Written & Directed by David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Lili Sepe, Olivia Luccardi & Daniel Zovatto
It Follows may just be the best horror film of the 21st century.
Now, hardcore fans of everything blood, guts, and things that go bump in the night may say that’s faint praise considering the horror genre has been overrun with a bad case of remake and sequel-itis for well over a decade now, but I assure you, in this case, it’s anything but.
For every mediocre remake and lackluster sequel we fans are treated to each year, there are always a few independent horror films that slip through the cracks and provide their minuscule audiences with something different. Whether it be a unique atmosphere, a clever twist on an over-played horror trope, or even a performance by an actor that rises above the fray to become something truly special. In the case of David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, it accomplishes all three, and then some.
The film follows Jay (Maika Monroe), a nineteen-year-old young woman who seemingly catches the eye of every man she passes, including childhood friend Paul (Keir Gilchrist) who is constantly hanging around with Jay’s sister in the hopes that she’ll notice him. One night while out on a date, Jay sleeps with a young man. Soon after, she learns a terrifying truth. He has passed something to her that threatens her life, and in order to survive, she must pass it on as well.
- The Concept – Like many recent success stories within the genre, It Follows succeeds by taking a well-worn horror trope and turning it on its head. In this case, David Robert Mitchell takes a slow-moving stalker-like predator in the vein of Michael Myers and makes it something far more terrifying. It can have any face, it can be someone either living or dead, it can even be someone standing right next to you and, most chillingly of all, the only one who can see it is you. It moves slowly, it never runs, but no matter where you are, it’s always walking towards you. It’s psychological horror of the highest degree, and a concept that I’m truly jealous I didn’t think of first.
- The Atmosphere – Methodically-paced and favoring an off-kilter mood as opposed to embracing the music video style of most modern-day horror flicks, It Follows thrives on its unique brand of atmosphere. There aren’t major scare factory set-pieces throughout the film, or even that many abrupt scares in general. Mitchell instead embraces the film’s conceit and mirrors it in the film’s style, which I am dubbing ‘new-age John Carpenter’. You’ll understand when you see the film.
- The Score – Playing in to the film’s atmosphere is the pulsating score by Disasterpiece, the one-man musical outfit of Rich Vreeland, who is mostly known for his electronic video game scores. What he accomplishes here may be career-changing, as not since the likes of Goblin and John Carpenter himself has a horror film truly hinged on its next level atmospheric theme. Good luck getting it out of your head.
- The Performances – Maika Monroe seems to be making a name for herself in Carpenter-infused genre flicks. Just last year she starred opposite Dan Stevens in Adam Wingard’s 80s throwback The Guest which had its own phenomenal soundtrack, and now she gets her own starring role as the constantly in-fear Jay. And while the acting performances are most-often the last thing audiences are worried about when it comes to horror films, what’s so effective about the performances from Monroe, Gilchrist and the rest of the ensemble on display in It Follows is how they feel so lived-in. Now I don’t want to get carried away because the cast isn’t exactly asked to do a whole lot of stretching, but simple scenes establishing the dynamic between the friends, and specifically between Jay and Paul, go a long way in giving these characters our sympathy and emotional investment.
- It’s Not For All Horror Fans – Less of an actual complaint about the film and more of a warning to my fellow horror fans, if you’re going into this film expecting blood, gore, jump-scares galore and a typical horror villain wreaking havoc, you need to check your expectations at the door. This is a different breed of horror film entirely, one that succeeds on its atmosphere, visuals, and completely original concept. If you want a thrill-a-minute, fast-paced visceral experience, look elsewhere. But if you’re willing to experience something original with its own unique brand of fear, It Follows is a horror film you most definitely need to soak in.
When It Follows first premiered all the way back at the 2014 edition of the Cannes Film Festival, you could tell simply from the excitement of the film critics reviewing it that we horror fanatics were in for something special. But, little did I know at the time that David Robert Mitchell’s ode to the fear of the unknown would wind up being one of my favorite horror films in, dare I say, decades.
What makes It Follows such a successful horror flick isn’t simply that it’s a truly exceptional horror film, although it most certainly is that. It’s also a great film in general. It takes a unique premise, follows it to unexpected places and tells a story that truly couldn’t be told in any other medium. It also works on multiple levels, whether as an allegory for young love and our fear of our first sexual encounters, or simply as a new twist on those unseen things in the dark that scare us all without exactly knowing why.
It Follows may not just be the best horror film of the 21st century.