“It Follows,” the latest acclaimed feature in the independent horror resurgence, is a specific kind of horror film; it is much more disturbing than it is frightening. The cinematography, music and character arcs all play into a sense of an overbearing anxiety that I have not seen in a while. It is scary, don’t get me wrong, but in such a way that made my skin crawl more than it made me jump. Like the best Italian horror movies, “It Follows” contains a plethora of horrific imagery and otherworldly atmosphere. Unfortunately, it becomes much too reliant on these aspects, and like every Italian horror movie, nearly slips into self-parody.
Maika Monroe plays Jay, a typical teenage girl in middle-class Michigan. One night she goes on a seemingly normal date with a regular guy, with whom she has regular awkward teenage sex with. Then the boy reveals he has cursed her: Jay is now stalked by a shape-shifting demon that only she can see, a silent entity that slowly walks towards her, following her wherever she goes. The only way to rid herself of the curse is to have sex with someone else, and hope that the demon does not kill anyone who has seen it. Jay has plenty of suitors, but she is hesitant until the demon begins finding and following her everywhere, and she starts running out of places to hide.
There is a lot of sex in “It Follows,” and none of it is pleasant to watch or think about. The film’s conflict is at times a metaphor for the gross terrain of teen sexuality, and at times one for sexual assault and trauma. Director David Robert Mitchell pushes every uncomfortable button he can, and for the most part, makes the viewer just as helpless and confused as Jay. The sexuality of “It Follows” strips itself of any romance, intimacy or pleasure. The film starts off with no musical cues or ominous zooms to foreshadow the scares, and for a while it is never clear when the monster will show up. Mitchell also makes great use of long takes, some lasting minutes with lots of people walking in the background, any of which could be the scary thing. I often found myself paying more attention to the background than the main characters, just because I was so uneasy and did not want to be taken by surprise again.
Then about halfway through the film, things go off the rails and cheap CGI sends people flying this way and that. Once more characters become aware of the monster and its approach becomes more predictable, I was acutely aware of the thin plot and could not stop thinking about it. I instantly knew I had been taken out of the film and never found my way back in, the subtlety and atmosphere completely dissipated. What had been disturbing was now just gross, and what had been a fun, John Carpenter-style score was now a headache. I found myself wishing for Ti West’s “The House of the Devil,” a movie that takes its time setting up otherworldly atmosphere, packing each scene with tension and unease. “The House of the Devil” is so well-paced within the boundaries of its equally thin plot, that when things turn to 11, it is really, really scary.
“It Follows” creates a real danger and sense of terror almost instantly, and does so very well, trapping the viewer in its fictional environment with the stalking monster. That is until it jumps the gun and turns things to 12 too quickly. Every scare and twist becomes contrived and obvious. This is a very scary short film that is painfully stretched beyond the limits of its premise. “It Follows” works hard to strike fear into the viewer, while on the other hand showcasing a very talented filmmaker.