I’ll admit again that I can’t handle horror movies. It doesn’t matter how good the movie is, what the subgenre is, or what kind of scares it’s after. Doesn’t matter. I can’t handle it. So I usually catch one or two horror flicks a year because I need plenty of time to build up my courage. I saw The Babadook just before New Year’s leaving me with enough time to lie myself into recovery.
I don’t keep as up to date with the horror movie circuit as I should but It Follows appears to be the most well-received horror since The Babadook (please let me know if I’ve missed any good ones). Reviews call It Follows the best American horror film in years. Which is half true and mostly misleading given that The Babadook is an Australian film (which split the Australian Academy Award for Best Picture with Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner last year. I have a feeling It Follows won’t get as much award love in the US).
Like so many other horror movies (and I speak with very little experience), It Follows starts with the mysterious death of an unknown character at the hands of an unseen villain. Next, we meet our innocent teen stars living out normal suburban lives. Kay (played by Maika Monroe) dates Hugh, a quiet stranger with some anxiety problems. After they have sex in his car, Kay plays with a flower while pondering what life was like when they were younger. As she innocently kicks her feet in the air, Hugh sneaks up behind her and knocks her out.
Kay wakes up tied to a chair while Hugh graciously explains the movie’s plot. When the two had sex, Hugh passed something on to Kay. That something is a mysterious walking creature which follows you without rest until it catches up with you and kills you. This “villain” is passed from one person to the next through sex and can take the form of any person so you can never be sure if the person approaching you is an occultish creature. Once the latest recipient is killed, “It” goes back up the list to the most recent carrier meaning you can never really be safe once you’ve been marked. Only those on It’s list can see It, leading Kay’s friends to worry that she became unhinged after her traumatic night with Hugh.
This concept is simple but strangely terrifying, mostly due to David Robert Mitchell’s direction and Monroe’s performance. Unlike the current horror fad of ceiling-crawling or walk-sprinting ghouls, the “It” in It Follows walks slowly, with a bit of a limp, constantly toward its target. The terror comes when we see someone slowly walking towards us, then the camera fiendishly looks away for a second, then two then five seconds until you are panicking and shout at the camera to look back. Then it drifts back so you can see the progress the creature has made, then it slowly looks away again leaving you even more desperate. A few 360-degree shots accomplish the same anxiety: we see the creature, spin away from it, then wait through a full revolution of innocuous frames until we can see it again.
The tension in the movie is a slowly smoldering one built by anticipation of terror more than the terror itself. In the few scenes where the creature actually interacts with the characters (by trying to kill them), the camera suddenly takes away our view of the creature, leaving It invisible to us just as It is to the characters not on the list. We watch as It walks within a few feet of Kay before we suddenly cut away. When we cut back It’s now invisible to us and we watch as Kay’s hair is pulled straight up by an unseen force. For the remainder of this scene we flip back and forth between seeing It and wondering where It is. This amplifies the stress a thousands times compared to watching an actual person pulling on her hair or being hit with a beach chair. Mitchell plays with us like the best horror directors do, building our anxiety and tension perfectly until the final resolution.
Bottomline: An excellent horror film that plays on multiple levels from simple scares, to themes of voyeurism and the loss of innocence. As terrifying as any movie you’ll see this year (but that doesn’t mean much coming from me).