Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, April 3, 2015

It will follow you

The Critic's Corner

David Laprad

Certain horror films change our thinking. After viewing “Jaws,” many people were afraid to swim in the ocean. “Poltergeist” made television static scary. Even something as simple as lying in bed in the dark stirred primal fears after seeing “The Exorcist.” These movies stayed with us long after we saw them. They followed us to the beach, to our living rooms, and into our beds. There was no escaping them.

In the same manner, “It Follows,” a new horror film from writer and director David Rovert Mitchell, won’t leave you alone. While waiting in line at a drive-through after seeing it last night, I saw a person walking across the street in my general direction, and my mind jumped back to the film. While sleeping, I dreamed of being relentlessly pursued. This morning, while eating breakfast at Whole Foods, a person walking slowly toward the door looked creepy to me.

I literally haven’t stopped thinking about “It Follows” since I saw it. It must have slit my wrists, wormed its way under my skin, and then made its way to my brain, where it still resides.

Mitchell accomplished this without the benefit of costly special effects, a grotesque monster, or much of a budget. His film moves slowly, it doesn’t try to make you jump at loud noises, and there’s only one shot of explicit gore. Essentially, Mitchell is scaring the bejeebers out of audiences without doing any of the things today’s horror films are supposed to do. “It Follows” is a re-education about what’s truly scary.

The movie follows Jay, a teenage girl who has sex with a guy she likes but barely knows, and as a result, becomes the target of an entity that will kill her if it catches her. While she can run from it, it will eventually catch up to her. It can appear in any human form, including a stranger or a loved one, and although it never moves faster than a walk, it’s relentless in its pursuit.

The only way to escape it is to pass it on to someone else by having sex with them. As long as that person is alive, it will pursue them, but if it kills them, you become its target again.

To make things even more complicated, no one can see it but you and the others on its ghoulish list, which makes it hard for Jay to convince her friends she’s not bonkers but is really seeing something. Finally, it’s either impossible, or very hard, to kill.

It’s a simple premise, but wow, does Mitchell ever pull a truly scary movie out of it.

A lot of that has to do with the way Mitchell filmed “It Follows.” He shot much of the movie wide to allow viewers to see the space around Jay, and used long, steady shots to give people time to peer wide-eyed at every square inch of the screen. I spent a lot of the movie looking at the edges of the frame, or into the woods behind Jay, or into the dark spaces Mitchell cleverly backs Jay into, to try to spot the entity.

While Mitchell doesn’t get fancy with the camerawork, he does get creative. There’s a masterfully choreographed and filmed scene at a high school where he pans the camera 360 degrees three times, and each time he makes another pass, he shows where Jay and her friends are, and where the entity is. Of course, the thing is getting closer and closer to Jay while she browses a yearbook, unaware death is looming.

I also love the way Mitchell uses sound to generate tension. There’s a brilliant scene in a hospital I imagine might give you a goose bump or two the next time you hear footsteps echoing down a hall.

Mitchell does more than use his camera intelligently; he also establishes a world that’s slightly off kilter. For example, parents are curiously absent from the movie, with the exception of a few choice shots I won’t give away. Perhaps Mitchell wanted to remove the main source of a young person’s protection to make Jay and her friends more vulnerable. Or maybe he wanted to suggest the lack of authority in a young person’s life can have devastating consequences.

The kids also seem to live in a town that’s largely run down, with rows and rows of abandoned and dilapidated houses and buildings. There are a lot of different ways to look at this, but in the least, it creates an aesthetic of hopelessness and doom.

I could use a lot of superlatives to describe “It Follows.” It’s gripping, chilling, and unnerving. At a time when many horror movies are riddled with clichés, it’s clever and inventive. It’s also intelligently conceived and thematically smart. But it’s not perfect.

One scene near the end nearly unraveled the whole film for me. It should have been obvious to Jay and her friends that the thing could not be killed. But they set up a trap anyway, and cheesiness ensues. I assume Mitchell wanted to create tension and excitement, but it doesn’t work.

The brief scenes that follow, however, work wonderfully, and end “It Follows” in the only way it could end.

I’ve read a few reviews that suggest the entity in “It Follows” is a metaphor for sexually transmitted diseases, making the movie a cautionary tale against unsafe or promiscuous behavior. But I don’t think so. I believe Mitchell uses sex to tag the victims for death because of its potentially life-changing effects. To me, “It Follows” is about how the mistakes we make when we’re young, and not ready to make big choices, can affect the rest of our life, sometimes in devastating ways. “It Follows” is a cautionary tale, but it’s not specifically about sex.

If you love original horror, I recommend seeing “It Follows” while it’s in theaters. I’m sure it will translate well to home video, but the expansive shots and sound work make it a worthwhile theatrical experience. Just know it will stay with you. It will follow you whenever you go.

Three and a half stars out of four. Rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content, including graphic nudity, and language. David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at dlaprad@hamiltoncountyherald.com.