But there are a few things that let the film down. There are a few weird editing choices throughout the film where the focus will instantly shift to another point of focus instead of giving a payoff to what came before. This is particularly noticeable in the finale which, although it gets a point across, does feel somewhat out of place.
Another problem is that despite the film using its narrative in an interesting way, the beats of the plot are still very familiar to anyone who has seen a passing-on-the-curse movie. And there are very few surprises to freshen up the formula. Which may put off some audiences.
Finally, while the film provides positive female representation with its characters, the film does occasionally feel very leery. With long shots of the female characters in their underwear, swimwear and revealing clothes. While both a staple of the genre and somewhat justified by the theme of body image, it is telling that we never get similar shots for the male characters. And this can leave a bad taste in the audience’s mouth, especially with everything the film does to paint its women positively.
Despite a few hiccups in editing, a familiar story and tending to slightly leer at its female characters, It Follows remains a great example of how to do modern horror right.
It gives us time to get to know the leads, who are all relatable and down to earth. While focusing on building tension rather than using jump scares, which the film does through interesting uses of music, camera movement and actor direction; It Follows celebrates the horrors of the past while updating some tropes to tell a modern story.
It Follows follows in the tradition of Carpenter and gives us a modern retro gem, that I can see audiences enjoying for years to come. Check it out and judge for yourselves.
Verdict: (4 / 5)