Director/Writer: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Kier Gilchrist, Lili Sepe, Olivia Luccardi, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary
It’s always a bit of a cheat for a critic to come to a movie after both sides have had their chance at it. As is often the case with underground hits, after an initial wave of incredible praise for the project comes an almost equal wave of disparagement against it. With the indie horror flick “It Follows”, initial reviews hailed it as the most original work of horror in the past ten years or so. It has since been reduced to “meh” is many circles. The most public of the charges against it came from director Quentin Tarantino, who praised its originality, but accused writer/director David Robert Mitchell of breaking his own mythology. Perhaps the greatest praise I can give the movie is that while I watched it, all of these opinions from others dropped from my mind and I was immersed into a narrative that I never could have foreseen.
Mitchell seems to start building his haunting vision from only one element—perhaps the most important element in any horror filmmaker’s arsenal—mood. Mitchell evokes a world of lost hope that ambles out of a world of apathy. Appropriating a score and cinematography from some of the greatest horror franchises of the 80s, Mitchell’s atmosphere almost makes this movie all by itself. The electronic score by Disasterpiece is a master thesis submitted to the John Carpenter School of Horror Soundtracks. Its repetitive nature and discordant cold electronic sound sets the entire film in a state of unease. The slightly sepia nature of the film’s cinematography also creates a cold florescent feel to the exasperated proceedings contained within it.
In retrospect, I’m guessing many people felt that these throwback features were all that really set the movie apart from other horror being made today, but there is much more beneath Mitchell’s unique macabre. The premise itself probably also garnered much of the film’s initial praise. The basic idea is that there is a menacing presence stalking someone. That presence will eventually overtake them and kill them unless they pass it on to someone else. Sex is the vessel that passes this curse on to a new person. Once someone new has it, they must pass it on to someone else before it kills them and reverts back to the original person for its victim. It’s really sublimely simple and horribly menacing.
When the film comes to its conclusion, it leaves the audience with an emptiness. It is this emptiness that is the cause of much of the backlash against the film. We are trained as audiences to expect some sort of catharsis at the conclusion of a story. Because of the nature of the threat here, which we must assume is never ending because there will always be either a new victim who has had the curse passed on to them or a previous victim to whom the curse has reverted, no catharsis is possible. This might feel like an incomplete story, but it is actually right in line with the themes of the movie.
The themes are most evident in the scenes where the threat is not present. Much of the movie depicts its main characters just lying around waiting. They sleep often, although it would seem the sleep should be difficult, at least for the cursed victim. There’s this sense of apathy in all of the character’s actions. The man who first passes the curse on to the main character seems to have no regard for the new victim he is creating. Who can blame him? It’s her life or his. Of course, the fact that he knows how to pass this on means that he’s spent a good deal of time thinking about what he’s doing, and he must work a plot that gets her to sleep with him, which must involve getting to know her somewhat, and yet he still doesn’t hesitate to entrap her. When she confronts him later, his only concern is for himself.
This is a portrait of a disenfranchised youth that has no regard for their fellow man. In close circles of friends there is comfort, but still a surprising lack of concern for each other’s safety in the matter. There is one scene where it is clearly established that this entity can physically affect the world and one of the victim’s friends is thrown by what is an invisible force to him. The victim sees the entity as either someone they know or someone of a fairly disturbing nature. Perhaps this is a reaction to the scenes of horror that we witness in our own world everyday—a world filled with strangers except for those who are very close. We do seem to wrap ourselves much closer than we used to in these days of mass shootings and terrorist attacks on a 24-hour news cycle.
These people are self absorbed and vain. They let the world happen rather than trying to affect it in their own way. Thus the threat against them is something that can be seen only by the victim. It can hurt those around the victim and the victim can even chose who it can threaten with death, but it is only ever visible to the one who is most concerned about themselves. Late in the film, the heroine tries to destroy the entity with objects that surround her and many of us in our everyday lives—electronic distractions like television sets and vanity tools like blow dryers.
I can’t figure out just where Tarantino believes Mitchell breaks from the mythology he’s created. He never spells anything out. Leaving the exact nature of this entity vague is part of the commentary he’s trying to explore. These teenagers are at that point in life where we really start to figure out how things work, but their apathy threatens to subvert that. They don’t know the rules of this horror plot either. That’s refreshing in and of itself. All too often characters know exactly what to do in situation that should just blow their minds. Figuring out just what the rules are is all part of that transition into adulthood that these people are entering; and these people are less equipped to figure out those rules than any previous generation of young adults.
Anyway, Mitchell’s vagaries lead to a couple of scenes in which the audience is not informed as to what has happened. I think the logic of these scenes, which I will not discuss in detail for spoiler reasons, make perfect sense. I think they are also meant to open debate on just what occurred. But even with an open interpretation of events, they do not betray the mythology established by Mitchell.