A woman runs in fear. She calls home and leaves a distressed message.
We see her the next morning, horribly murdered.
Another young woman, Jay, goes on a date with a handsome, slightly older man. They later have sex in a car near some picturesque ruins. Then he chloroforms her, ties her to a chair, and points out a figure stalking her, slowly, nearby. It moves slowly. It will follow her. She can move herself further down its victim list, however, if she has sex with someone else.
It follows. It will kill the most recent victim first before working its way, at a slow and casual rate, down its list. Her friends get drawn in as she tries to convince them she is sane, and that they must somehow save her life.
The premise is more than a little ridiculous. What follows is not. The most talked about horror movie of 2015 may not be perfect, but it's more than a little disturbing, and worth watching.
Rarely has a horror movie been filmed so exquisitely. The tale of young people being stalked by evil features many perfectly-framed, widescreen shots, of vintage suburban streets and contemporary urban blight, all filmed in and around Detroit, Michigan. The camera pans around its eerily-lit locations. It's a slasher movie for the art-house crowd.
It Follows makes the genre fresh and disturbing, in part, by recontextualizing its worn conventions. We get the endangered blonde, the sexually-active victims, the slow-moving killer, the stalker's point-of-view shots, the comparatively absent parents, the flight to an isolated location, and the stark soundtrack. However, the movie twists these to its own ends. The actors are too old to be teens—but, in fact, most play post-high-school young adults. Their flight to a desolate location where, one would imagine, they'd be more likely to die, actually makes sense in context of the plot. The targeting of, specifically, sexually active young people forms part of the film's metaphor, which remains open to interpretation and discussion. One earns the attention of the entity by sleeping with the previous victim.1 Does this odd rule make the demon a stand-in for STDs? The fear of intimate relationships, so common in our wired world? General fear of age and creeping death? A general unease about what's out there?
In order to make this truly odd premise work, writer and director David Robert Mitchell (who claims the story developed from a recurring nightmare) creates an artificial world in which the story makes a kind of nightmarish sense. One character uses an e-reader, though one of a design unique to the movie.2 Otherwise, we see no evidence of the internet, cell phones, or even home computers. The costumes, cars, props, and sets generally reflect the 70s and 80s, though aspects of earlier and later decades may be found. Televisions are old-fashioned boxes with antennae and principally broadcast black and white B movies. Against this recognizable but slightly surreal backdrop-- a sort of redacted late twentieth century-- the fears unfold at a slow but certain pace. It Follows does not eschew jump scares, but it relies more on creating a sense of creeping dread that gradually affects the viewer's brain.
While the approach works, the dreamlike ambiance does not excuse everything. The story grows increasingly wonky in the second half. The eleventh-hour attempt to kill the creature seems designed to both fail and backfire. The characters have already seen that it does not succumb to certain methods that would be deadly to humans, and their trap gives it additional weapons.
Nevertheless, the strong, natural cast, led by the talented Maika Monroe, and the effective directing make for a memorable horror, and the most original mad stalker/slasher movie since A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell
Maika Monroe as Jaime "Jay" Height
Keir Gilchrist as Paul
Lili Sepe as Kelly Height
Olivia Luccardi as Yara
Daniel Zovatto as Greg Hannigan
Jake Weary as Jeff Redmond / Hugh
Debbie Williams as Mrs. Height
Ele Bardha as Mr. Height
Bailey Spry as Annie
Ruby Harris as Mrs. Redmond
Leisa Pulido as Mrs. Hannigan
Ingrid Mortimer, Alexyss Spradlin, Mike Lanier, Don Hails, and Erin Stone as It
1. The demon's behavior also makes me wonder what would happen if a new victim slept with a previous victim. The film ignores this question.
2. It is built from a 1950s make-up compact, in fact.