To say the majority of horror films are scary is to suggest hiding around corners in your house and scaring family members is legitimately scary. Sure, you might get someone to jump out of the sheer fact they weren’t expecting something, but is that really what it means to be scared or even terrified? From that point forward are you on edge, skin-crawling and constantly terrified someone is going to jump around every corner? I didn’t think so.
While you’re watching a so-called horror film and you just know something is going to pop out of nowhere and “scare” you does that make the movie itself scary? I guess, in the general sense, it does, but I think for something to be truly scary there needs to be a sense of dread, something of a “skin crawl” factor and writer/director David Robert Mitchell‘s It Follows has that and then some.
Telling the story of Jay (played by standout actress Maika Monroe), a 19-year-old girl whose life is turned upside down after one seemingly innocent sexual encounter ends in paranoia. Something was passed on, a supernatural STD if you will and her every waking moment is now haunted by an inexplicable entity following her.
There are sure to be audience members left unmoved, wondering “What’s so scary about people walking really slow?” The key here is that the “scare” isn’t necessarily in the visual, it’s in what your mind does with it and how Mitchell uses sound and the threat of what guides It Follows that makes it far scarier than any kind of film that simply throws a screeching cat at the screen in hopes of a cheap thrill.
Mitchell makes wonderful use of sound and an electronic score from Disasterpeace reminiscent of Tangerine Dream‘s score for William Friedkin‘s Sorcerer to set the mood and audience on edge. Accompanying the audible experience are cinematographer Mike Gioulakis‘ massive wide shots, establishing the action with the hint of danger lurking in the background. Mitchell makes the audience a participant in the action and expertly establishes narrative cues with such subtlety the audience is unlikely to even realize why they are so frightened.
Mitchell kicks the film off with an opening sequence that ends with a jarring image of a woman’s body, torqued into a horrific posture. The lapping of water against a sandy beach suggests something more beautiful would be on display, but what he’s actually done is established the film’s first water motif, which will be carried throughout the rest of the feature. The gruesome image that accompanies this audible cue then settles into the viewer’s mind and every time the mere suggestion of H2O pops up from here on out, our minds are subconsciously transported back to the bloody yoga pose that threatens the film’s lead for the film’s tense, 100-minute duration.
The film’s star, Maika Monroe, has quickly become a revelation following her work on Adam Wingard‘s The Guest. She gets to spread her wings a little wider here as she is the focal point of the feature, and Mitchell lets her use the space as she wishes, terrified to her wits end at times and just as effective as she calmly wades in her backyard pool. A sinister vibe oozes out of every frame of It Follows as Mitchell conjures memories of the likes of John Carpenter and David Cronenberg.
This is an elevated piece of genre filmmaking. Thought was put into every frame, and rightfully so because every frame must be carefully considered or it would all fall apart as one actor merely walking toward another would otherwise be comically stupid instead of horrifyingly dreadful. The use of wide shots and the reliance on his actors is why Mitchell succeeds, his screenplay also creates a core group of characters that actually care about one another rather than stupidly argue about what to do next.
Jay’s predicament in any other horror film might otherwise find adults trying to care for her, put her in an insane asylum or have her running from help to save herself. “I’m not crazy!” you can hear her screaming as her friends would look on in bewilderment in any other film. Mitchell isn’t interested in that. In as much as he may use the cliched idea of the pretty girl running from the scary “monster”, he gives her a group of friends she can rely on and put faith in, again allowing the audience to sympathize even greater with all of the characters as we are the only ones privy to what Jay is experiencing and yet, at the same time understand the confusion her friends are having to deal with.
It Follows is absolutely a high point in the recent history of the horror genre. It’s no wonder it’s a film that has been talked about endlessly since it premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and is just now ready to make a splash with a wider audience almost a year later. Don’t miss out.