In case you've been ignoring American film releases since the beginning of the year, a horror film called It Follows became quite the hit among film critics when it was released last March, scoring a high 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. I finally got the chance to see it last weekend and while I can see why critics were impressed by this film, I felt that the end result was less than the sum of its parts. Read on for my complete review.
The plot of It Follows begins with teenage college student Jay (Maika Monroe) and the budding romance with her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary). Shortly after their first sexual experience with each other, Hugh tells Jay that she has received from him a curse in the form of a supernatural, shape-shifting monster that will stalk her until it kills her. Relying on her friends for help, Jay is faced with a crucial decision: Does she spread the curse to someone else by finding a new sex partner, or does she confront the monster that is following her to see if it can be stopped?
It Follows was written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, and it's clear that this guy has plenty of talent behind the camera. I found many of his shot compositions to be memorable and intriguing, and he deliberately presents his movie in a way that feels like a throwback to horror films from the late '70s and early '80s. Just for these aspects alone, I can understand why critics would be enthralled with this movie; in fact, I wish that more horror film directors understood the importance of building a specific mood to go along with their exercises in fright.
Jay (Maika Monroe) receives an unexpected lesson from Hugh (Jake Weary) about sexually transmitted curses (STCs).
Yet for all of the talent behind it, It Follows stumbles badly in its script. Even though the titular monster assumes many creepy shapes during the film (the forms it assumes when it first attacks Jay in her house are real doozies), the film does little to build the mystery and dread behind the monster. We are given the "rules" of the monster up front by Hugh--although given his description of how he received the curse, it is never explained how he figured out the rules without the monster killing him first:
- The monster determines who it will kill next based on a cursed person's sex partners. If a cursed person has sex after he/she receives the curse, the monster will change its focus to the sex partner; however, if the monster kills the sex partner, then it will resume its hunt of the previous person who had the curse.
- The monster can assume any human form, including the form of the curse person's friends and family.
- The monster can only be seen by cursed people. It is invisible to everyone else.
- The monster never runs. Like '70s slasher icon Michael Meyers, it only walks.
- If a cursed person has multiple sex partners, does this mean that the monster has to kill all of the partners before resuming the hunt of the previous cursed person, or does it only have to kill one of the partners?
- If the monster can look like a cursed person's friend or family member, shouldn't it do that all of the time to improve its chances of successfully killing its target?
- If a sexual encounter with a cursed person results in a child, would the child be cursed for life?
One of the shape-shifting monster's less intimidating forms in It Follows.
In Ringu (1998), I could understand the motive behind propagating the film's curse among a population; the curse's need for propagation to as many people as possible added to the film's horror. In It Follows, the curse transmitted through sexual activity is largely represented as a metaphor for the troublesome transition from adolescence to adulthood and the awareness of one's inescapable mortality that (sometimes) comes with it. This is an interesting topic for horror films to handle--and many have done so before--but It Follows gets so caught up in its symbolism and the notion of being a coming-of-age story that it doesn't quite succeed as a horror film.
Further hindering the film's shocks is a lingering undercurrent of meandering uncertainty throughout the film, a mood that fits in coming-of-age films but drains the tension and suspense out of creature features. (Not coincidentally, Mitchell's previous film, The Myth of the American Sleepover (2010), was a coming-of-age film.) For a horror film with a plot that revolves around sex and betrayal--a volatile combination in any genre--It Follows feels awfully passive.
It Follows is one of those films that I want to like because its impressive style, but I can't recommend it because it doesn't completely work as a horror movie. I think that Mitchell could make a great horror film with a better script, so we'll just have to wait and see what he does next. That said, I highly recommend the It Follows soundtrack by Disasterpeace, a soundtrack that captures the creepy, unsettling mood of many horror soundtracks from the '70s and '80s.