‘It Follows’ Does Just that with a Haunting, Lingering Experience

By Matthew Goodman | gargoyle@flagler.edu

Ever get that feeling someone’s watching you? Well prepare for your anxiety to get a lot worse after you see “It Follows.”

Maika Monroe in "It Follows"

Maika Monroe in “It Follows”

The indie horror hit debuted at the Cannes film festival and was well received by critics. After a limited release distribution, buzz about the film seems to have spread simply through word of mouth. It gained wide release just a couple weeks after its initial theatrical release into a handful of theaters. It’s now being shown in over 1,600 theaters across the United States, sending a wave of panic through many viewers who will likely remember the movie’s haunting scenes the next time they have sex.

Writer and director David Robert Mitchell plays with the horror genre’s convention of punishing young men, and more frequently women, for having sex. When 19-year-old Jay, played by Maika Monroe, has sex with a young man she’s been dating, she gets a lot more than she bargained for. Much like an STD, a horrific experience stays with her. Luckily, it’s a curable one.

The man, Hugh, played by Jake Weary, warns Jay that she will be followed by a shapeshifting creature. It appears as other humans that she may or may not know. It moves slowly, but if it reaches her, it will kill her. He apologizes for giving her the curse but explains that the only way to get rid of it is to pass it on to someone else by having sex with them. If it kills Jay, it comes back after Hugh and all the way down the line.

The young cast feels like the crew from “Scooby-Doo,” but less goofy and incredibly authentic. Jay and her friends work together to unravel the encroaching mystery that threatens her life. They do so with humor and charm; Jay’s friends trying to keep her calm, and Jay trying to make them believe her, even if she isn’t sure she believes herself. They seek to solve the problem by themselves, and never look to older adults for advice. Maybe this isn’t the best message to send, but it’s certainly how kids and young adults think much of the time.

The relationships and genuine interactions the characters have with each other are more reminiscent of real life than Hollywood idealizations found in many films today. Mitchell has a strong sense for coming-of-age stories. His first film, “The Myth of the American Sleepover,” has a young cast, and was praised for being very genuine. Jay has a beautiful monologue while playing with a small plant after making love with Hugh. It’s wonderfully written and accurately depicts adolescent fantasies. Monroe delivers it eloquently and believably, casting a spell over the audience. Even subtle actions like Jay’s drinking out of a sink instead of using a cup leave an impression that you could know this girl. It’s not a glamorous shot that seeks to make Jay into a perfect sex goddess, a route they could have easily taken with this film.

In a recent interview with ETC News, Monroe explained that Mitchell used set pieces from the 80s, modern times and even some props that don’t exist at all. This was apparently to make the viewer passively feel like they’re in a dream. None of the strange combinations are expressly stated, but it’s in the back of your head the whole time that something isn’t quite right.

Monroe stated in the same interview that, “I think movies are paying more attention to the music in it.” She said that this might be why we’re seeing a resurgence of what seem like retro-style horror films. Her previous film, “The Guest,” is more of a thriller, but definitely has horror elements similar to the slasher style of films like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th.”

“Halloween,” in particular has an incredibly memorable theme song that terrified a generation. Several decades later, “It Follows” debuted a soundtrack that will haunt everyone that witnesses the film. Like an 80s videogame gone nightmarishly wrong, the terrifying score by musician Rich Vreeland blasts through the speakers in the opening seconds, promptly letting audiences know this movie is not playing around. Vreeland goes by “Disasterpeace” and he takes this movie to the height of the horror genre. The 8-bit music is fresh and nostalgic at the same time. Its modern twist on old school horror music fits with the film’s genre bending script that seeks to do the same.

Unlike a lot of modern horror films that frighten audiences in the moment with jump scares from the accompanying thud that is louder than a gunshot, “It Follows” scares with its aura, its concept and its general ability to get under your skin. After the initial intensity of a chase scene with an unseen follower in the first five minutes, I found myself looking in the background for much of the movie, wondering what was lurking behind the characters. The film uses blood and gore sparingly, so when the guts do fly, they fly effectively.

The film was shot in Detroit and only cost $2 million to make. After two weekends of wide release, it has already made $8.5 million. Though it is a wide release, mainstream films like “Furious 7” are playing in four times as many theaters as “It Follows.”  Maybe theaters are scared to show it.

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