March 13, 2015
David Robert Mitchell
David Robert Mitchell
Maika Monroe as Jay
Keir Gilchrist as Paul
Lili Sepe as Kelly
Much like the instant classic Napoleon Dynamite, It Follows (also now an instant classic) takes place in an unspecified section of time. There are modern conveniences (internet, cell phones), so you know it’s current, but everything else is straight out of our beloved 1980s. Being a very passionate lover of all things 80s, I embraced It Follows right from the get-go – and “It” warmly returned the hug – smelling heavily of a half empty pouch of Big League Chew and a Strawberry Shortcake doll.
The synthesizer-heavy score quickly cements that 80s nostalgia – with a more than passing homage to the musical works of John Carpenter. And the suburban areas of Detroit (where the film takes place) seem to have lost their way in time – from the cars in the driveways, to the lamps on the bedside tables and the afghans spread wide on the out-of-fashion sofas.
This wants to be a great 80s horror flick. And despite the fact that is was made in the second decade of the 21st century – it is.
And this could not make me happier.
I was a little apprehensive when we reached the screening room. There’s been a great deal of hype over this picture, and I’m battling a cold – leaving my lung capacity at a scant 10% (that may be an exaggeration), which means that if this were to be as frightening an experience as I have been led to believe, I may have been looking at a quick visit to the ER – during or after the screening.
Well, here I am. “It” didn’t kill me, but don’t let that shortcoming fool you. This is one heckuva scary ride which succeeds on nearly every level.
Jay (the stunningly good Maika Monroe) lives in the suburbs with her mother, her younger sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and two childhood friends, Yara and Paul (Olivia Luccardi and Keir Gilchrist) who apparently have no where else to be. One night, she leaves behind her sister and her buddies and goes out on a date with a local hunk. It’s not their first date, and he’s now pressuring her to have sex. They finally do, and within minutes of the film’s start-up, you’re thrown into this messed-up, confusing and uncertain new world. It Follows refers to something which can only be gotten rid of, by having sex with another person. “It” is then transferred to that generally unwilling participant and they must then carry the burden. What burden? What is “It”? What happens if “It” gets you? The grisly opening sequence gives us some idea.
This film borrows from many classics of the genre (Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street), but most notably it reached the same fever-pitch of paranoia as Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. There wasn’t a moment in the picture where you didn’t feel unsteady, uneasy or unsure. Every passing person in a hallway, on the street or outside your bedroom door – well, they (it) could be followingyou. Question is – to what end? Eek! And the afore-mentioned score (by Rich Vreeland) makes it impossible to relax – even for a moment.
But one of my favorite things about this film, was the fact that Jay’s friends and her sister, basically never questioned her sanity. They would seemingly follow her to hell and back (and they really do) without question and without the worry of their own safety. It was real and heartwarming. That’s what makes horror films click, folks! We need to believe and we need to care and we need to love before we can get into any supernatural, unbelievable or horrific wackiness. And all of these well-drawn characters (and across-the-board terrific performances) make it so easy. And that means the descent into terror is tangible and wonderful. Horror screenwriters, take note!
There are many effective and subtle touches to this picture. Nothing is spoon-fed, but if you have a keen eye for photographs and characters you meet only briefly, you’ll discover several very heavy details about Jay’s family. And these throw-away hints are a triumph and a breath of fresh air where nothing is explained.
The film also captures some of my own childhood memories (and possibly yours), specifically the brief discussion between Jay and Paul (Gilchrist) about a valuable pubescent kid find – a stack of nudie magazines. The spell of this exchange is then broken by the scariest moment in the film.
We never get an explanation of what “It” is. And with many horror films, we must have that release, that Scooby-Doo reveal. Not the case here. And any attempted definition of “It” would just end up disappointing. The choice to leave it open was a good one.
One more inspired moment on loan from another horror classic deserves a shout-out. Yara is always on her Kindle-type device, reading silently or reading aloud to her friends – very reminiscent of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Pam (Teri McMinn) reading horoscopes to her fellow van passengers.
“There are moments when we cannot believe that what is happening is really true. Pinch yourself and you may find out that it is.”
That quote from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is certainly appropriate here.
Clearly Pam’s readings are symbolic and prophetic – even though they come from some trashy gas station magazine. Yara’s passages are also symbolic, however, they will require a second viewing to fully recognize and understand – perhaps better appreciated in hindsight. Sign me up!
The only fault I can find is that the running time could benefit from a bit of a trim. There were several moments where I believed the inevitable showdown was about to begin, only to have it fizzle and continue on to another scene. But the fact that we were able to spend that extra time with Jay and her friends – I guess that’s okay too.
It Follows did well on the festival circuit (including a prestigious nomination for “Critic’s Week Grand Prize” at Cannes) and is released by Radius March 13th. Don’t miss it. If you do, I’ll follow you around, reading my review aloud, over and over, until you plop down your hard-earned cash money and buy a ticket. Is that what you want?