People are stoked about this movie, and for good reason. It Follows achieves what few horror films these days can, which is to actually horrify its audience. More than once I found myself doing that girl-in-a-movie-theater-cliché of grabbing my friend and burrowing my head in his shoulder during the scary parts. (Hopefully that wasn't weird for him, since we're not dating.) Even if you don't like horror, if nothing else, It Follows makes for a great date movie.
Hot Young Filmmaker David Robert Mitchell wrote and directed the picture. His first feature, 2010's The Myth of the American Sleepover, tells a non-horror story about a bunch of kids coming of age in suburban Detroit. His latest effort features the same setting and a few of the same actors.
I go out of my way to learn as little as I can about a movie before watching it, so I was unaware that so many of the scenes were shot in neighborhoods near where I grew up. I realize this isn't as interesting for Montanans, but imagine if all of a sudden you're at a commercial film and you see a hysterical woman running panicked in high heels across the Higgins Avenue bridge.
Michigan has a lot to offer a budding young filmmaker on a low budget—besides the generous tax breaks in an effort to stimulate a dying economy. It's a state where affluence comes right up against miles of deserted houses enveloped by tall, dead grass. The city's streets were designed 60 years ago for five lanes of traffic and today there's nobody coming in either direction. If you call the police in Detroit late at night, there's a pretty good chance they won't come.
Mitchell's story follows a group of young adults born north of 8 Mile, where the suburbs are still dying but more slowly. All of them are somewhere between 18 and 22 or so, in college or not. They live in houses across the street from one another with parents who never seem to be home. Maika Monroe stars as Jay Height, a beautiful young girl with her whole life ahead of her, until she meets the wrong boy and everything goes south.
From the title you can intuit that something sinister is following these teens, but I hesitate to reveal much else because the way that following unfolds is a surprise that I don't want to deprive you of. Mitchell has said that he got the idea for It Follows from a series of recurring childhood nightmares, and it's just the kind of visceral terror we all reflexively respond to. Anybody can get you once or twice with a few jump scares, but to build a compelling story around a fleeting idea—that's the real accomplishment here.
The movie has something to say about beautiful girls, both their power and their doom. In her very first scene, we see Jay sunbathing in one of those above-ground pools in the backyard. She swats an ant off her arm into the water, and we see that a couple of neighbor kids have been spying on her through the fence. Could it be that every terrible thing that happens to her thereafter is punishment for drowning that ant? Just kidding. It's her sexuality that's getting her into trouble. The thing that follows these kids functions like an STD. Someone gave it to her, so presumably, she can give it to someone else. Sleeping with Jay is practically a death sentence and still the men in her life are willing to take that chance. They want her that badly.
It Follows pays homage to the horror films of the 1980s, with its put-upon women and the synth-driven soundtrack. More than that, it plays with vintage ideas of what makes a victim. Is she even being punished, or was this all just a random accident?
It Follows embodies the dreamlike, sensual hum of a foreign film and a concrete narrative indicative of American cinema—in my opinion, all the best things. It's barely April, but I'm doubtful we'll see a better horror film this year.
It Follows continues at the Carmike 12.