The independent horror film renaissance is alive and well, this time bringing the atmospheric It Follows to theaters. A definite product of yesteryear influences, It Follows eschews jump cuts and cheap scares, giving us instead a disturbing dread and dreamlike terror. Director David Robert Mitchell crafts a minimalist horror film with maximum suspense, if not sustainability. He breaks down the old horror film convention of having sex at your own peril, transforming it into a creeping, following thing.
This creeping thing descends on Jay (Maika Monroe), a girl surrounded by a timeless Detroit suburb. A few dates with a decent enough guy leads to the aforementioned horror movie no-no, a short and sweet coupling in the back of his car. However, the afterglow is cut short as she is drugged and bound to a wheelchair. After awakening, Jay is told that a monster is now stalking her, and the only way to rid herself of it is to have sex with someone else. This monster is slow and ambling, but always walking. It can take different forms, and only she (and those in this line of sexual congress) can see it.
Suspense and paranoia ensue as she is followed by the creeping thing in various forms. Mitchell does a fine job of sweeping cameras and whirling visuals to keep our eyes on the background, trying to pick out potential terrors. The relentless nature of this monster leads Jay to constant movement, as that is the only respite from the creeping thing. And she never truly knows if she’s seeing someone real or her pursuer.
It Follows is cleverly spare in its onscreen gore, and has only one discernible scene of effects not captured in camera. This is a refreshing pattern seen in the genre lately, as we get away from the churned out slick ilk of studio disappointments. A synth score that is alternately spry and pounding jars the viewer at the right time, one of the many callbacks to horror forefathers. Another connection is how the kids (as much as a 19 year old can be called one) interact with one another onscreen. Jay and her friends in the film are written not as knowing, sarcastic teens that treat sex as something to LOL at as they out-snark each other, but as actual unknowing innocents that revel in their first beer and peek at a nudie mag. These might be intentional nostalgic choices, but so what? Portraying the teens this way makes the loss of that innocence to the creeping thing much more visceral, which packs a bigger punch for the viewer.
And just what does the creeping thing in It Follows represent? Sexually transmitted disease? The onset of a pervasive social media mindset? Certainly everyone seems to want to speculate, much to Mitchell’s probable delight. In the end, It Follows puts you in a place that doesn’t scare in the sense with which we’ve become accustom. Instead it’s the creeping thing that lingers, dreadfully shuffling its feet toward the viewer.