If you have any interest in seeing the new horror movie It Follows just go see it. Skip my review and head out to watch it. It’s one of those movies that leaves an indelible impression of excellence. From the visceral scares to the mass of symbols that require thought and unpacking, the film feels like a classic even without the benefit of time and reflection. So if that strikes your fancy, if you’re the kind of person who would want to go see a future classic in theatres while they can, go do that. If you’re unsure, or want to see what I think anyway, keep reading. I don’t think I could ruin this movie in advance if I wanted to.
The reason I don’t think I could spoil this movie is tied to one of my favourite things about the way this film tackles the horror genre. It Follows absolutely eschews reveals. A good apical reveal can make a horror film; it’s a pretty classic story structure. However it rarely translates to a full-length film. So instead of having a climactic reveal that retroactively changes the audience’s understanding of the horror elements, films can sometime rely too heavily on a sort of “library scene.” You know the scene I mean, where a wise-old man character or a google search explains the history behind whatever threat the movie conjures up. It Follows ups the ante on the scares by keeping the backstory and world building a complete mystery. It matches this by presenting a mystical threat with almost immediately defined, rigid rules. Ill-defined rules can completely ruin the sense of danger presented by a fantastical element. No rules just means anything can happen, and that anything can keep the protagonists safe. It almost guarantees that the foe will show powers closer to the climax, which could have ended the movie earlier and they been used. Having strict rules clears that up.
Of course that kind of deft handling of the genre on a script basis is only good if it’s matched by the rest of the film. Luckily everything about It Follows is golden. (Even the cast.) The concept, and the aforementioned rules, make the titular “It” of It Follows an iconic horror movie monster. The concept is simple (I knew it going in, and it’s explained so immediately that it really doesn’t constitute a spoiler) and brilliant. Basically the idea is that there’s a curse that’s passed along rather like an STD. You catch the curse by sleeping with someone who has been cursed, and you can pass it along in the hopes of saving yourself by sleeping with someone else. When you’re cursed, It follows you. “It” is a mysterious entity that can take any human form. Only the cursed can see It, and It follows you, as the title suggests. It follows you no matter where you go, but always at the same shambling pace. Something terrible will happen if It touches you. The creature’s only permanent features are the rules and yet it creates an instantly iconic foe.
In case you couldn’t guess you do indeed spend a lot of the movie with your eyes trained on background figures that might be walking just a little too pointedly. It’s terrifying, and the disgusting and freakish (and symbolic) human forms the monster takes keep you on edge. (Watch for a deck of picture playing cards early on that seems to forecast the Follower’s shapes going forward.) The combination of frightening forms and frighteningly unpredictable forms makes for a disconcerting villain, simultaneously blending fear of the unknown with viscerally off-putting borderline body-horror.
The film does a lot of the basics incredibly well. John Carpenter comparisons are flying thick and fast when it comes to the movie’s visual style. It’s easy to see why too. The film’s suburban setting, long shot lengths, and synth-heavy score all have a nice retro vibe. There are a lot of techniques in common with Halloween. Although retro is perhaps misleading when the film so clearly strives for “timeless.” The most tangible evidence of this is the film’s fascination with non-era specific technology. This film has no cellphones or new TVs, or even any sign of the Internet. Instead it has small TVs only playing black and white movies (so who knows if the TVs can even do colour) and corded phones. However one of the characters sounds the movie reading passages from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot on a tiny digital e-reader the size and shape of an old clamshell make-up compact. This all represents a conscious effort to keep the film from having any clearly current touchstones, the idea being that years from now a specific model of phone and the associated memories won’t distract you or throw you from the film’s atmosphere at all.
The movie uses a nice array of loverly taut tracking shots and long shots. There’s an opening one that instantly conjures up the opening of Halloween, despite substantial stylistic differences. There’s another one later on that spins, and the uneventfulness of the moment seems like it might give way to true terror any second. The film also gets a lot of mileage out of a wonderful synth-lead score. Stabbing, frequently cavernous synths add a ton to this movie’s more tense moments. It’s always hard to overestimate the importance of sound design and soundtracks in frightening films, and the It Follows soundtrack is nicely effective.
Perhaps the best thing about It Follows is the meaning behind the curse and symbols appearing throughout the film. Despite the mechanics of the movie’s curse, this film isn’t actually an STD metaphor. A lot of the more obvious symbolic moments constitute spoilers, but the film seems instead to have a lot of thoughts about coming of age, the inevitability of mortality, and sexuality that are far more complex than the STD reading would suggest. Maybe the Follower is simply a physical manifestation of a youthful immortal mindset coming face to face with adulthood and death.