“It Follows” is a creepy little horror film with the mounting sense of fear and dread. Unlike those lesser horror films merely hanging on cheap shocks, it knows how to grab our attention through mood and suspense, and the result is something as efficient as John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (1978), which is incidentally one of its major inspirations. Like that classic horror film, the movie slowly increases the level of suspense step by step amid its seemingly mundane background as constantly reminding us that something very bad is going to happen sooner or later, and its unsettling atmosphere is further enhanced by a number of dreadful moments to remember.
When our young heroine is about to have an evening date with some lad, Jay (Maika Monroe, who previously played a supporting character in Ramin Bahrani’s “At Any Price” (2012)) has no idea on what will soon happen to her. Although he is suddenly disturbed for some unknown reason when they are about to enjoy their time at a local movie theater, Hugh (Jake Weary) looks like a likable guy she wants to spend more time with, and they eventually have a sex in his car when they are alone together at some remote place later during that night.
It is after their sex that Jay belatedly realizes she is in a very serious trouble. After Hugh puts her into unconscious state with chloroform, she wakes up to find herself tied up to a wheelchair, and he confesses something she would not believe at all under any normal circumstance. Due to a sexual intercourse he had before he met her, some curse was transmitted to him, and now the curse in question is transmitted from him to Jay through their sex, which was only option for him to be released from the curse and its lethal danger.
Jay initially does not believe what Hugh says, but then there comes a mysterious entity trudging toward them from the distance, and Hugh warns her of what this entity is capable of. While it is very slow in its movement, it is going to stalk its target relentlessly as frequently changing its shape into strangers or people its target knows, and it will never stop until it finally kills its target. If that happens, it will go right back to the previous carrier of the curse, and that is the main reason why Hugh advises Jay to have a sex with someone else as soon as possible for her – and him, of course.
While this situation can be interpreted as an allegory of young people’s anxiety associated with their first adult experiences outside their comfortable nest or an interesting variation on that famous horror movie convention (Remember that sex equals death in those Friday the 13th movies and many other slasher movies?), the movie keeps focusing on the situation itself while firmly sticking to its premise. Jay tries to move forward as recovering from this bad date experience of hers, but then she begins to sense more of the ominous presence of what she saw during that night. During one creepy moment reminiscent of the classroom scene in “Halloween”, she suddenly notices that someone is slowly approaching to her from the outside, and that is just the beginning of what is going to unsettle her more and more.
The movie is the second feature film directed by the director/writer David Robert Mitchell, and he shows his considerable talent as skillfully dialing up or down the level of dread and suspense on the screen. While there are a couple of false alarm moments in the film, they are handled with good timing and some humor, and I must confess that they were also effective enough to jolt me during my viewing. The unnerving score by Disasterpeace, which is clearly influenced by John Carperter’s memorable electronic score for “Halloween”, generates uneasiness around scenes whenever it is played on the soundtrack, and the cinematographer Mike Gioulakis did an impressive job in several fabulous scenes including the opening sequence where the slow, steady panning of his camera gradually reveals the horror below the screen.
Above all, it gives us the characters we can care and worry about as fearing the worst possibility for them. Jay and her friends come to us as ordinary young people you may come across in American suburban neighbourhood (I heard later that the background of the movie is Detroit), and Maika Monroe and the other young actors in the film (Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe, Daniel Zovatto, and Keir Gilchrist) feel natural as friends who have known each other for years. Although they do not understand their friend’s mysterious problem well, Jay’s friends try to support her in practical ways, and that is sort of a refreshing thing to watch. In fact, two boys who have been interested in Jay are actually willing to have a sex with her, though they do not know well what kind of terror she has to endure.
And that insidious entity, which is as persistent as Michael Myers in its unstoppable pursuit, becomes a more fearful figure as making its presence more palpable along the narrative. The movie wisely keeps its identity shrouded in mystery except its supernatural aspects, and that makes this paranormal stalker all the more terrifying as Jay is confirmed again and again that there is not any other easy way out in her circumstance – and her only option turns out to be not as easy as she thinks at one point.
When I watched “Halloween” for the first time, I was particularly frightened by that scary scene involving a murderous figure slowly walking toward the helpless heroine, and it lost none of its terrifying power on me when I revisited the film a few years ago. Following its logic to the end, “It Follows” gave me excellent moments as tense and frightening as that, and I also enjoyed its small nice touches including old horror films often watched by the characters in the film. This is a terrific horror film which learns really well from its seniors, and it surely deserves high scores for that.