A smart and suspenseful horror that toys with traditional tropes before moving into true originality.
Year on year we are granted with the same supernatural endeavours by seemingly incestuous teams. The Paranormal Activities, Insidiouses, Conjurings, and Sinisters of this world perpetuate Tobe Hooper’s classic plotline in Poltergeist of 1) An innocent family moves into a house 2) house is haunted and gets gradually more dangerous. The threat is invariably a spiritual being, and the solution is often made gradually more tangible as the film progresses. Indeed, ideas are running so low that Poltergeist itself is set for a 2015 remake.
Enter It Follows, and we’re presented with a supernatural horror that breaks these trends and unsettles viewers like the original Poltergeist did those many years ago.
The title of It Follows is apt, as that is the plot for the bulk of the movie. The protagonist is Jay, a 19 year old girl from a sheltered suburban environment. Just beginning to grapple with growing up, she is soon thrown into a damned future after a seemingly innocent sexual encounter. Chloroformed by her partner, she awakes tied to a wheelchair. He explains that he has ‘passed it on’ to her and he previously had it passed onto him. It never ceases to follow, and it is slow but it isn’t stupid. It can take the form of anyone, from a stranger in the crowd to a best friend or parent. The only way to rid yourself is via a sexual encounter, thus passing it on.
There is no slow build-up of gradually increasing danger over weeks in Jay’s life, as the aforementioned films typically do. Instead, the film thrusts into suspense, confusion, and fear for its remaining duration.
Jay and her childhood friends band together to try and comprehend what’s going on. This cohort aren’t savvy frat-house guys or screaming sorority girls; they’re real teenagers making it easy to develop empathy. They’re goofy but caring, making in-jokes about one another whilst never faltering in their attempts to protect Jay. In this regard the film was similar to Spielberg’s Super 8, itself a homage to 1980s childhood adventure movies like The Goonies and Stand By Me. Adults are resigned to the background or as the current chosen form for ‘it’.
‘It’ is perfectly terrifying. Inspired by director David Robert Mitchell’s repeated childhood nightmare, its origins are never explained – a bold move as that sense of closure is never reached for the viewer. Instead we know those few rules we were given.
And the concept is terrifying. It always follows and never sleeps, even when Jay does. And its shape-shifting means that the viewer is constantly questioning background characters and whether they’re shuffling slowly towards Jay or merely ambling through their daily lives. The use of human characters as the source of horror is effective, with some variations of ‘it’ being truly haunting, as with The Sixth Sense’s various ghostly creations, which similarly had the viewer guessing as to what was real and what was an apparition.
All of this wouldn’t have had the profound effect that it does had it not been for the impeccable cinematography and sound design. Dream-like hazy visuals of suburban America merge with jarring suspense-building shots of ‘it’ gradually approaching. Some of the films finest moments include beautiful widescreen shots of Jay’s sleepy neighbourhood, and panoramic visuals of the environments.
This is married with Richard Vreeland's impeccable score. 80s synth is most prevalent, shifting perfectly between the said dream-like haziness to an unsettling noise when in the presence of ‘it’. The result is Drive-esque; rich, striking, and at times visceral. It is the third major component to a movie that is otherwise about Jay and her friends, and ‘it’.
The lingering sense of paranoia when you leave the cinema sits alongside the overwhelming sense of novelty from the movie. In recent years, many have tried to reverse typical horror tropes, such as Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, and Cabin in the Woods. It Follows doesn’t do this in such a palpable and overt way, and should be rewarded for that subtlety. Instead, it makes those tropes its own, not unlike Eden Lake, and as such sets a new benchmark for supernatural horror.
ind out more about It Follows on IMDB.