Welcome to the second installment of A Crash Course in Horror, a weekly review segment where I’ll be watching notable horror movies for the first time. Last week I reviewed the 1978 original version of Halloween, and I was advised to follow that up with a 2015 release that clearly learned a lot from classic horror titles.
See Also: Upcoming Horror Movies 2016
It Follows was released in March and has been almost universally well-received. I’m told that truly great horror movies are a rare phenomenon, so in all likelihood this film is going to end up joining the list of must-see horror movie classics in the long run. But as things stand now, this movie is pretty much brand new, so this review will not spoil anything beyond the first 20 minutes of the film. I am spoiling the heck out of those first 20 minutes, though, so fair warning.
The film opens in a quiet suburban neighborhood, where a clearly terrified woman in pyjamas and a pair of heels comes running out of her house. Her neighbors and father ask what’s wrong, and if she needs any help, but she responds “I’m fine” — before running into the house, grabbing the car keys, and driving off in a rush.
She then drives, clearly in a panic, to the beach, where she sits bathed in her car’s headlights, apparently waiting for something. She takes a call from her dad, reassures him she loves him…
…and the next thing we see is her mangled body.
Well THAT’S one heck of a way to start a movie.
The movie then cuts to our hero, Jay (Maika Monroe). Her age is never officially established but I’d say she’s in her early 20’s. We find out that she’s going on a date with a boy she’s been seeing, and is feeling pretty hopeful about the relationship. We’re also introduced to her sister, Kelly (Lili Sepe), and their friends, Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Yara (Olivia Luccardi).
Jay goes on her date with Hugh (Jake Weary), and they are fairly adorable together. They’re settling in to watch a movie at the theatre and are playing a version of I-Spy when Hugh points out a girl in a yellow dress — except Jay can’t see her. Hugh fairly quickly asks to leave the theatre. They get into his car and drive to a diner, and the rest of the date seems to go fairly well, except that ominous synthesizer music is playing over the whole thing, so you know something must be deeply wrong.
Jay goes for another date with Hugh a couple of days later. They go to the beach, things get romantic, and they eventually having sex in Hugh’s car. But the afterglow is pretty rudely interrupted by the introduction of It Follows’ monster.
The monster is a sexually-transmitted haunting! This thing is so high-concept it feels like it could have about a hundred college theses written about its metaphorical significance. It takes the form of a shapeshifting creature that looks human and continuously walks towards you at a normal pace. We’re assured that it’s “very slow, but not dumb”, and “if it touches you, you’re dead”. To stop yourself from being its target, you simply need to have sex with another person. Except if that person dies, you’re back on the hook.
With the rules established, the rest of the movie unfolds, with Jay desperately trying to get away from the monster, and the monster relentlessly trudging along behind her.
I think it’s already clear that I think this movie is very good. All of the actors do an extremely good job, and I am fully expecting Maika Monroe to be EVERYWHERE in a couple of years, because she is both drop-dead gorgeous and very good in this role. Lili Sepe, who plays her sister, is also a standout performance.
It Follows is just plain beautiful to look at. It was written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, who clearly had a very strong visual style in mind when he wrote the script. Scenes are usually lit with one strong light source, leaving the rest in soft shadow and giving a slightly ominous feeling even to scenes where it seems that Jay should be safe. It uses camera techniques that reminded me a lot of Halloween, particularly its tendency to put the protagonists in the foreground with a person slowly walking behind them, who may or may not be the monster.
This movie makes excellent use of its monster, and is DEEPLY disturbing. If you scare easily, this is one that’s going to haunt you in a very real way. It’s pretty easy to scare people when you make something completely ordinary into something dangerous. There’s nothing more normal than a person walking around!
The scene transitions directly contribute to the creepy feeling of the film. Sometimes we are shown that the characters have changed locations with very little context. We don’t know how far they’ve travelled, or how long it’s been. This unclear distance and timeline means that whether or not Jay & company can be reasonably assured that the monster is too far away to reach them right now, the audience is never really sure, and it adds tension to every scene.
Speaking of unclear timelines, this movie is timeless in a kind of weird way. The sets, props, and technology on display are generically from the 20th century, but all decades. The music in this film is very early-80’s synth, but characters drive around in classic cars, and Yara is carrying around a little shell compact that appears to be a Kindle equivalent.
As much as I was impressed by It Follows overall, there are a couple of flaws in its back half that are very glaring, considering how successful it is in every other aspect.
First, even though the choice to transition scenes with very little context adds a lot of tension, it also means you’re missing parts of the story. Sometimes this isn’t an issue, but sometimes it means that character motivations go completely unexplained. Suddenly something is just happening, and you have no idea why, who initiated it, or why it makes sense. As the action picks up, the decisions of the characters become more and more vital to their survival, so without context, you’re left wondering “why is this happening now? Will this keep them safe? Why did they want to do that?” and it makes the entire scene seem kind of pointless.
Second, I’m sure that many people will disagree with me, but I found the ending COMPLETELY unsatisfying. Explaining why would immediately verge on spoiler territory, but I think it is vague enough to say that the ending is a very quiet one, and given the way the action in the film escalates, I was hoping for something more dramatic.
I also found Paul, Jay’s childhood friend, to be a completely confusing character. He still desperately wants to sleep with her even though it’s established that if he does, a monster is going to try to murder him. Yet I’m told by reliable sources that this is actually what it feels like to be a teenage boy. Dear God.
So It Follows had some flaws, and I would probably say that Halloween accomplished what it set out to do with a lot more polish. Having said that, the concept of the movie is so much more ambitious and the monster is so deeply terrifying as an idea that I can forgive every one of its flaws.
The moment I finished watching this movie, I wanted to watch it again. It’s available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Amazon Instant Video (and Netflix, if you’re Canadian) so you really have no excuse not to watch it ASAP.
You know — unless you don’t want a stroll in the park to become the most ominous thing in the world.
Check back every Saturday for the next installment of A Crash Course in Horror. Next week I will be reviewing Goodnight, Mommy, a movie about a pair of Austrian twins who suspect a surgery has changed their mother in horrible ways. Sounds cheerful!
If you have any suggestions about what I should be watching next, leave a comment below, so I can review your favorite horror flick in the future.Buy it here.