It takes less than a minute for something to happen. We’re in a nice neighborhood. It’s daytime, nothing much going on. Autumn leaves have fallen. A woman on the other side of the road is adjusting something in the trunk of her car. That’s it. Nothing else happening.
Suddenly, the front door of a nearby house opens. Out rushes a young woman in shorts and high-heels. She’s frantic. She runs into the middle of the road, the clickity-clack of her heels on the concrete surface breaking the calming silence. She frantically runs in one direction, turns around, then runs in the other. Something’s chasing her. We don’t know what – we can’t see what the girl can see – but there’s something there. “You okay, honey?” asks the woman unloading her trunk. The girl keeps running. Whatever it is that’s chasing the teenager is either invisible or something of the girl’s imagination; the woman by the car can’t see anything either.
Next we’re on a beach and the young girl is calling her parents from the water’s edge. “Just know that I love you,” she sobs into the phone. Cut to minutes later. The teenager’s blood stained body remains motionless on the wet sand; her limbs snapped and twisted into shockingly unnatural positions.
We don’t know what but something really nasty is happening to a small group of high-schoolers in a quiet, suburban Michigan neighborhood. That’s the setup for the effective horror/thriller It Follows, a short, sharp film full of brooding atmosphere possessing the kind of edge-of-your-seat tension that can stretch only so far without something terrible occurring; there’s always that uncomfortable, ever-present danger of something suddenly snapping in your face.
With its pulsating synthesized score from composer Rich Vreeland, its widescreen cinematography from Mike Gioulakis that has you constantly exploring all corners in case you see something, and a pleasant, neighborhood fall setting, reminiscent of the street a screaming Jamie Lee Curtis ran from in Halloween, director David Robert Mitchell has intentionally recreated the look and feel of early John Carpenter. There’s no pin-pointing the time frame; with gas-guzzlers, land lines and early TV sets that always appear to be showing cheesy black and white horror movies, it could possibly be the seventies, yet the teenagers are of today and so is the cell the girl at the beginning uses to call her parents.
There’s a nightmare, slo-mo quality to everything – the feeling that there’s something there, always following you, and it won’t ever quit, is relentless – making you think that perhaps the best approach to its setting is to imagine you’re really watching someone’s dream from which there’s no awakening, and it’s filled with everything you’ve ever known or seen in a seventies horror movie.
There’s a minimum of dialog throughout, and no explanation. Director Mitchell is more interested in presenting an unconventional bogeyman in constant pursuit, building atmosphere and showing what happens and its outcome. It’s an exercise in style over reason. In the way that one of those annoying chain letters on the Internet is sent with the promise that if you don’t pass it on, something bad will happen, so it is with the entity of It Follows.
The curse of having it pursue you – whatever it is – is something passed on, given to you here not through an opened file on the Internet but through sex. Whoever is currently connected to the thing can change its direction of pursuit by having sex with another person, thereby passing on the curse. In the way that those seventies horrors always seemed to kill off the bad teenagers who were naughty enough to have unprotected, teenage intercourse when the adults were out of the house, It Follows makes it simple: in order to protect yourself, pass it on; have more sex.
However, despite the setup, the film never quite fulfills its early promise. Before its conclusion, you can see that It Follows is already falling apart. There’s a sequence in the nearby public swimming baths that doesn’t make a lot of sense – if there was a plan to catch the supernatural thing by trapping it then electrocuting it in the water, it was a bad one poorly executed with no hope of succeeding – plus the somber, inconclusive fade out at the end is more of a ‘huh?’ moment than a satisfying close.
It Follows will scare, no doubt. Despite the sense of disappointment that comes with the closing fizzle, the film remains intriguing, unsettling, and very uncomfortable. Worst of all, by having an entity that can take on any form your mind projects – it might look like a friend, maybe an old relative; anyone – and giving it no motive other then the relentless pursuit of wanting to kill, It Follows succeeds in one respect: it really does feel like experiencing the ultimate nightmare.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 94 Minutes Overall Rating: 6 (out of 10)