In the 1970s and 80s, the horror genre was at its peak. The era had everything from genuinely great classics like Halloween and The Shining, to wonderfully so-bad-it’s-good schlock like Sleepaway Camp and Cannibal Holocaust. They were scary, they were sleazy, but above all, they were just stimulating examples of filmmaking. Nowadays, the horror genre is comprised of either heavily watered-down remakes of said films, or soulless, scare-less derivations thereof. That’s why the 2015 release of It Follows is so incredibly refreshing. Unlike most new entries of the genre, it is a genuinely good piece of filmmaking that, while admittedly more generally creepy than bone-chillingly scary (though other cinephiles have said that it is nothing less than such), is compelling from start to finish, and keeps its energy up long after others have run out of steam.
The film has been getting stellar reviews, and I believe it is poised to become a word-of-mouth hit. The Weinsteins certainly believe it will be. They originally were going to give the film a token release on a few select screens and then dump it on Video-On-Demand. But in light of the film’s current 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, they canceled the VOD release, and instead expanded it to 1,200 screens. Last weekend’s haul of 4 million (off of a 2 million dollar budget, mind you) might not indicate such a bona fide hit, with some even calling it a flop in comparison to recent Blumhouse horror openings. But I predict that number will continue to grow as the film lingers on for the next few weeks. It was never going to be a number one box office draw, as the film is comprised of completely unknown amateurs, and only has its high-concept to ride on. But it is precisely the quality it contains, and the fact that audiences love a great horror film when they see one, that will give this film a longer shelf-life than most—one that will last years on Netflix. However, only you, the audience, can make that a reality, and by doing so, you will be supporting the important cause that is the need for more original, bold cinema such as this.
You should probably go into the film as blind to the plot as you can, but the general premise involves a fictional STD which causes one to be followed by something that can only be described as an “It.” It is something that can take the form of anybody at any time. It is something that will stop at nothing to kill you, unless of course you’re able to pass the STD on to the next person (and even then, if It kills the next person, It will come back to try to kill you). Sure, It is slow, and sure, you can stay far enough ahead of It for a while—but eventually, It will catch up with you.
Like many of the best horror entries, such as how Romero’s Dead films were metaphors for the domestic climate in the Vietnam era, the film works best as an allegory. It is a terrific depiction of adolescence, the anxiety of STDs, the fear of losing one’s virginity, and most of all, how scary sex (something we all know and love) can actually be in our casual, Tinder-ized world. As intelligent as that all may sound, I will say that if you don’t like horror films, there’s really not much I can say that will convince you otherwise to go, as the visual trappings are most definitely rooted in its genre, and proudly so. But just know that, referring to when Quentin Tarantino likened watching and appreciating B-movies as being able to drink a lot of milk to appreciate the cream, this film is most certainly cream.
Most of all—the music. Wow! The Carpenter-esque synth soundtrack is nothing short of genius, and not just because I personally have a huge penchant for the synthesizer. It recalls all the great horror soundtracks of the ‘80s, and grounds the images of suburbia and menace in a familiar sleaziness that coats the screen in a grime and grease that can only be described as magical. It must be heard, both in its filmic context and on its own, to be kvelled over.
I knew that this film had won me over when I heard a twinkly synth underlying an Argento-esque image of a girl staring at an ant crawling down her arm. It might seem like an odd, throwaway moment, but one whose beautiful origins lie in the more surrealistic aspects of the genre.
Sure, the film has its problems. The acting and dialogue are, for better or for worse, amateurish, and indeed they work as both a benefit and a detriment to the experience on the whole. The digital cinematography, perhaps just inherently as a medium, is far too clean for this kind of film that has its roots in scratched film prints and muddy, shadowy darks. Also, the film’s habit of mixing old technology so blatantly with new technology for its own sake can grow a bit eye-rollingly distracting when its initial sheen of coolness wears off.
But when a film grips its audience from start to finish as it does here—right from the first beautiful, spinning long take, to its deliciously ambiguous ending—all such flaws can easily be forgiven. For it has a spark and a spunk that is the mark of a hungry filmmaker, and I highly look forward to what else director David Robert Mitchell has up his sleeve. The palpable fear involved, and the earnest performances on display, reminded me of Sam Raimi’s original 1983 The Evil Dead, also made on a similar micro-budget. And like that film, I have a feeling this will be remembered 30 years from now as an outstanding example of its genre.