Horror just simply isn’t what it used to be, plain and simple. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the films themselves, although there is plenty of blame to be had there (my review on The Lazarus Effect sums up my problems with the horror genre pretty succinctly), but rather the simple fact that with age comes a general sense of disbelief. Growing older means cultivating a sense of logic and reality; the monster that jumps out in front of you is now just a friend or relative in a mask and that creaking noise in the night is just the wind moving your door back and forth. I find myself sometimes envying the imagination of the young, allowing themselves to create ghouls and fiends in their minds and not being able to sleep after a campfire story or episode of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”
With “It Follows,” a new psychological horror film by David Cameron Mitchell, the triumph isn’t in its effectiveness to terrify adults but rather bring them to that childlike sense of imaginative terror, with a story that feels like an urban legend suited for holding a flashlight in front of your face and told solely in whisper. The story is pretty simple: Jay (Maika Monroe), a college student, thinks her relationship with her new boyfriend is going well, until after their first sexual encounter she discovers he has passed along an entity that will continue to follow her until she passes it to another person or is killed by “It.”
Mitchell sets up the rules of his world and the creature in it perfectly: it can look like someone you know or a complete stranger, if it kills you it comes right back down the line, and wherever you are it’s somewhere walking straight for you. These rules give this entity a familiarity, a presence; common enough to feel like it’s happened to someone around your town. Conceptually the entity in the film preys on one of the most common fears of feeling followed, but it’s Mitchell’s direction and collaboration with the camera that sucks the audience into the film as effectively as I have even seen in a horror film.
Take the opening scene for instance as we open on a suburban street: the camera is locked down to a tripod and pans over to one of many bland houses on the block. Out of it sprints a young teenager as she runs across her lawn and into the street, before sprinting around the block and eventually back into her house to obtain keys to her car. The motion of the camera stays locked at a fixed position; as an audience member you are forced to stay stable and take in the surroundings, almost as if you are standing on the street yourself and following this girl with your own eyes. This is the central idea that truly gives It Follows such a unique spin on horror; the mere presence of a thing that is always walking toward the central character combines with long shots and pans that forces the audience to examine the negative space behind her, always looking for the figure lurking in the background and becoming slightly paranoid while doing so.
Much like “The Cabin in the Woods” or “You’re Next,” it’s clear in “It Follows” that Mitchell is a true fan of the horror genre, using the conventions whilst playfully twisting them and homaging to those who used them most effectively. Playing on the infamous John Carpenter-esque slashers of the late 80s, director Mitchell uses the figure not as a vehicle for jump scares and fun horror but rather to tell a slow-paced, psychologically damaging character piece that fills the audience with dread. These are not stock characters playing out the typical slasher film clichés where the ‘final girl’ walks away at the end with her significant other happily ever after, sort of; there’s remorse to the film, a feeling as if Mitchell has written his characters to forever be fearful for their lives that injects a sadness in the hearts and minds of the viewers.
Speaking of characters, it would be almost insulting not bring up the brilliant acting on display throughout the film. Maika Monroe does an absolutely fantastic job as Jay; the subtleties in her performance bring about a fright that’s been missing from leads in horror films for a very long time. Between this and her bout in 2014’s “The Guest,” Monroe has launched herself into horror praise the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis, and well deservingly so. This does not discount the supporting players around her, who play off of Jay to an absurdly realistic point; each one of her friends feels singular to the story rather than just connected to Jay, but it’s the relationship between all of them that is truly compelling.
On my walk back to my apartment the night of the screening, I found myself looking over shoulder multiple times; wishing the man walking behind me would turn down some street and grant me some peace of mind. It was an experience I hadn’t felt in quite some time, a restlessness as you check for the ‘things that go bump in the night’ type of terror that brought me back to childhood frights of old. For that alone I have to thank and congratulate the team behind “It Follows;” you’ve created a horror film that I suspect will be talked about for years to come and subsequently ruined my ability to walk at night without the constant need to check over my shoulder.
By Nicholas Franco