In a time when fast-paced jump scares permeate every horror movie regardless of sub-genre, David Robert Mitchell takes it back with It Follows, a retro style horror movie that definitely favors ambience, subtlety and atmosphere over a sudden orchestra sting and a flash of a scary face on the screen.
Our story centers around a young woman by the name of Jay Height, played by Maika Monroe. She was a regular, Middle American girl in circa mid 1980s America. She has a regular circle of friends, a somewhat normal family life, and even goes out on dates.
However, after such a date with her current suitor, he reveals to her a terrible secret. Since the two of them had a sexual encounter, he passed on to her something not of this world. He does not know the origin of this creature, nor does he know anything he can do to stop it.
It is invisible to anyone who it isn’t chasing or has chased before, it has the ability to transform itself to look like anyone it so chooses, and will do so to get closer to its prey, and that it will not stop coming at her, and that it will kill her if it catches her, but it will come after her slowly, never increasing its pace above a leisurely stroll. The rest of the film, she and her circle of friends weigh their options; she can either run away by staying mobile forever, or she can end her suffering by allowing it to catch her.
The psychology of this film is positively brilliant. There is no permanent level of escape from this creature; there is only staying ahead of it as you move from one place to the next. It does not stop for fatigue or discouragement, it cannot be reasoned with and, despite numerous attempts, conventional methods of killing it prove completely ineffective as it takes a bullet to the head only to keep coming. Granted, it will always come slowly, but that makes it even worse.
You are slowly lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that you may have foiled its advances, perhaps even bested it; only to find that within a day, a week, or perhaps even longer, there is a mute person walking toward you with only one unspoken yet still clearly understood intention. In this regard, the film is not unlike an allegory for death itself.
In one way that the film is divisive is the lack of information given about the creature. In many similar horror movies, there are several scenes going over where this specter came from, how it came to be, and potential steps for one might exercise the evil. This takes a slightly more realistic approach to it on a level that is greatly appreciated. All of the information that is gathered about the creature is purely observational – although it is somewhat curious how it was originally discovered that the creature will change its target after a sexual encounter.
All is known is that it can change form to whomever it desires, cannot be killed by conventional means, but that it is also restricted by our physical universe unlike ghosts or other such creatures. Some might see this as a lazy tactic to avoid going into details about why there are restrictions on the creature. However, I think it’s a way to add a sense of empathic realism to the film that gives it a stronger feeling of atmosphere and a sense of a haunting chill rarely felt.
It is not a film for everyone. It is very divisive as many people won’t appreciate the retro nature of the film, and others won’t be particularly terrified by a creature that can be stopped by a locked door and boarded windows like a single zombie. There are facts though; it takes the time to create an atmosphere instead of relying heavily on jump scares.
It is an original idea instead of a reboot, a remake, or a sequel. And what’s more, the acting is superb, creating a cast of characters that you want to see succeed against an unknown threat. For me, that makes a pretty effective horror movie, and one I would recommend to any looking for something a little different, if not slower, in their scary movie endeavors. Three stars out of four.