Detroit college student Jay (Maika Monroe) is dating handsome brooder Hugh (Jake Weary). After they decide to go all the way in Hugh’s car, Hugh informs her that the act passed on a curse to her: a supernatural entity will stalk her until she passes the curse on to somebody else. The entity can appear as anyone, is invisible to everyone else, and only ever walks in a slow, steady gait toward its victim. Jay must either find a way to stop the curse or pass it off to another person…but the longer she waits, the closer the entity gets to her.
Disturbing in its simplicity, It Follows is a multi-layered horror film that is as insidious as it is terrifying. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell has constructed a film around a simple metaphor spun into ever-increasing circles. It’s a commentary on the tropes of horror films, while also being a brilliant example of horror done right.
The setting of the film is intentionally vague. While it’s clear where the story takes place, the when is never established, and it’s almost impossible to pin it down thanks to the liberal anachronisms. All the television sets have rabbit ears, most of the cars are vintage, and nobody owns a cell phone except for a poor, doomed girl in the prologue. However, Jay’s refrigerator is sleek and modern, her friend has an e-reader more advanced than the ones currently available, and Jay herself enjoys what appears to be a frappuccino in one scene.
And that girl in the prologue? She doesn’t seem to be connected to the main story at all, aside from the fact that like Jay, she spends most of her time on screen running from “It.” It’s never made clear where she fits in the chain of victims or in relation to Hugh and Jay. The whole effect makes the film seem like an urban legend, something that could have happened to someone who knows someone you know. It’s timeless and timely at the same time, giving the film an unsettling and disorienting sense of reality.
Adding to that disorientation is the score by musical project Disasterpeace, so prevalent and vital to the film that it might as well be a lead character. It’s the harsh, precise, sometimes headache-inducing analog drama of Thomas Bangalter’s score to Irreversible as re-orchestrated by John Carpenter. Even the synth sounds in the score evoke a kind of timeless quality. They could have been made on an instrument from the 70s or 80s…or even just one meant to emulate that very specific kind of sound.
Then there’s the “curse.” Mitchell wisely never explains the curse’s origin or identifies precisely what “It” is. While it’s tempting to simply label the curse as a metaphor for STDs, it’s something far more than that. In some ways, it’s an extension of the slasher film trope of teens and young adults being punished for having sex, but there’s no masked killer waiting to cut up the bad boys and girls. “It” finds power in its slow, methodical progression and not in brute force. Much like the world and our sense of community can seem completely different after having sex, victims of the curse find themselves constantly second-guessing their surroundings. “It” can appear as anybody, even a loved one, and the victim is forced to re-evaluate their trust.
Maika Monroe does a fantastic job with Jay in this regard. She plays Jay as someone realistically traumatized, not so much a rape victim as someone dealing with severe PTSD. For a good portion of the film, it’s conceivable that Jay is imagining all of this, the specter of guilt and remorse magnified into a literal bogeyman. She isn’t merely a scream queen, although she’s fantastic at that all the same. Jay is so front and center that the supporting cast seems almost superfluous at times, and it makes it hard to care about anyone but Jay at all.
Then again, that might be the whole point. By singularly focusing on one person, we are drawn into that person’s drama. It becomes almost impossible not to identify with Jay as the movie goes on. We’ve all done something (or somebody) we regret, and we’re always afraid the repercussions of that regret are going to pay a visit when we least expect it. The tension builds slowly but palpably, and the viewer, like Jay, can’t help but look for “It” in every scene (a couple of 360-degree pans turn into literal mind-screws).
If the film has any faults, it’s that it can sometimes be too subtle and too low-key, and too many scenes in the final act end on the same ambiguous note. As frustrating as that is, it’s also the most logical way for the film to progress. Regrets, like our sexual histories, can’t be wiped away or erased with one simple act. They follow us forever, and they don’t feel…they don’t reason…and they don’t run…
FBOTU Score: 8 out of 10 / A-