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“IT FOLLOWS” (Fantastic Fest Review)

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The concept that drives writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s unnerving horror film IT FOLLOWS is obvious in its allegory and certainly, the idea of evil VD has been mined since David Cronenberg literally spat out his sex parasites in 1975’s THE CAME FROM WITHIN (aka SHIVERS). Here, in IT FOLLOWS, it’s not the metaphorical frissons that affect the viewer, rather it is the economical ways in which its director uses sound, silences and framing to seep under the audience’s skin. And believe us, IT FOLLOWS, much like the spectral STD it introduces, leaves an unshakable residue long after withdrawal.

The film stars the fantastic Maika Monroe (THE GUEST) as Jay, a pretty young girl in the home stretch of high school who, after a rushed sexual encounter in the backseat of the car of the boy she loves – well, more just kinda likes – finds herself pursued by something unholy.

As her panic-stricken paramour informs her—after tying her to a wheelchair post-coitus—he has intentionally infected Jay with a curse, making her a moving target for a shape shifting supernatural horror that appears out of the corners of Mitchell’s meticulously composed frames with intent to kill. Said unnamed (and unseen to everyone save those who have spread it) nightmare takes the guise of everything from a battered naked woman, to a urinating cheerleader, to geriatric grandpa to one character’s own mother. Jay is told she must have sex with someone else post-haste before it murders her. If she fails to pass it on, the entity will not only finish her off, but systematically wipe out every date-raping asshole that passed the undead disease on previously.

It’s a silly but effective premise that, like every conservative 80’s slasher flick, waggles its morally righteous, homicidal finger at kids who bump uglies on impulse. But it serves as the skeleton in which Mitchell constructs a series of deeply shuddery set-pieces on. Most of it works. Some of it – like a wonky sequence in which the “thing” attacks Jay and her friends on a beach – not only reveal the budgetary cracks in IT FOLLOWS’ otherwise deftly produced sheen but jarringly undoes some of the eerie ambiguity. When IT FOLLOWS is successful however, you’d be hard pressed to find another contemporary indie genre film that hits as hard as it does.

The entire film feels like a dream, with characters speaking their dissonant dialogue in quiet tones, interacting like aliens in a strange world where apparently, the fantastic is very possible. The various forms of the threat itself are terrifying; one scene where Jay is menaced by a hospital-gown wearing woman with great shocks of white hair, made me actually cover my eyes. And there is poetry in the film, often in the most benign and wordless of sections, like when the broken Jay steps onto the shore and spies a boatload of bohunks in the distance. Is her intent to swim out and have sex with all of them in order to shake her disease? Mitchell leaves the outcome of that scene to the imagination, and it’s a masterful moment.

The most debatable thing about IT FOLLOWS however is the score, a loud, spastic Carpenter-esque analog-synth wash that covers most of the movie’s running time and overtakes every action sequence, often fooling the viewer into thinking that more is happening than really is. It’s a great trick and is often effectively overbearing. Sometimes however, it’s too much, trying too hard to hammer home scares and channel some sort of post-modern “cool” factor, working against the subtleties in Monroe’s wide-eyed, almost Falconetti-ish performance. Still, no matter your take on the music, you won’t dismiss it. It’s as vital a character in the film as any human being seen on-screen.

IT FOLLOWS is an incredibly evolved, joyously alive piece of “dead teenager” cinema that likely requires a few viewings to properly assimilate its rhythms. And it could easily become part of any High School health class curriculum, because If I saw it as a kid, when I was at my hormonal, girl-hungry peak, I’d likely pack my bags and move to a monastery.

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About the author
Chris Alexander
Author, film critic, teacher, musician and filmmaker (not to mention failed boxer) Chris Alexander is the editor-in-chief of FANGORIA Magazine. He got his first professional break as the “Schizoid Cinephile” in the pages of Canadian horror film magazine RUE MORGUE before making the move to FANGO in 2007. His words have appeared in The Toronto Star, Metro News, Wired, Montage, The Dark Side, Tenebre and many other notable publications and he appears regularly on international television and radio.
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