Review: It Follows

If you haven’t yet caught up on the buzz surrounding It Follows, get on it. The film is well-paced, thoughtful, well-acted, and really damn scary.

The premise is fairly simple: This thing (ghost, demon, monster, curse – take your pick) is transmitted through sexual contact. You sleep with someone carrying it, it gets transferred to you. You are pursued, slowly but surely, until this creature catches up. It can take the form of anyone it wants, familiar or unfamiliar. If it catches up to you, you’re dead. The only way to get rid of it is to pass it along to some one else. But not so fast – you’re not done. Because if that someone else dies, it circles back to you, and so on down the line.

Its latest recipient is Jay (Maika Monroe). Her new relationship is getting serious,and when she decides it’s time to take it to the next level, she winds up with much much more than she bargained for.

The film stands out for many reasons, but partly because writer/director David Robert Mitchell avoids many of the classic pitfalls of horror writing – particularly when it comes to characterizations. Jay and her circle of friends are all written believably as teenagers – no broad stereotypes, no flat, under-developed personalities. They are likable and we understand their motivations and their place in the world. They’re more like the real people you grew up with and less the Hollywood facsimiles that you all wished you could be. They’re fantastic.

This could easily have been a jump-scare fest, and while those flicks can be fun, this one resonates much more deeply, eschewing the cheap scares and instead inspiring an intense sense of dread. It really makes for a more hard-hitting and engrossing experience. Mitchell crafts something here that is an intelligent, well-paced piece of horror, building gradually and never cashing its chips in too early.

When your antagonist is a creature that walks fairly slowly, and can look like anything it wants, everyone is a suspect. And I mean everyone. As the film progresses, you become more and more aware of the fact that the characters are only ever so safe, and that somewhere offscreen, this being is slowly, steadily making its way toward them. I’ve never been so fearful of the extras in a film in my entire life. Anyone in the background, anyone simply walking through a shot could be coming for us. There are some deliberate fake-outs, but even more moments where you find yourself just scanning the shot to eliminate possible threats.

By the time we roll into the third act, you are positively white-knuckling it in your seat. The theme and dreadful nature of inevitability gradually wear you down until you are completely on edge. It hits you in much the same way Romero’s Dead films do. One zombie is nothing, several are manageable, but there is a tipping point at which suddenly “I’ve got this under control” becomes “Oh, fuck.” Same thing here. Something walking toward you isn’t terribly threatening, until it starts closing the distance and you run out of room to escape.

It also works because it leaves everything so unexplained. At its core, the set-up is blissfully
simplistic. We don’t know what this thing is, and we don’t know what rules it follows, outside of what we experience through these characters. We don’t know its origin, or its purpose, and frankly, we don’t care. The only relevance here is Jay and how this thing is impacting her. The drama and the constantly increasing tension lie in watching these characters react and cope with this undefined Thing that is relentlessly pursuing them.

It Follows is a thoughtful and terrifying film, and one that delivers something complex and intelligent. It’s a dread that grows over the course of the story, and stays with you as you leave the theater, watching every person you pass on the street and checking every dark alley for something (or someone) out of place.