(Review) It Follows

I am torn between liking this indie horror movie and disliking it. I was thrilled when a friend suggested we go check out It Follows last night and, since horror has been slim at the cinema lately, I jumped at the chance. After all, this movie looked promising.

I’d only watched the trailer once. That seemed enough for me since I wanted to be surprised when I experienced the film being hailed as “the best horror movie in years” for the first time. Indeed, the Rotten Tomatoes rating was 95% fresh – almost unheard of for a horror film.

And so, we took our seats and waited anxiously for the film to start.

At last, it did, with an incredible opening scene. The movie started off with a single shot that stretched for about a minute or two. A teenage girl rushes out of her family’s Michigan home in heels, coming to a stop in the middle of the road as onlookers ask her if she needs help. It is clear that she does, but she just continues to run away from something we can’t see…yet. It was so beautifully shot that it reminded me of old 1970’s horror films.  Writer/director David Robert Mitchell is clearly using techniques that Spielberg and Hitchcock used to great effect. All the colors are muted, and everything thoughtfully framed. The act of not seeing what is following this terrified teenage girl gave me the chills, and my mind filled in the blanks, leaving me on the edge of my seat until the first victim is found brutally (and I do mean brutally) murdered on a beach.

About a third through the film we finally see what will follow our main heroine, Jay (Maika Monroe), for the duration of the movie as she realizes that an evil entity – the same one that killed the girl on the beach – has been passed on to her through a sexual encounter. This encounter punched me in the gut because the lead-up is very effective. Jay really likes this hunky guy, the effective Jake Weary as Hugh, and soon they go out for a movie. They seem connected after a few minutes, but it’s then that things take a turn for the worst and Hugh sees a girl who isn’t there – the girl in the yellow dress. From there Hugh urges Jay to leave with him and they go to a remote part of Detroit that acts as lover’s lane.

The sex is tame in this film. None of our central characters are ever shown nude. These scenes are all about emotion. Jay is thrilled to be intimate with a boy she’s attracted to, while Hugh is pawning the evil off on the unsuspecting girl. It is even more cringe-worthy since after the act, Jay talks about how she always dreamed of going out with a guy like this. Little does she know that her life is about to become a nightmare.

Soon Jay is tied in a chair and her initiation to the evil being or beings, depending on how you look at it, begins. This evil can look like anyone: an old woman, a towering man, even your own sister. The way to spot the person is their blank expression, usually white garb, and the slow, methodical way they walk a beeline for Jay.

This film had some bone-chilling moments. One in particular involving the towering man had me jumping, my heart racing, urging the characters to flee.

But, these scary moments begin to wear out at the halfway mark. There is no ramp-up of tension. There is no heightening of the stakes. Everything remains on the same level throughout, and the film feels half-baked because of it. It was around this halfway mark where I started to question all the rave reviews. Had these critics actually watched the entire film? Yes, I will agree, that the first half of the movie is practically ground-breaking in horror cinema. It felt like a return to the roots that the genre so desperately needed.

However, after the third time seeing Jay run from her house (why would you stay there in such a labyrinthine layout when you can be so easily cornered by the thing that’s following you?) only to see her sit on the swing set at the local park one more time, you begin to beg for something to happen. Anything. Instead, we continue to watch the characters simply run from location to location, and the audience begins to wait once more for that obvious shot of Jay with a blurred person walking slowly towards her from behind.

Another gripe I had with this film is the characters’ stupidity. Even after the obligatory group discussion scene where Hugh comes clean and reveals the truth about the entity that is destined to follow Jay until she has sex with another man and passes the curse along, the rest of the characters continue to make comments of disbelief. I mean, what? This guy is telling you the truth, and we are well into this movie by now. There’s even a special effect shot where we see Jay’s hair being pulled up into the air by an invisible fist, and the other characters stupidly yell things like, “Jay, are you alright? What’s happening? What’s the matter?”

Um, guys, get a clue. The invisible entity is attacking me! Help!

The only one who has a clue is Jay’s childhood friend, Paul, played by Keir Gilchrist. He is the only one who takes the matter seriously, but he never steps up and takes charge. He simply follows the herd as they run from place to place.

It’s at this point that you expect the characters to come to terms with what is happening and begin planning a way to combat the evil force.

Instead, there is more wandering around the crumbling city, shots of characters sleeping in all manner of settings, and more doe-eyed stares from Paul who is pining openly over Jay. If only she would put the poor boy out of his misery, she might be able to get out of this predicament quicker.

In the end, the ending wasn’t very fulfilling. It just sort of happened, and that’s the state of horror in cinema now I would say. How can you climax such a simple premise? I just expected more. If you’re desperate to see something new that may creep you out, go for it. But, lower your expectations and you might enjoy this film more.

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