It Follows is a macabre little tale that takes place in an indeterminate time, a land that exists in between eras, with its own self-contained logic and mythos. What “it” is never needs to be fully explored, the only thing that matters is that it will follow you and it is determined and it absolutely will find you. It may be slow, but it knows where to find you and if you’re not careful, it will kill you.
The movie begins with a single-take shot of a young girl running out of her house half-dressed, panicked, running aimlessly and with no direction. She is terrified. She runs back into her house, out again and into her car where she finds a secluded place and makes peace with herself and with her father that she calls and leaves a message for her. When we next see her, she is dead.
Later, we meet Jay Height (Maika Monroe, who was also in the excellent The Guest). It’s the familiar old story of a girl falling for a guy… but, after sleeping with him, he holds a rag over her face until she passes out. She awakens, tied to a chair, and he has something to tell her.
Something happened, he explains to her. Someone gave him something, and he gave it to her. That’s the way it works. If you have this “thing,” this curse, you will be followed by “it,” and the only way to get rid of it is by sleeping with someone else. But if the person you sleep with gets killed, it comes right back for you, all the way down the chain until it gets to the very first person all over again.
To make it clear that he’s not making up stories, he allows her to remain tied to the chair when “it” appears. It takes the form of a naked woman and walks toward her slowly, slowly. He spares Jay at the last moment and drops her off at home, barely clothed, and tears off, as a sort of metaphor for a sexual assault. And just like a sexual assault, neither “it” nor the memory of such a traumatic event will ever be gone.
While watching It Follows, I was reminded of the original Halloween, which I’m sure was its intention. It is scored with a synth-pop sensibility, sort of like John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream’s lovechild. The camerawork is assured, grounded and plays with movement and timing, sort of like something Brian De Palma in his prime would have been proud of. In one of the very best shots, the camera circles endlessly and with each swipe, the monster gets closer and closer while our heroes are blissfully unaware that it’s even there.
Rarely gory, but always suspenseful, It Follows is a movie of sheer invention. It creates suspense and never lets up. By its design, “it” is always a threat. Even when it’s nowhere near, it’s coming and the fear created by its existence is omnipresent. Tension can be wrung from something as simple as seeing a jogger in the park or seeing someone where you know they shouldn’t be. Sometimes, It Follows is brilliantly scary, all the more impressive because some of the scenes have such a simple setup (look behind you, for God’s sake!).
David Robert Mitchell, the writer/director of It Follows, proves himself a master in the director’s chair. The performances are all great and the dialogue is fun to listen to. The cinematography is attractive and pleasant to look at, but it plays with space in the same way that the original Halloween did. The way the characters move means that something could just be waiting on the other end of that frame, ready to pounce and strike.