A masterpiece in menace — ‘It Follows’
When Jay (Maika Monroe) sleeps with her boyfriend, she wakes up to find herself tied to a wheelchair. He has something, he tells her. It follows him. Now, he’s passed it on to her. It can look like anyone -- a stranger, a loved one. Like those dreams where we seem to run in sand, it only ever walks, but it always catches up. The only way she can rid herself of it is to transmit it to someone else by sleeping with him.
This is a horror villain passed along as an STD, and that’s a coldly effective conceit in a movie that repeatedly frames its images to make the viewer feel like a Peeping Tom.
Where are Jay’s parents during all of this? It’s a little unclear -- her mother is the only one around and she’s always at the bottom of a bottle of wine. These kids -- much as teenagers in the real world -- are terrified that their worries will be laughed off by adults. As a result of circumstance and their own decisions, they are on their own, forced to face this new horror and their own trauma without a real adult connection to bolster and support them.
That’s the most important rule of “It Follows.” If the kids feel it, it’s part of how the world around them is written and filmed. When does “It Follows” even take place? Jay dresses and decorates her room as if it’s the 70s, her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) stepped out of a 90s wardrobe, and their friend Yara (Olivia Luccardi) looks like she rolled out of bed and threw something on just this morning. Yara is constantly reading from a futuristic looking Kindle and a cell phone is pulled out by another character, but outside of this, everyone’s dependent on cheap, plastic, landlines from the 80s. Cars are from the 70s, the movies they watch from the 50s or before.
There’s a difference between not taking place in any era and taking place in all of them at once. “It Follows” spans across every decade that cinematic horror has existed. The world these characters inhabit feels real, it feels consequential, but so many of the markers that anchor us in horror films are deliberately erased. It’s like watching a dream with all the fingerprints that make it yours removed. You don’t feel like you belong in it, and so you become a voyeur of all that happens.
“Scary” isn’t the operative word here. “Dread” feels more appropriate. If horror movies embody the feeling of waking up in the middle of the night and feeling like something’s in the dark there, standing just out of sight and waiting, then most horror movies are about the jump -- the moment the thing in the shadows leaps out at you.
“It Follows” is about anticipating that jump. It’s about staring into the shadows and the shadows staring back. It’s about the ebb and flow of that moment when you’re just not sure what’s there.
There’s dread, yes, but the longer you hang there doing nothing, making no decision, the more you learn to live with that dread.
We all feel those moments in our lives, when we’re faced with some kind of impending doom and procrastinate, refuse to believe, refuse to act, inventing some sort of illusion that everything’s all right until it’s too late. There’s a draw to do nothing -- no, it’s more than a draw. There’s a temptation to continue sitting in the dark and staring at the shadows. The shadows don’t jump and you don’t move; you both wait. This is horror all the more disturbing because each of us understands the impulse to settle in and pretend it’s all going to be fine. Why? Just because, we tell ourselves. It has to be.
This is the terror in “It Follows.” It burns so patiently, forcing its characters to face a shifting villain in the movie, and its audience to face what we dread in our own heads. It can be an empowering act, but for some viewers it may trigger the traumas they’ve survived.
This is a special film, a stunningly executed concept. It is among the more unpredictable, meaningful, and dangerous movies I’ve ever seen. The small, indie horror is the first masterpiece of the year.
I’ve seen countless cheap-shock movies that failed to stick with me even 10 minutes after I’d left the theater. I’m sick of them. I’ve rarely seen a movie filled with more insidious dread, and believe me, this one clings to you like a second skin for days. “It Follows” goes the title. It really, really does.
It’s rated a hard R for violence, nudity, sexuality, and language.
Gabe Valdez grew up in Chicago, went to college in Massachusetts, is a former news reporter in Floresville, Texas, and worked in politics in Oregon. He writes and directs films when he can find the time. Reviews, views, photos and more can be found at http://basilmarinerchase.wordpress.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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