Modern indie horror "It Follows" will scare viewers celibate
19-year-old Jay Height (Maika Monroe) just wants to find a cute guy with a car to drive around in that can help her forget that she lives on the outskirts of Detroit, Michigan during a technologically boring time period (late 80s-early 90s) with nothing but pine trees and suburban housing to entertain the eyes. She finds one in Hugh (Jake Weary), but he comes with some unexpectedly heavy baggage. Using innocuous movie dates to build trust, his strange actions are dismissed by that shroud of teenage lust that most of us know so well. They finally get to business but, in that celibacy-inducing way often used in horror, this leads to nothing but the kind of sheer terror that could act as a perfect sexual deterrent for any Orwellian anti-sex group.
Post-coitus, Jay is treated to a chloroform soaked rag and tied to a chair where the new path of her life is fully explained.
She has been cursed to be stalked by an entity that will follow her, at the pace of a slow walk, wherever she goes. If it catches her, then it's lights out. It's slow but implacably persistent and can disguise itself as anyone to get close to her. He explains that he passed it on to her through sex and that she can also pass it on to someone else. This, however, is only temporary because if/when it kills the person she passes it to, it will resume its hunt for her and so on, all the way down the line.
What follows is an anxiety ridden game of "Where's Waldo." The writer/director, David Robert Mitchell, uses the fact that "It" is always in pursuit and could show up at any given time, to create a despairing anticipation, without a moment of relaxation, that almost urges the thought that it would be better to give up then continue living on the run and in constant fear. Mitchell augments this with plenty of dead space in the audio, the dark gloomy atmosphere of the city it's shot in (Detroit), and an impressive use of point of view cameras that follow the character down narrow hallways and around tight corners, lagging a split-second behind, to create and maintain the constant expectation of a jump scare that may or may not come. This building of tension is where the movie excels.
The ability to keep the audience firmly on the edge of their seats has been dead in recent years within the horror genre but Mitchell manages to revive it. The throwback atmosphere of the movie, with everything from the soundtrack to the style of film it's shot on, gives you the same feeling given by the old school slasher movies like the original "Nightmare on Elm Street" or "Friday the 13th," which also happens to be the official release date for this movie. This could be dubbed as a slasher movie without the slashing, but instead of there being a villain with a hockey mask or long claws, this one is a chameleon that can appear as either an old woman in a nightgown or someone beloved by its prey.
At times, Mitchell becomes mired in his attempts to drive some moments home, by holding certain impact shots for far too long and resetting the fear gauge to zero, as people can only be wound up so tight before the string snaps. During these times the thought turns to wondering when the shot will end and the next scene will start. But these are few and far between and nothing more than a minor annoyance in what is otherwise a stellar directing performance.
Monroe brings a subtlety to the lead role that avoids the over-acting that can sometimes plague horror leads. The supporting cast, while there are no standouts, also does an excellent job and no particular performance stands out as distractingly bad. The relatively unknown nature of the cast and its ability to mesh together naturally only serves to aid the suspension of disbelief.
The film doesn't distract from the main source of fear with gaudy special effects or cheap jump scares. The story is allowed to tell itself, barebones, and the fear that it invokes comes from a deep and visceral place. It's a refreshing departure from many modern horror movies that use banal horror cliches and big budget effects to try to disguise weakly constructed stories.
The villain seems to mirror the concept of death itself. It's something that is always coming one way or another, however slowly, and is completely inhuman in its determination. We may be able to avoid it or outrun it for a time but it is always in pursuit, no matter where we run to, and will eventually catch up. This is something that everyone can relate to and what gives the film its mass ability to induce fear.
This movie is a wholly unique and enjoyable experience and should be watched by any fan of horror. The subtle execution of the distilled formula for storytelling serves to make sure that "It Follows" will be considered one of the purest horror films to come out in years.