Review: ‘It Follows’ is Frightening & Unsettling [Fantastic Fest]

By October 2, 2014
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It’s fairly simple to become jaded with the horror genre when many films that hit multiplexes seem to go through the motions and solely rely on lazy tropes that help feed the stereotype that horror is a limited genre…but then a film like It Follows comes along and buries those misguided feelings six feet under. It Follows is one of the most progressive and sincerely frightening horror films of the year and much of that is due to the fact that director David Robert Mitchell has taken a ridiculously odd concept and plays it completely straight from beginning to end.

Mike Gioulakis’ cinematography is an unspoken character in this film, a voyeuristic guide that manipulates the narrative perception and incapacitates the audience to a vulnerable state of weakness. The film opens with a young damsel in distress stumbling through a seemingly ordinary suburb, and there’s an aura of weirdness radiating around the postcard-perfect neighborhood that illuminates her surroundings. The camera is slowly circling her from a distance as the unseen threat appears to be right behind her every step. The solitude she’s appeared to have found on a beautiful beach is mere deception, and the malignant force that was chasing her has predicted her every move with calculated precision.

Maika Monroe (The Guest) brings tenacity and susceptibility to 19-year-old Jay, who after a romantic evening with her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary) at a cinema screening of Charade joins him in a passionate moment of sexual liberation in the backseat of his car before he chloroforms her and she wakes up tied to a chair. When Jay wakes up disoriented, Mitchell shows directorial restraint and the malevolence in the atmosphere far outweighs her emotional reactions; her boyfriend stands away from her in a creepy silhouette and the tension sustained before any word is spoken pushes the suspense to maximum capacity.

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Hugh reveals to her that he’s infected her with a sexually transmitted curse that will stalk her until she’s dead unless she passes it on to somebody else. He points her attention to a terrifying entity slowly approaching her that only she can see and he tells her that no matter where she goes or what she does, it will always know where to find her. It moves at a deliberate pace but it can’t be destroyed and will see its purpose through to the end. If she passes it on to someone else and they get killed by it, it will return back to her and make its way down the line to its original victim.

The ingenious execution of this concept lies in how Mitchell approaches anticipation: there’s an unsettling tone to how the spirits are revealed that is far more terrifying than the actual attacks, and he avoids repetition by having every meticulous encounter result in a different appearance. As the haunting threat stares blankly into the viewer’s direction and moves closer with every frame, the tension escalates to an unbearable state of disturbance. Rich Vreeland, who recorded the trance-like synth score as Disasterpeace, provides an eerie layer to the intense atmosphere without being intrusive or wearing out his welcome, which is a great example of how Mitchell subtly pays tribute to genre influences without nodding or winking.

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The natural young cast consisting of Lili Sepe, Olivia Lucardi, Daniel Zovatto, and Keir Gilchrist that surround Monroe’s character lends authenticity to the oddball premise and brings credibility to Jay’s circumstantial way of dealing with her threatening crisis. There are times when Jay seems to be living in the moment and relaxing at times when she should be more concerned or distressed, but the way her personality is developed among her friends that support her justifies her actions as being true to how her character would choose to handle certain situations.

The film’s climax achieves a striking balance of ominousness and ambiguity, which will encourage plenty of discussion and inspire repeat viewings. It Follows is a beautifully crafted horror film that’s equal parts elegant and dreadfully unsettling. David Robert Mitchell has proven to be a remarkable talent and a filmmaker that everyone will want to keep their eye on in the future.

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Sean McClannahan

Sean McClannahan

Sean McClannahan is a freelance film journalist and is the founder of Movie Time And Beyond. His passion for movies and pop culture knows no limits.