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A deeply affecting horror nightmare, It Follows is a definitive piece of modern horror; creating a world all its own, David Robert Mitchell assembles a cast of ageless victims and subjects them to the most primal fear of all – being followed. Mitchell, who also penned the script, does not fall prey to the trappings of the genre, favoring his own brand of subversion, turning our expectations against us, and delivering a much more percussive psychological impact. A homage to the pinnacles of 1970-80s horror, It Follows nods its cap to its monumental predecessors, while boldly carving a new path into the future.
Suburban middle America, at some point in the last or next 20 years, an unknown force chases a panicked young girl around her neighborhood. As the score, Disasterpeace’s brilliant modern re-working of the heavily-synthetic harbingers of Carpenter (Halloween) and Bernstein (A Nightmare on Elm Street), shrieks in the background, the audience is made aware of a terrible force, unseen yet powerfully menacing. The young girl is dead by morning. Jay (Maika Monroe) lazily enjoys her backyard pool, counting down the hours until her date with a newfound person-of-interest, Jeff (Jake Weary). Their evening at the movie theatre (one in which John Waters and Terry Gilliam would feel right at home), cut short by a startled Jeff, the two leave the theatre for some backseat coitus outside of an abandoned parking structure. Rendering her unconscious with a chloroform-soaked cloth, Jeff brings Jay into the garage and ties her to a wheelchair. Jay awakes, a pacing Jeff anxiously awaiting something, yet urges Jay to listen to him. He has “passed” something to her via their intercourse. It will follow her everywhere, slowly but undaunted, and can resemble anyone. She can pass it on to anyone, but it ever catches her, it will kill her, and resume following Jeff – on down the line to the previous member in the terrifying chain.
Mitchell’s “evil spirit” is one of the best in recent memory. By presenting its victims with a means of escape, it provides them with hope, and without hope, the opposing forces of fear and dread are significantly diminished. Even when passed on, one can never relax, as it may have killed your successor. The most pure embodiment of creeping paranoia ever represented on screen.
“The Follower” is also a physical, unstoppable being. While it is invisible to those it has never followed, its physicality is terrifying. Like a changeling zombie, it uses cunning and sheer relentlessness to consume its victims. It does not suddenly disappear, it does not pop out of a hiding spot, it cannot dissolve through walls – it walks straight at you, unfazed by weapons or cries for help. The creature’s invisibility only adds to the devastating psychological effects of becoming a victim. Ostensibly occurring after a traumatic event (sexual assault in Jay’s case), one is forced to consider whether it is not merely an aftershock of the events. Moreover, friends and family are equally compelled to consider the appearance of the creature as psychological stress.
It Follows‘ intelligence lies with its combinations. Never static in its delivery of fear, the film is constantly improving how it acquires its individual scares – a mix-n-match buffet of alarm. We get jump scares, gore, musical tension, inventive cutting, rising dread, and expectational contradictions. Disasterpeace’s score is sublime, imparting a depth of mood to every scene, and ranging from quiet hissing, to boisterous synthetic roaring. Delightful 8-bit video-game music places us squarely in the 1980s, but underlying hallmarks of modern electronic lend a timelessness to the fusion. Mitchell’s camera is dexterous and frantic, unbound by laws of gravity and the restrictiveness of a tripod. Mitchell is constantly spinning in circles around his subjects, a disorienting, and yet perfectly self-aware movement. While many directors might choose to spin in a concentric circle around their, counter-spinning, subject, Mitchell makes the movement first person – the audience is now responsible for keeping watch. Transported into the film, Jay and others’ sense of paranoia is imposed on the audience, not only are we disoriented, but equally-consumed by fear.
It Follows is an exceptional addition to the lexicon of horror. Originally set to a two-week limited release followed by an immediate VOD debut, the film performed so well that it has expanded (as of March 27) into 1,200 theaters. If It Follows has any flaws, they are so negligible in comparison to the overall film that a second viewing is all but required to recognize them. What’s left is an entirely surreal cinematic experience, so flowing with apprehension and wonder, that one is left speechless and begging for more.