It Follows is an inventive mishmash of MR James stories and John Carpenter films – particularly Halloween and The Thing but also the scores he wrote for his films – but it is also very much its own film. David Robert Mitchell has crafted an original, eerie film with a remorseless, unending chase at the centre of it, which also finds time for a range of ideas and filmmaking techniques. It Follows is a tense film but it is also a film made by a filmmaker utterly enthralled with filmmaking.
Jay (Maika Monroe) is a young woman from Detroit. When she has sex with Jeff (Jake Weary), he reveals to her that a curse has now been passed on to her. He shows her a demon, who will now hunt her down and kill her unless she can pass the curse on to someone else. Jay and her friends do not believe it at first, but Jay starts to notice that she is being followed.
It Follows works for a variety of reasons. First, it is an original idea and much of the interest in the film as well as much of the tension lies in finding out how it is going to play out. Unlike the masked psycho with the knife, this threat is essentially unknowable, which means that it can attack from anywhere at any time. Mitchell builds a lot of tension from the z-axis – having figures from far away slowly approaching, sometimes they are merely extras not involved in the storyline at all but at other times, these extras will get too close and attack. The film’s eeriness comes from the fact that we cannot predict when the bad things are going to happen and are left largely at the mercy of the film itself. Second, it is a very well-made film with a ceaselessly roaming camera and a fondness for filming things from afar so that we can see something but not make out what it is. The camera is frequently set back and slowly approaches the lead character, acting all the time as a possible POV shot. Other times, the camera will capture something approaching the camera from afar in a way that is thoroughly threatening. Third, in a synthesis of these two, the film gets as much horror out of its idea as possible.
As well as all of this, the characters are realistically drawn and the actors are all very good. Although there is a supernatural creature at the heart of the story, the film never forgets that is a horror story in which realism is a part of its ability to frighten. The believability of the characters, the cavernous houses of the more economically deprived areas of Detroit (now surely the ultimate Gothic city follows this film and Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive), the focus on the idea of horror rather than the violence of horror (never as frightening when it is depicted as when it is left as a horrible idea), the figures too far away to see all contribute to this film’s believability. Rare for this kind of film, It Follows focusses on Jay’s friends as they band together to help her get out of this mess – indeed, this may be the only positive and hopeful aspect to the film and the only thing stopping it from being downright depressing. That these people care so much about each other helps us care so much about them.
The film is however not without its flaws. As a modern horror film, It Follows does not wish to remain merely eerie, but to be downright frightening and, hence, the monster appears as creepy old ladies, naked men and women (a touch of Blue Velvet maybe?), seven-foot giants and mad animalistic children. None of this apparitions work particularly since it only leaves one wondering why the monster would appear in such a threatening form – surely it would be better to look less conspicuous in order to get closer to its prey. This is where the film abandons realism for (fairly) cheap scares and it loses a degree of credibility as a result. As well as this, the ending is a little underwhelming. Although it works as a conclusion and the final shot is indeed well-constructed and tense, the final moments feel too rushed – as if the ending was considered silly and was filmed perfunctorily as a stop-gap until a better one could be thought up.
It Follows is not a flawless film, but it is a well-made film. Few others recent horror films have managed the marriage of content and form so well as this one in which the horror is in the idea of being chased and in the mechanics of its representation. It is also a thought-provoking one – particularly when a speech at the end connects the monster to something that is slowly and remorselessly approaching all of us.