Young talent, a mixing of original and familiar ideas, and a boatload of symbolism all work to make It Follows a stand-out among 2010s horror.
Director David Robert Mitchell is a unique voice in the horror genre in that, as of writing this, It Follows is the only horror he’s ever made – according to his IMDB page, at least. Mitchell’s lack of exclusivity to horror really shows in his work, but in the best way possible. Like with Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of The Shining, I like it when non-horror directors take a stab at the genre, because it always comes out interesting. While not always successful, their fresh perspectives and methods can lead to original ideas in a genre that can often rely too heavily on formulas. Mitchell makes a lot of great choices in his low-budget horror debut that help It Follows stand above most of its peers.
It Follows is about a sexually transmitted demon. It can look like someone you know, or it can look like a complete stranger. It can appear as anyone, but there’s only one of it. The only way to get rid of it is to pass it on to another person by having sex with them; if the demon catches you, you will die. College student Jay (Maika Monroe) learns all of this the hard way when a passionate evening in the back of her date’s car changes her life forever.
First off, let’s talk about the cinematography, because we all know how much I love pretty shots. It Follows’ shots and tableaus beautifully and hauntingly make use of lots of open space to capture the feelings of alienation and solitude Jay feels when no one else in her life really knows or understands the horror she has to live through. There’s always enough symmetry to make the shot lovely to look at, but there’s always just enough asymmetry to remind us that something is wrong and we should never let our guard down. The camera also seamlessly shifts perspectives, mirroring characters’ gazes. Not to mention there are several long single-take and tracking shots, something I love, and they always are executed really well, contributing to the building senses of tension and dread.
The cinematography is complemented by excellent lighting, which contrasts more vibrant color pallets with monochromatic shades of white, reflecting how Jay tries to preserve her western ideals of purity while still being haunted by an immortal and unstoppable monster. Also, to my delight, dark scenes are adequately lit so you can actually see everything that’s going on. You can still recognize that these moments take place at night or in dark spaces, but the lighting’s use of silhouette and shadows make the visuals much more interesting and infinitely less frustrating. You see, needlessly dark horror movies?! This is how you do it!
It Follows also bucks one of my least favorite common low-budget horror tropes: its screenplay isn’t terrible. First of all, the dialogue is pretty good, allowing for characters to have conversations that let them sound like they’re real people, and for them to have character motivations and actions that actually make sense; Jay may make some bad decisions throughout the movie, but these decisions never feel out of character and are instead motivated by desperation. Besides, how many undergraduates haven’t made bad decisions under extremely stressful situations?
Secondly, It Follows gives an original twist on a familiar horror trope: we’re all familiar with the unstoppable evil force hunting down the main characters, as we’ve seen in Halloween, Alien, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Terminator, among many others. What It Follows does differently is that it doesn’t give the STDemon (I don’t think the monster has a name, but this is what I’ve decided to call it) a face or identity. The whole point is that it can be anyone and anywhere, and it will never stop hunting Jay until she either passes it on, or until it kills her. That concept alone is frightening and interesting enough to merit a movie to be made about it, and Mitchell does a great job of exploring this idea in his script.
Thirdly, It Follows’ pacing is great. It is a slow burn that never feels like it drags, taking its time to spend enough focus on the characters and on filmcraft to fully flesh out its vision without becoming boring. There’s also very little in the way of blood and gore, instead relying on character drama and themes to keep the audience invested. There are also several great sequences where it will be unclear if the STDemon is approaching, masterfully building anxiety with shot-reverse-shots and a droning soundtrack, resulting in either catharsis when it’s a false alarm, or terror when it’s finally upon Jay; when she cannot trust anyone, any mild mannered approaching stranger could mean the end of Jay’s life. This is a movie that takes its time, but it always feels purposeful.
Finally, It Follows is filled with symbolism, so much so that it might as well be a bowl filled with everyone’s favorite breakfast cereal, “Oops, all symbolism!” Everything from an organist at the movie theatre, to the prevalence of old cars, to the sparse and droning soundtrack that sounds like it was made on an 80s synth pad, to the entire town’s affinity for old black and white movies, the film is loaded with older imagery. While I interpreted this to indicate American society’s outdated views on sex and intimacy, but there is a lot of discussion at to that the setting and STDemon represent: everything from the AIDs crisis to sexual assault. Maybe, dear reader, just reading what I’ve written so far has put ideas of hidden meanings in your head too! I don’t think there is one definitive answer, but it’s sure to be something film nerds will argue about for years to come.
In my personal life, I know people who regard It Follows as one of the scariest movies they’ve ever seen. I don’t think that’s necessarily true for me, but I can see how some people would find this movie terrifying, especially if you’ve had certain life experiences that I have not. Regardless of how subjectively “scary” this movie is, I would still rank It Follows among the best horror films of the 2010s. It’s an original take on a familiar trope, bolstered by exquisite visuals, and I would easily give this as a recommendation to both horror fans and to film lovers who do not usually watch the genre.
It Follows premiered on the Horror Channel on Saturday 22 May at 9pm, as part of Supernatural Week.