By Jacob Wampfler
Late on a Tuesday evening, after a long day of work and meetings, my brain needed a place to unwind. My brain is admittedly strange…so the unwinding took place at the local dollar theater amidst the viewing of a warm, fuzzy little horror flick called It Follows. Okay, it wasn’t warm or fuzzy, but it was most definitely a horror film of the rarest breed. As the lights dimmed, I prepped myself to be bombarded with a slew of previews for upcoming gore fests and slasher films. Instead, the feature film began, quite literally, without warning. As the tense John Carpenter-esque score started to fill the theater, an equally tense and shocking viewing experience began – one that ultimately left me looking over my shoulder as I walked out of the building that evening.
It Follows rewards viewers, most of all, who enter the film with little to no knowledge of what they are actually about to see. The premise, quite ridiculous at first glance, is executed masterfully in what the director (David Robert Mitchell) chooses to actually show the audience on-screen. An exercise in impressive restraint on the part of the filmmaker creates an experience for the viewer where any character in the film is suspect and capable of unspeakable horror.
The plot is fairly simple. What begins as a teenage romance for Jay, the main character, quickly turns into a nightmare. After a seemingly harmless sexual encounter with her new boyfriend, she is knocked out and restrained in a wheelchair. Upon regaining consciousness, she is told by her captor that something has been passed on to her…an entity that will follow her until she passes “it” on to someone else by having sex with them. That which follows her can take any form, grotesque or normal; family, friend, or stranger. But it WILL follow her until it either kills her or is passed on to another.
As alluded to above, this plot device creates an atmosphere in which the viewer is always on edge. A spinning 720 degree shot in the hallway of a high school leaves one unsure of whether or not they saw “it” pursuing Jay or just listless teenagers roaming the hallways of the school and campus grounds outside. Other scenes stoke sheer terror as the audience can see what the characters on-screen cannot. It Follows uses smart suspense, but also moments of breathtaking and gripping fear.
Set against the backdrop of crumbling and decrepit areas of Detroit, It Follows also has much to say about themes not necessarily native to the horror genre. Adolescent sexuality, family ties, friendship, and socio-economic status are all examined with surprising relevance – not solely with weighty dialogue, but with character development and interactions that do not expect the viewer to suspend disbelief. This is a horror film with more than just a tinge of the supernatural…yet It Follows nonetheless creates a sense of reality that is difficult to shake.
I am, by no means, a typical horror film junkie. Many of the genre classics have never been streamed through my television. I certainly haven’t viewed them in dark, half-filled theaters where the aesthetic almost coaxes one into a state of terror before the film ever begins. However, films such as House of the Devil, The Conjuring, Insidious, V/H/S 1 & 2, You’re Next, and Kill List, to name a few, have created a growing sense of interest and fandom in the genre, at least for me. It Follows is a good scary indie horror flick in the heart of this genre resurgence. And, it is a film with cinematography and direction that create an experience that is almost a little TOO realistic. It Follows will cause you to squirm, look over your shoulder, and make you want to scream…but isn’t that what the best horror films are supposed to do?