“It Follows” is one of the most inventive and intelligent horror films I’ve ever seen. I feel confident in saying that there won’t be a better addition to the genre in this calendar year, and I am also happy to say that it’s one of the best films of 2015 so far. Although some of the movie’s rules are slightly unclear and sometimes ignored, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the soundtrack is brilliant and the idea is terrifying.
The film revolves around Jay (Maika Monroe), a young girl who is left confused and traumatised following an unusual sexual encounter at the start of the film. She gets more than she bargained for from the experience, and is left violated in more ways than one. Her life becomes a constant battle to stay alive, as a supernatural being lurks in the background with the intent to kill. “It Follows” is a frank and fitting name for the movie and it tells you all you need to know, be under no illusions, the title is exactly what the film is about.
The first thing that I’ll say is that the idea is genius. There’s something truly off-putting about something you can’t really understand stalking you slowly – something that no one else can see and that will stop at nothing to end your life. What could possibly be scarier? No matter where you are, no matter what you’re doing, it will be there; walking towards you in the guise of a person you may or may not know. You can’t sleep, eat, or let your guard down for even a second, because if you do it will be there and it will kill you. The movie doesn’t focus on jump scares or special effects, rather, it psychologically drains its audience, and leaves you watching your back once you leave the cinema.
The premise is introduced to the audience in a subtle and pleasing way; first we see a girl running away from something that isn’t there, you don’t see a monster lurking in the corner of the screen making its way towards the protagonist. Then, as everything seems normal, the characters on screen are playing an innocent game which turns incredibly weird. They’re doing what people do, they’re on a date and they’re trying to pass the time in as painless a way as possible, but suddenly the boy that Jay is dating says something strange. He’s supposed to be choosing someone in a crowded room to swap lives with, someone that he’d want to be, and he says ‘the girl in the yellow dress’. Well spoiler alert, there’s no girl there. The audience knows why that is, they know that this girl is following him and is ready to kill, but Jay doesn’t and it’s a great way to reveal something to the audience without giving away the game too early.
What ‘it’ is remains unclear even after you have left the cinema, which only adds to the sense of vulnerability that this film creates. It isn’t human, it isn’t friendly, and it won’t give up, but that is all you know. I really appreciate this kind of approach to a horror film, because so often writers will try to explain the unknown in ridiculous and nonsensical ways. This doesn’t make a horror film better, because there are some things that we just can’t know about, and ghosts, ghouls, demons and beasts fall firmly in that category. That’s what makes them so scary!
If you try to explain the origin of this kind of creature you will come unstuck, because no one can definitively explain what is in essence unexplainable. No one involved could ever discover how this creature came to be, or why it was obsessed with sexually active teens; it’s not as if anyone would be able to ask it! This is a problem on some level, because the rules in the film’s universe are very blurred – what happens if someone being followed donates sperm? There are plenty of questions left unanswered, but they’re unanswered because the people being tormented in the film have no way to solve their problem and there simply are no answers available. Why does the creature follow them? Why does it only walk? How does it take different forms? Why can’t it be killed? We just don’t know, but if we did then I wouldn’t have looked over my shoulder half as much on the way home.
The film encompasses fears which we all have and preys on some of our most private moments. The idea that there will always be something there watching your movements, something relentless waiting to hurt you around every corner, is so all-consuming and frightening that you can’t help but identify with Jay’s situation. We all feel this kind of vulnerability in everyday life, every breath could be our last and in fact death is always there waiting, but the difference is that in our lives it doesn’t take the form of an old lady shuffling towards us with an icy stare, or a girl urinating with half her clothes ripped off.
The film also uses the theme of sexual vulnerability to instil fear in the audience, because the whole movie basically revolves around the idea of a sexually transmitted ghost! Sex is something we value, and many feel that it is sacred and beautiful, but this film turns that on its head and makes it something very ugly. The only way to keep yourself alive is to find a person that’s likely to have sex again and offer them your body.
