It Follows, written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, is an homage to the slasher genre, to late ’70s and early ’80s entries in particular. Everything about it is evocative of the era some may consider then genre’s heyday, thanks to pictures like John Carpenter’s Halloween and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street. While a central group of teenagers, a central heroin and an unstoppable adversary have all become staples of the slasher picture, it’s the eerie synth-driven score (by Disasterpeace) and the film’s slow, tense and decisive tempo that harken back to the classic slasher flicks of old and help It Follows really set itself apart. It isn’t just a lovingly crafted film that harkens back to early days of the genre, though: it’s a tense and clever horror film you should definitely watch.
It Follows open with a gorgeous opening shot, a one-take that shows us a distressed girl running from something we can’t see. It’s a moment that plunges you straight into the movie’s world and mystery, and the conclusion of its opening is something you carry with you throughout the rest of the film. It really makes sure you’re invested in what happens to our next leading lady: Maika Monroe’s Jay, a teenage girl who’s dating and, unknowingly, gets herself in trouble. Which is another reason why It Follows works: Jay isn’t a dumb girl who takes risks and doesn’t think about her actions. She’s quite a sweet and responsible character actually, an ordinary teenager who’s in love, and what ends up haunting her isn’t her fault at all. This makes it incredibly easy to sympathize with Jay and her predicament, and even makes you understand her and her friends’ decisions when they’re presented with terrible dilemmas.
And this makes It Follows a very different beast from its inspirations: the nature of the film’s evil is that you can’t fight it. The only thing you can do to get rid of it, is to pass it on to someone else. Self-preservation here doesn’t mean fighting off a terrible villain like Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers and staying a step ahead; it means getting your hands dirty. It’s this aspect of the film that makes it truly horrifying most of the time, because the actual scenes with the movie’s prime evil are effective but scarce. Those are mostly there to be a catalyst, to put pressure on It Follows‘ main characters and to have them do things they’d rather not do. Because of it, David Robert Mitchell’s picture is a slasher film unlike any other one: it’s one that’s relatively light on gore and works very well as a psychological horror film.
What holds It Follows back somewhat is its lack of surprises: the fact that it’s a homage and inherently uses many genre tropes, means that it’s also a predictable film. It’s not as big a flaw as it could have been, because It Follows also uses this aspect to its advantage: the question is not what will happen but when it will happen, and it’s this waiting game that’s incredibly unsettling. The immaculate cinematography and threatening retro score all help to create a scary mood and an atmosphere of dread, and it’s this achievement that makes It Follows so powerful.
It Follows is an outstanding horror movie: a solidly directed flick with well-rounded characters, likeable actors, an intriguing premise, but most of all a very creepy atmosphere and a reliance on smart writing. 8/10