Sometimes it’s hard to avoid the hype surrounding a film. Try as you might, it’s just impossible to escape every article and social media posting about a given film. Specifically, the hype around It Follows has been everywhere, from best of the year lists, to scariest films of all-time lists. It Follows has a passionate fan base, and it clearly hit general audiences in a special way as well, so trying to stay out of the hype bubble was nearly impossible. It took me a while to finally get around to it, but It Follows, even though it’s flawed, helps cement David Robert Mitchell as one of my favorite new filmmakers.
It Follows is about an evil spirit that attaches to people via sex. We start out by meeting Jay (Maika Monroe), a twenty-something from the Metro-Detroit area. She’s young, pretty, and dating. Her current beau is Hugh (Jake Weary), who she’s quite fond of. They finally decide one night to take their relationship to the next level. Once they finish, Hugh knocks Jay out unexpectedly with chlorofome. When she wakes up, she is stuck in a chair inside an old building, and Hugh proceeds to tell her about this evil force that has been haunting him. He tells her that he had to tie her up so that she would believe him, and says the only way to get it away from her is to “pass it on” to someone else (by having sex with them, of course). This is a really unique premise, and has a lot of potential to be creepy as hell.
The best aspect of It Follows is David Robert Mitchell’s passion for finding special moments, and letting the audience live in them. He found these with his first film, Myth of the American Sleepover, one of the best hidden gems from 2010, and perfects them with It Follows. In fact, It Follows almost feels like the horror sequel to American Sleepover. Though these are completely different films – American Sleepover is a teen dramedy following the last summer of a group of friends before they leave for college – they clearly take place in the same world, both literally and thematically. Literally in that both films were made in the Detroit area, and thematically in that the characters in this film feel like some of the same people we met four years earlier, before they headed to college in American Sleepover. It’s clear that Mitchell has a specific world he likes to create in – that being middle-class suburbia – and seeing as it’s the world I’m from, I enjoy the hell out of it.
A lot of these moments that Mitchell finds are played out by the lead actor, Maiki Monroe. Monroe plays Jay, and she is wonderful. Everything that happens to her feels real. She has a clear connection with this character, and it comes through in every scene. For some, though, these moments of indulgence may come off as slow. It’s true that It Follows moves slower than the vast majority of horror films released today, but I found myself so engaged with the world of the film, and these characters, that I didn’t mind it one bit.
Another aspect I loved of It Follows is how many homages there were to John Carpenter’s masterpiece, Halloween. There are way too many to name, but horror fans will be able to point all of them out easily. These nods are so evident that I really want to watch the film again with the sole intention of finding these nods and making note of them. Many films pay homage to the movies that came before them, but so few do it with the ease and thoughtfulness that It Follows manages to find. It’s not just about watching black and white horror films on TV, but also about finding a similar atmosphere. even though it’s a completely different subgenre than the film it’s honoring (supernatural vs. slasher). I got giddy every time one of these moments popped up, and I’m sure most genre fanatics will feel the same way.
It Follows has been declared, by many, to be one of the scariest horror films of 2015 (it was released in 2014 for the festival circuit, but didn’t see a wider release until 2015, so many consider it a 2015 film, and so do we). This is one of the only aspects of the film that was a letdown for me. There were a few creepy moments, and Mitchell does his best to avoid jump scares, instead opting for an overall sense of dread to scare the audience. I admire this, but can’t say that it fully succeeded. For whatever reason – and I watched this alone in my home theatre – I just wasn’t scared watching. Was I engaged? Absolutely. Was I creeped out a few times? Sure. Was I genuinely scared? No, I wasn’t. Hell, I watched The Visit in that same home theatre, again alone, and nearly pissed myself at a few points because I was so overwhelmed. It Follows just didn’t hit me in the same way.
Even though It Follows isn’t nearly as scary as many have claimed, it more than makes up for it by its maturity and subtlety. It isn’t a typical horror film, and it won’t appeal to everyone, but it is definitely a must-see for genre fans. It’s hard to believe that this is only David Robert Mitchell’s second feature film. He’s two for two in my book, and is undoubtedly one of my favorite new filmmakers working today. If you haven’t seen his first film, do yourself a favor and seek it out. Then, once you finish that, give It Follows another viewing and try to tell me that It Follows isn’t a spiritual, horror sequel to Myth of the American Sleepover.