Since the release of last year’s universally acclaimed horror masterpiece “The Babadook”, the bar for scary movies has been raised considerably. It didn’t just revive a genre that had been dead in the water for almost a decade, it also made the art of terror cinematically relevant to a whole new generation. So I think it’s safe to say that a movie like “It Follows” has a lot to live up to, particularly because of the intense amount of hype that is has garnered over the annual festival season. It carries heavy expectations, but not in the sense that it needs to replicate the blueprint laid out by Jennifer Kent. No, the real challenge for director David Robert Mitchell is to find his own voice and create something that holds together as equally compelling and original as the 2014 game-changer. Does it manage to do that? Sadly not.
The movie follows (no pun intended) the young girl Jay, who goes on a date with the guy of her dreams, only to be sedated and wake up in an abandoned building, tied to a chair in fear and panic. Oddly enough, it isn’t her captor that she needs to be afraid of. Actually, he is simply trying to warn her of “something” that has been passed on to her through their sexual intercourse. He can’t describe exactly what it is, only that it can take any shape or form, and that it will follow Jay until it can get close enough to kill her. He then drops her off in front of her house, leaving her to try and escape a horror that seems impossible to run from.
This is a film that rides almost entirely on its nightmarish atmosphere and slow-pace build-ups. As a matter of fact, it looks exactly like something John Carpenter could’ve pulled off in the late 1970’s. The floating camera that slowly creeps up on the characters like an evil entity. The pulsating soundtrack that plays around with eerie synthesizers and haunting noises. The long-shots that linger until the tension becomes completely unbearable. In many ways, this could be considered an homage to “Halloween (1978)”, so much that it directly borrows visuals from some of the most bone-chilling scenes in that film. The result is a faithful throwback to a time when horror used subtle dialogue and limited exposition to evoke painstaking dread. However, this faithfulness is also what ultimately makes “It Follows” a largely disappointing exercise in low-budget, minimalistic filmmaking. Not because it doesn’t work, but because it doesn’t have an identity.
Frankly the movie isn’t all that scary, and the overshadowing reason why is the ridiculous premise. How are we supposed to be afraid of something that is not even remotely defined in any way? All we’re told about it is that is follows and kills. We don’t know why, which would be okay if we at least had a vague idea of what we’re dealing with. Michael Myers didn’t have a clear motivation either, and yet every time he popped up on screen he induced sheer terror into the audience. Now, why is that? My theory is that despite the lack of mythology surrounding the mass murderer, he still possessed certain characteristics that made him absolutely terrifying; the mask and the unstoppable evil within him. The only thing “It Follows” has going for it is a pretentious allegory suggesting that unprotected sex will be the death of you. That’s it. So what you have ahead of you is nearly 100 minutes of creepy-looking, random people walking slowly towards our female lead. Sure enough, the first couple of times “It” appears, the suspense it clearly felt. But after 10 times of watching the same shot from different angles and on various locations, I started to feel that it was more of a gimmick than a feasible threat. You can almost imagine how the director must’ve thought to himself: “I want to make a movie about a sexual disease that follows you around. Wouldn’t that be cool?”.
But it isn’t just the stupidity that drags this movie down. The most unforgiving thing about is that is actually ends up breaking its own rules. The thought that only YOU can see the evil is what makes the whole thing so scary to begin with. No one believes you. Everyone thinks you’re crazy, and someone will probably get you locked up in a mental ward. The problem is that everyone seems to be relatively acceptive of Jay’s crazy-talk. Not strange, considering that about halfway through the movie we find out that “It” is not an internal conflict, but merely an invisible being that actually exists in the real world. That’s right, it’s not all in her head. Apparently sex only allows you to see a kind of parallel reality where this thing roams freely. So by the end of the film, the only thing that was even remotely scary about it has been reduced to an illogical creation far less interesting than I’m sure it was intended to be. It’s really sad, because underneath all the nonsense there actually lies a solid, well-crafted thrill-ride with remarkably strong performances and supreme technicality. But instead of using the cinematic tools cleverly to tell a fresh and intelligent story, it resides to dull plotting and effective but short-lived suspense. It doesn’t do a particularly good job of distinguishing itself from other of its kind, and in trying to become something more than thoughtless jump-scares and faceless killers, it unfortunately ends up biting its own tail with material too weak for it to carry.