April 24, 2015 It Follows (Movie Review)
One of the most magical, memorable times in a woman’s life is that brief moment in time where she straddles the gulf between girlhood and adulthood. Between the ages of nineteen and twenty-two, give or take a few years, she experiences that fleeting type of freedom that has not yet been tarnished by the demands imposed by complete independence. If she attends school, it is for something she cares about, and the insipid demands of her high school teachers can be forgotten. However, it is likely she still has the comfort and support of her high school friendships. Perhaps she has a job, but if she wishes to live with her parents and save her money, she will not be judged for doing so. She is familiar with dating and sex, but these are still novel enough to retain their sense of mystery. It seems the only negative in her life is that she does not realize how lucky she is.
On the other hand, the world can be cruel to women — especially young women. School, work, friendship, love. All pose just as many threats as they do pleasures, and this is rarely as apparent as it is for a woman just on the verge of adulthood. Writer-director David Robert Mitchell captures this moment beautifully in his 2015 Horror debut , a film with an atmosphere that is so rich and so distinct, it nearly upstages the narrative.
It Follows opens with a puzzling scene where a young woman (Bailey Spry) in short-shorts and high heels runs in and out of her house and up and down her block before getting into her car and driving to the beach. It is here that the horror begins. The opening credits roll and the unsettling beach scene is immediately contrasted with an image of protagonist Jay Height (Maika Monroe: The Guest, 2014; The Bling Ring, 2013) relaxing in her backyard swimming pool. (Water is a major motif in It Follows.) Monroe plays Jay as if she were plucked from the pages of a Joyce Carol Oates story. Young and beautiful, Jay possesses an effortless composure that is unusual for someone her age, a self-assuredness that would seem like arrogance if the character weren’t so pleasant and unassuming. Yara (Olivia Luccardi: Orange is the New Black, 2014; Girls, 2013) says it best when she comments to Jay’s sister, Kelly (Lili Sepe: Lizzie McGuire, 2002), “Your sister is so pretty, it’s annoying.” Jay’s serenity is briefly interrupted by the little boys next door, who routinely spy on her, but she is unruffled and regards them with light amusement. Kelly invites Jay to join their mutual friends, Yara and Paul (Keir Gilchrist: United States of Tara, 2009-2011; Dead Silence, 2007) in watching a movie, but Jay declines saying she has a date that night.
Hugh (Jake Weary: Zombeavers, 2014; Chicago Fire, 2014) seems nice enough, and he appears to be sincerely surprised when he notices an unwelcome visitor in the back of the theater where he and Jay are having their date. However, the viewer knows that conflict will soon arise, and here the tension builds. Soon Jay and Hugh are seen behind the steamed up windows of a car. Jay, lying prone in the back seat of the car, muses a bit about growing up, establishing one of the film’s themes, and her vulnerability here makes it obvious that the tranquil mood will quickly change. Sure enough, Jay soon finds herself gagged and bound to a wheelchair where she is introduced to the “it” referenced in the title, an entity that will pursue her relentlessly until she takes certain steps to rid herself of it.
This entity manifests in a number of ways, and many of these will meet the approval of Horror fans — especially those who prefer the Supernatural sub-genre. Although Mitchell could have taken the traditional route of having the protagonist explore the origin of the malevolent spirit in order to put it to rest or discover a means of destroying it, he instead acknowledges the urgency of the situation, foregoing a cliched research montage for more a more realistic narrative. One of the film’s greatest strengths is the sense that Jay really has no way out of this predicament, and that, ironically, the further she travels from everything and everyone she knows and loves, the safer she is. The more exposed she is in the great wide world, the less likely “it” will be able to harm her. However, the security of her suburban middle class home, her sister, her childhood friends, the boy next door who loves her (Paul), the boy next door who doesn’t (Greg Hannigan, played by Daniel Zovatto: Beneath, 2013) are seductive in more ways than one. Simply fleeing is not an option, so the suspense is maintained through the entirety of the film.
With its throwback musical score and anachronistic cars and television sets interspersed with contemporary gadgets like cellphones and e-readers, It Follows has a timeless quality, emphasizing the universality of the fears and themes that the film addresses. Simple scenes where the friends have a few beers on the Height girls’ dilapidated front porch remind the viewer of those endless summer nights of the late teens/early twenties, where groups of friends establish routines that feel safe and familiar. Jay lives in a suburb just outside of a decaying Detroit, and the sets, from Greg’s lakefront beach house to the largely abandoned city proper, are sumptuous and surreal. Another strength is that, in spite of Mitchell’s taking inspiration from the Horror films of the ‘80s, It Follows handles its subject matter with a sensitivity and awareness rarely seen in the films of that decade. Jay’s desirability is immediately made a focal point, and it would have been easy for It Follows to become just another Horror film that punishes its female characters for daring to enjoy sex. However, it avoids falling into that trap. The characters here are far more sympathetic than the shrill, busty, scantily clad victims of yore and, more importantly, “it” does not seem to prefer one gender over another. While some of the metaphors are a bit heavy-handed, and some of the camera work might make those with more sensitive constitutions a bit seasick, It Follows is engrossing, fun, and creepy. CrypticRock gives this film 4.5 out of 5 stars.