Film Review: It Follows (★★★½)

An evolution in the horror genre has emerged…

it follows cannes 2014 4

it_follows_ver2In order to show you all just how much I loved this movie, I’m going to start off with some incredibly high praise. It Follows is easily the best horror film since You’re Next (much better than the highly overrated The Babadook, in my humble opinion, at least), and possibly even the best since The Cabin in the Woods hit theaters. Yes, David Robert Mitchell‘s sophomore feature (after the effective debut coming of age tale The Myth of the American Sleepover) is the most artfully made fright flick in some time. I really was blown away by Mitchell’s take on the genre, as it’s unlike almost anything that’s come before it. From the striking imagery and brilliant cinematography to the addictive score, everything behind the camera is fairly perfect, so it’s a delight that the acting holds up too, particularly the lead performance from Maika Monroe. Mitchell has his young actors and actresses behave age appropriately, which is fairly revolutionary for horror these days. When the scares aren’t coming (though they’re pretty consistent, which is another rare quality in recent horror), you could easily be mistaken for thinking this is another character study/coming of age story by Mitchell. I’m a huge fan of this movie, so much so that I think it’s actually the best film of 2015 so far. It Follows is something you owe it to yourself to see if you’re a fan of horror, particularly if you bemoan the lack of high quality horror. This is only the beginning of me championing this movie. It Follows is absolutely brilliant cinema, relentless in its sense of discomfort and tension, yet utterly realistic in its depiction of youth. There’s nothing else quite like it.

The film begins with a breathtaking long shot that leads us down a quiet suburban street. Then, a teenage girl runs out of her house, clearly in terror. She’s being followed by not just the camera, it seems. Eventually, she winds up driving to a beach where she awaits…something. After seeing what happens when she’s caught the next morning, we transition to meeting our protagonist Jay (Monroe), a young women of 19 seemingly living a pretty good life. She’s close with her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and the same group of friends from childhood, mainly consisting of Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Yara (Olivia Luccardi), but also is starting to see a guy she might really like. He’s the seemingly harmless Hugh (Jake Weary), but when the have sex for the first time, he chloroforms her and she awakens in an abandoned building, strapped to a chair. There, Hugh begins to explain the horror she’s about to experience. Apparently, Hugh “caught” something from the last girl he was with, resulting in visions of someone slowly following him. Sometimes it’s someone you recognize, sometimes a stranger. Usually, they’re naked and zombified in some way. As it was explained to him, if it catches you…you die (which explains the opening scene), and the only way to get rid of it is to pass it along to someone else. From there, he drops her off with her friends and speeds off into the night. Jay indeed begins to see someone/something terrifying following her, so she enlists her friends, sister, and next door neighbor Greg (Daniel Zovatto) to protect and stay with her. They go in search of Hugh for answers, but Jay is never too far from this thing, leading to some intense scares. Jay and company hope to learn more, including how they might be able to kill this evil, but the more they suffer close calls, the less likely that possibility appears to be.

it-follows1Part of the success of It Follows is how realistic the acting is. Maika Monroe gives a potentially star making performance here, essaying a character who truly feels like a 19 year old girl. Her innocence, her terror, and her emotions all come off incredibly accurately. Monroe aces what’s much more than a scream queen type role. I was very impressed. She may be the star, in just about every single scene, but the rest of the cast is more than solid as well. Keir Gilchrist especially turned in strong work, portraying a nice guy at war with his emotions and hormones. Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe, Jake Weary, and Daniel Zovatto are playing “types” to some degree, but they often let the humanity shine in. The scenes of them all (or different groups of them) interacting could easily be from a coming of age story, as opposed to a horror film. Also in supporting roles are the likes of Ruby Harris and Debbie Williams, but Monroe is the one who impresses you the most, without question. Don’t get me wrong though…they’re all good. As you watch them interact, you’ll perhaps even forget that this is a horror movie and just get wrapped up in the character study aspect of it all. Then, of course, you see something approaching in the distance…

David Robert Mitchell established himself as a filmmaker to watch with The Myth of the American Sleepover, but It Follows cements him as a writer/director that I can’t wait to see more from. Behind the camera, he teams with cinematographer Mike Gioulakis to create one of the most visually striking horror movies I can remember. From the widescreen shots to the 360 degree pans, it’s beautiful camera work. His script is just as good, putting a new spin on the concept of sex leading to death in horror. The scares are creative and Mitchell is careful to always have someone in the frame walking towards the characters. Sometimes it’s a harmless person…sometimes not, but it creates this unease that really gets your heart pumping. Buoyed by a synthesized score by Rich Vreeland that gives the flick an awesome vintage feel (as well as quickly becoming fairly hypnotic), everything here is nearly perfect.

I could go on and on about It Follows, particularly going back to Mitchell’s use of sound and visuals to give such a different feel to a fright flick. I could do that, but I’ll just once again say how unique and effective this work is. Much more than just a horror movie, it’s a true art film that deserves to cross over into the mainstream. Mitchell’s filmmaking, Monroe’s performance, along with Gioulakis’ visuals and Vreeland’s composing makes for an amazingly strong mixture. In a perfect world, this sort of craftsmanship would get recognized later on this year, but I know that’s an incredibly hard sell. Take my word for it though, It Follows is something special. Horror fans should be overjoyed at how well done this genre entry is, while non horror fans who just enjoy top notch indie cinema should give this one a chance too. It Follows is the cream of the 2015 crop so far.

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Written by Joey Magidson

When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.


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