Teenage Fear: “It Follows” Review

David Robert Mitchell’s “It Follows” is a horror film that is both modern while simultaneously paying subtle homage to the horror films that paved the way for it; the main cast is comprised of a group of older teenagers, who, driven by the same sex culture which drove their predecessors to death in other horror films, must use it to battle the creature which stalks them. The homages come in the form of Mitchell’s use of a wide-angle lens and synthesizer, recalling Carpenter’s own technique in his 1978 film “Halloween.” The result is a film that is smartly directed as well as successful in its execution of suspense and fear—a contemporary rarity amongst horror films.

“It Follows” begins with a young girl explosively running out into her front yard while dodging around something the audience can’t see. Her father watches on in confusion as to what’s going on and can’t get an answer from her. After a few more moments of juking, the girl takes off in her car before settling down on the beach—nighttime has fallen and she makes a phone call to her parents telling them how much she loves them and apologizing for any actions which have hurt them. The camera then cuts away to daytime—the same girl now lies in the same spot horribly mangled, her left leg detached from her body and her right leg bent at a ninety-degree angle.

From here, we are introduced to “It Follows’” main protagonist, Jay Height (Maika Monroe). Jay lives in an idyllic suburb; her friends and sister Paul (Keir Gilchrist), Yara (Olivia Luccardi), and Kelly (Lili Sepe) spend their days watching B-movie science-fiction films on television or otherwise playing cards on the front porch while drinking beer—Jay herself spends her time lazily floating in the backyard pool.

The plot begins to move forward when Jay goes on a date with Hugh and finally decides to have sex with him. There’s a post-coital surprise for Jay when Hugh drugs her unconscious and Jay wakes up to find herself tied into a chair. Hugh fervently explains that he’s passed “it” onto her and now she’ll be followed: “It slow but not dumb,” he tells her, as they watch the nude woman down below trudge towards them. After being set free, Jay is stalked for the next few days by various figures (the “It” has the ability to take on different human appearances) whom only she can see. Desperate to save Jay, who they believe might be suffering trauma from her date with Hugh, her friends and neighbor Greg (Daniel Zovatto) decide to help Jay escape and begin a search for answers, all the while in a constant paranoia and fear over “It,” who is never too far behind.

At first glance, the beginning of “It Follows” is slow and raises a few questions as to what exactly is going on but the patient viewer, as well as the more experienced cinephile will find more than plenty to dissect in Mitchell’s opening images, as well as camera technique. By this I first refer to the use of the suburb as the setting and the use of the wide-angle lens to capture the backdrop. In the earlier introduction I already brought up the comparison to Carpenter’s “Halloween.” In “Halloween,” Carpenter inverts the cultural connotation of the suburbs—that is, the ideology that the suburbs act as a haven, especially from cities—by turning Haddonfield into a pseudo-prison where its citizens are stalked and murdered by Michael Myers.

To that extent, Carpenter’s own use of the wide-angle lens functions as more than just one for preference but turns Myers into an invisible force, whose ability to evaporate and reappear on the edges of the screen allow him to become a figure of terror only possible through the power of cinema. Mitchell’s use of the wide-angle lens in “It Follows” does more than just mimic Carpenter’s however; the use of the wide-angle lens in “It Follows” is also used to create narratives where they otherwise wouldn’t exist.

For example, a panning shot of Jay’s mother’s bedroom reveals an alcohol bottle on her night stand, hinting at her alcoholism, whereas a panning shot around the entryway stops to briefly focus on a family photo, where the audience gets to see Jay’s father who is either dead or separated from the family. Mitchell’s use of the suburbs within the context of the film—straight, privileged white teenagers are killed by a creature that they are not only complicit in creating but stalks them in human appearances that are most closest to them—not only turns the setting for “It Follows” into a prison but also creates an internal prison within the characters who are stalked by “It,” forced to constantly face demons from the past.

In connecting the setting of the suburbs to the creature, Mitchel goes one step further: later on in the film, Jay and her friends have a discussion about Detroit’s 8-mile neighborhood. One of the characters reveal that her parents warn her from ever going south of their current hometown due to leading into 8 mile and that she was once banned from going to a festival because it bordered the 8 mile territory; within the context of the conversation—the group is walking within the 8 mile vicinity—the subject of 8 mile has a place, yet when placed against the rest of the film, it appears seemingly out of place. Yet this is untrue.

The fear of 8 mile stems from the suburban ideological view spoken about earlier. Throughout the film however, the threat never comes from 8 mile but within the idyllic suburbs themselves. Here,  Mitchell is doing more than just inverting the idea of the American suburbs as a safe haven but holding up a mirror to its citizens in the form of “It.” By taking on different appearances, the film’s characters are forced to face themselves turning “It Follows” into a film that is more focused on the internal rather than external, thus making the suburbs less than ideal. The idea here is that the safe fantasy the characters live in is shattered by “It,” and with “It” behind their trail, they are forced to take retribution-like punishment for their actions.

“It Follows’” score is composed by Disasterpiece and the score is noteworthy for its heavy use of synthesizers. Disasterpiece’s various use of instrumentation is used to add a sense of terror in the same manner that “Halloween’s” iconic theme did nearly three decades ago but also serves to add an element of blissful dreaminess to the film. This latter aspect is most exemplified in Jay’s preparation for her date with Hugh where Disasterpiece uses chiptunes to imitate a synthesizer-like sound: Mitchell films the scene from behind and the audience is only able to see Jay’s front from the mirror’s view. Special attention must also be paid towards the lighting of the scene which comes from a red lamp situated on her table. The cinematic elements all come together to form the image of Jay, her blonde hair cascading down her shoulders, her face and body doused in red light which brings attention to her porcelain skin, all the while a soft forlorn tune plays. In essence, Jay here seems like a character on her way to not just any prom but to the very same prom from Brian De Palma’s 1976 “Carrie,” and  it is also at this prom that Jay will find herself laughing at the blood-spattered Carrie and being punished by a different creature altogether but nonetheless facing a form of consequence.

“It Follows” is a film that doesn’t play all its cards on the table but rather creates a dialogue between the audience and the image onscreen. While the film is not without its faults—there are logical fallacies in the creatures behavior—these faults in no way bring the film down in either discussion or enjoyment, although it does help to be more consistent. The actors bring a rare charm together, one which the likes of Bresson strived to achieve for—and succeeded—in his use of amateur actors. Mitchell cleverly uses both narrative and camera technique to create something fresh while acknowledging what’s come before resulting in a horror film that deserves to be a modern example for what its contemporaries should aim for.

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