“It Follows” captures the essence of classic horror movies like “Nightmare on Elm Street”, in that it uses a sense of exposure to create tension and unease, capturing the audience’s imagination and delving into some of our darkest fears. In “Nightmare on Elm Street” the characters have no escape and no peace, because the moment that they let themselves relax they will be under threat. Closing your eyes means death in that film, and much the same applies in “It Follows”. In this movie if you let yourself get comfortable you’re as good as finished, because your advisory won’t be doing the same, it wants what it wants and it isn’t going to leave you alone until it has you. That’s something that captures what the genre is all about; horror. Horror films should be about what goes bump in the night, but they should also tap into the nature of our existence and try to tear it apart. What would make this life unliveable? If you can answer that question then you have yourself an antagonist, and the creature which follows Jay in this film would most definitely challenge your will to live.
The performances were all as good as they get in this genre of film (although that isn’t saying much all things considered). Each actor plays their part in making this film immersive and entertaining, and the people playing the creature deserve credit for making the movie as creepy as it was. Maika Monroe is great as Jay; she shows the dread and the helplessness that the character would be feeling without appealing to horror movie clichés, such as screaming too often or bringing on the waterworks. She does get extremely distressed of course, but only when the scene absolutely requires it; all her reactions are believable and horrifying, and I wasn’t ever taken out of the film by her performance. So far I have seen her in two films, this one and “The Guest”. Both of those films are weird and belong to the realm of inventive horror, so she’s fast becoming a poster child for the future of the genre in my eyes. If I see her name on a poster I’ll see the film, which is saying quite a lot.
The final thing worth mentioning in detail is possibly the most important feature of the entire film; the score. The synth score that accompanies the fine camera work in this film is an absolute joy to behold. It’s a disconcerting and consuming noise that plays whenever a character is in danger (which just so happens to be 9/10’s of the movie). It accompanies the events on screen perfectly, because it has an other-worldly feel to it, and it keeps the tempo up whilst the creature slowly enters the frame. As our villain ambles towards Jay, the score is speedy and gets progressively louder, so that whilst the situation appears to be fine to the people on screen, the audience is fully aware of the severity of the situation.
There are a few observations I’d like to make, simply because they came to my mind as I was watching the film, but they will be slightly specific, so SPOILER ALERT:
- The easiest way to evade death once you’re infected is probably prostitution, in that if you have sex with a prostitute the ‘illness’ will be passed on and there will be more people that have to die before you’re in trouble again. That’s something which Paul (Keir Gilchrist) realised towards the end of the film and I was glad to see that the filmmakers took that fact into consideration.
- There were a few big opportunities that were missed for me. Firstly, the film neglected to use children. Imagine if the thing that was following Jay was suddenly a young boy with dead eyes, would she have realised that this child was evil? It would’ve been terrifying to see a child viciously attack Jay. We did see that once, but for me it was one of the worse scenes in the film because it had no subtlety to it, and it was abundantly clear what was about to happen. Secondly, Jay avoided large groups like the plague, which was probably for the best, but it was a shame as far as the movie goes. Thirdly, imagine if you had the disease and you just so happened to be blind. I would have loved to see someone try to avoid the creature without being able to see it, it would’ve been terrifying and it was a shame that something along those lines wasn’t explored.
- The group really should’ve agreed to have sex with one another, assuming that the idea wouldn’t have completely repulsed them. If they’d have done that then they’d all be at risk, which they didn’t want, but they’d also be able to watch their back from every direction because they’d all be able to see the creature. In the film only Jay could actually see the damn thing! It would’ve been a real advantage to have another pair of eyes on the prize – and the possibility should’ve at least been discussed.
These considerations aren’t criticisms of the film, they simply highlight how strong the premise is. There are so many avenues that the writers could’ve explored in order to make things more interesting, but they kept it simple and made the most of the core idea, creating tension by showing restraint, which was admirable. I’d much prefer to have my horror films presented in this minimalist way than sit through 90 minutes of jump scares. Jump scares are momentarily off-putting, but they have no lasting impact – the psychological attack that this film makes on its audience has longevity.
“It Follows” is a triumph of the modern horror genre. It’s a classic in the making and its quality highlights the potential that the genre has to be entertaining without resorting to found footage or CGI. “It Follows” taps into what is truly terrifying about our lives. It’s a thoughtful look at what we are truly afraid of; the unknown chases Jay down viciously and without rest, destroying her privacy and threatening her way of life. She can’t go to school, she can’t enter crowded spaces, and she can’t even make a sandwich without fearing for her life! This movie shows just how good horror can be if you understand what truly gets under people’s skin – with a wonderful score, fine performances, and a truly excellent premise, “It Follows” excels in every aspect and it has left a lasting impression on my psyche.