It Follows (2014)
Directed by David Robert Mitchell
Produced by Joshua Astrachan, Mia Chang, others
Written by David Robert Mitchell
Cinematography by Mike Gioulakis
Edited by Julio Perez IV
Music by Rich Vreeland (Disasterpeace)
Anchor Bay DVD (library)
(Mild spoilers early; major spoilers later)
The problem with so, so many horror films lies in the fact that most of them are completely mindless explorations of one or more people frantically running for their lives from some type of bogeyman/creature/zombie/vampire/you fill-in-the-blank. An original, well-developed concept is extremely rare and when one finally appears, you hope against hope that something great is going to happen. With It Follows, something great does happen… up to a point. Yet whether that point is small mound of salt or a mountain is up to you.
The opening scene is mesmerizing. We see a house on a neighborhood street in a Detroit suburb. A teenage girl runs out of a house, clearly frightened, and starts running aimlessly. Or is it aimless? Soon the girl runs back home, takes the family car, drives to the beach, and calls her dad on her cell phone, telling him that she loves him. I won’t tell you what happens next, but it’s absolutely creepy and handled quite effectively.
Another neighborhood girl named Jay (Maika Monroe) goes out with an older guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). While at the movies, Jay and Hugh play a game called “the trade game” which allows one person to guess who in their immediate crowd the other person would like to trade places with. The game is significant for several reasons, primarily because playing it causes Hugh to become suddenly ill, forcing him (and Jay) to leave the theater. (More on that in a moment.)
Then the real premise of the film takes hold. (If you don’t already know about the premise, read no further.) After Jay and Hugh have sex, Hugh tells Jay that he’s given her something. Not the type of sexually-transmitted disease we might expect, but a supernaturally-transmitted one. An entity will now follow her. It can take the form of someone she knows or it could look like a complete stranger. And it always walks. “It moves slow, but it’s not dumb,” Hugh tells her. The only way to get rid of the follower is to sleep with someone else, but it still might come back for you.
It struck me watching It Follows just how great this premise is and how much you can take from it, the endless possibilities and implications it presents. Just think about it for a few minutes. Regardless of your viewpoint, regardless of your worldview, this is an amazingly rich premise. Not only do you have the dangers of casual sex to deal with, your destroyer could be anybody walking toward you (and not necessarily in front of you).
It Follows develops this premise in many good ways with several effective scenes, but in some ways, It Disappoints. Although he liked the film, Quentin Tarantino has famously stated some of his issues with It Follows, some of which I have expanded on or added to below. Director David Robert Mitchell’s Twitter response to Tarantino is probably the best possible response.
The biggest problem I have the film is that it occasionally breaks its own rules about itself. When Hugh tells Jay what’s going to happen to her, he tells her to listen very carefully, explaining how the following works. Even though he’s placed her in jeopardy, he’s telling her what to expect and there’s no reason to think he’s lying (although he did lie to her about other things, such as his real name). Don’t let it touch you, Hugh tells her, implying that that’s how the follower kills you, which seems to make sense. If it has to walk and keeps coming for you, it just stands to reason that it has to touch you. If that’s so, they why does the follower throw electrical devices into the swimming pool she’s standing in? Is it because the follower can’t go into the water? No, the follower goes into the water just fine. It seems that otherwise the follower would just wait on Jay to get out. (Eventually she’ll have to.)
Does the follower bide its time and hide out, waiting for the right moment? I didn’t think so, but looking back at the movie theater scene, there’s a problem either with the follower or with Hugh. In the “trade game” sequence, Hugh guesses that Jay would trade places with the woman in the yellow dress, who Jay can’t see because that woman is the follower. This implies that the woman in the yellow dress – according to the rules – would be in the process of heading toward Hugh as soon he saw her, since she obviously saw him first; she certainly wouldn’t be hanging around waiting. Of course maybe this is Hugh’s first instance of being followed and he doesn’t really know what to expect. But that doesn’t seem to be the case based on what he tells Jay later.
Another thing initially bothered me, but now seems to make sense and even adds depth to the film (especially the film’s final shot): if only a person who’s been infected can see the follower, everyone else wanting to help that person is practically useless. Throughout the film, the nerdy Paul (Keir Gilchrist) clearly wants to sleep with Jay and Jay knows it. If Jay sleeps with Paul, doesn’t that increase their chances at being able to identify the follower when it appears? (Of course they eventually do have sex.) Or maybe each infected person has and/or sees a different follower? That’s never addressed. The important thing, I believe, is that Jay cares for Paul and doesn’t want to place him in jeopardy. I think that Jay understands that Paul’s love for her is and always has been genuine, that it transcends the desire for sex. For Paul, it’s a commitment and that commitment is reflected in the film’s final shot, one that I originally thought was a cheap ending, but now see as a powerfully triumphant one (even if it’s short-lived). There’s something about it that gets to the heart of love that’s rarely addressed even in romantic films: self sacrifice.
The film contains several nice touches such as Jay and Hugh going to see the film Charade at the movie theater and one character’s reading of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. The music is handled well: familiar, but not overdone to the point of cliché.
So I have to agree with some of Tartanino’s gripes, but the more I think about It Follows, the more I like it and want to see it again. Does it deserve instant “horror classic” status? No. No film that’s been out for such a short time does, but it may just get there. What’s really exciting about It Follows, despite its faults, is that it tells an effective story without resorting to the same tired horror conventions we’ve seen for years and years. It’s a great story with depth, a film that sticks with you, unsettles you and just maybe has you looking over your shoulder from time to time.