Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Disturbing Violent and Sexual Content including Graphic Nudity, and Language
Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Written by: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe
There’s something absolutely magical about watching a horror film that taps into fears that we forgot even existed. IT FOLLOWS has caused quite a stir at various genre film festivals last year and gained a hefty amount of hype behind it. Early praise and stellar reviews carry a risk of disappointing a viewer whose expectations have grown to unrealistic levels. Without trying to oversell this film at all, I can say that IT FOLLOWS lived up to the hype I’d been hearing about it for months. This is a creative, freaky horror film that scared me senseless and I loved every second of it.
Jay, a 19-year-old girl, goes on a seemingly innocent date with a cute guy. Unfortunately for her, this date is anything but innocent. After a bit of consensual sex, Jay wakes up tied to a wheelchair with her lover explaining that he has just passed “it” onto her. “It” can take the form of a loved one or a total stranger. “It” will follow Jay with the intent of brutally killing her. The only way that “It” can possibly be stopped is by having sex with someone else and passing “It” onto them. In these opening moments, the viewer is given the basic rules for this story. To say anything else specifically about the plot might give away some of the fun, so I’ll just leave my initial set-up at that.
The premise behind IT FOLLOWS is a diabolically simple one. You’ve seen this sort of formula before in films like THE RING. Essentially this movie is about an S.T.H. (Sexually Transmitted Haunting) that works in the logic of a chain letter. In lesser hands, IT FOLLOWS might have wound up as a fairly clever slasher. David Robert Mitchell, serving as both director and writer, intentionally steers this story away from becoming a supernatural dead teenager movie. There’s a retro vibe surrounding IT FOLLOWS (aided by old school TV sets, dated fashion, and a pretty sweet synthesizer score), but the setting is modern. The feeling from this retro-atmosphere and slow-creeping dread gained by me was that I was watching a new horror classic of a higher order (something along the lines of the original HALLOWEEN without a high on-screen body count). The best thing about IT FOLLOWS is that the film winds up feeling so damned original.
There’s no doubt in my mind that IT FOLLOWS wouldn’t work nearly as well without a likable cast of characters. It’s ridiculous how the natural character development in this flick succeeds so effortlessly. Maika Monroe is great as leading lady Jay. She’s not exactly a fearless heroine that one might expect simply because the threat she’s facing is seemingly unstoppable. The group of friends that help her along the way are all fantastic as well. None of these characters falls into an identifiable stereotype or a one-dimensional cliché. There are a couple of dumb decisions made by them (I only counted three that made everyone say “Really?”), but this could also be applied to young people using flawed logic in an illogical situation.
The ever encroaching sense of dread and nerve-wracking suspense kept me on my toes all through IT FOLLOWS. I could never pin point exactly where the story would head next. Though I had reservations about the set-up for one particular scene, everything worked on a pretty much flawless level (three dumb character decisions aside). There are plenty of scares, most of which actually made me jump, but the movie doesn’t ever treat the viewer like an idiot. This film doesn’t give you every death or sex scene that it could have shown and doesn’t have to for it to be scary. Since there’s not an excessive amount of violence and sex, the usage of both comes off as far more effective. I was scared while watching IT FOLLOWS and was creeped out on the drive home. There’s a lot to be said for both of those things.
I wish there were more modern horror films like IT FOLLOWS. The horror genre is overloaded with a lot of crap, but that makes winners (like this one) stand out even more. Due to well-written characters, a smart screenplay, effective scares, and a haunting sense of unease, IT FOLLOWS deserves to be seen by anyone craving something out of the norm in the horror genre. This one will have you glancing over your shoulder long after the chilling final shot has rolled.