I have a rather difficult time, on the whole, finding a solid horror film to watch. This might be the result of the vast amounts of horror film I’ve consumed in my youth, or it might owe in part to the tiresome formulaic nature of many new ones that come out. In many ways, horror films have lost their novelty for me as the same antics pop up time after time, rendering a final product that ultimately fails to deliver any scares.
You can imagine my surprise, then, when I left quite pleased after a viewing of It Follows, a horror film released last year by director David Robert Mitchell. I can sum up my feelings for this film by saying it is a wonderful and refreshing addition to the horror genre that pays homage to classic 80’s horror films, while working off an original premise.
Without revealing too much, this story centers on Jay, a female stalked by a mysterious, looming entity after a sexual encounter. Jay, accompanied by her friends, goes on a journey to discover the origins of this entity while, of course, trying to stay alive through it all. This film has an almost dream-like, surreal quality with strange distorted figures that follow Jay at walking pace. For this reason, this film builds up a very intense and chilling atmosphere and what I can only describe as a sense of impending doom. The entities walk slowly enough that Jay can reasonably make an escape, but what makes the horror film succeed is the dread of what will happen when “It” finally catches up to her. The chase is a drawn out one, and makes for some anxiety-inducing moments when the viewer can quite visibly see figures out of the corner of the screen that Jay at times remains blissfully unaware of. It’s really been a while for me since I’ve been so stirred by a horror film.
A lot of critics will claim that in many ways, It Follows isn’t scary; it merely creates an effectively chilling environment. Although true in some ways, certain key moments of utter helplessness (particularly as we entity draws closer) dispel the argument that this is strictly an atmosphere-driven film. Atmosphere plays a large part in it, but as with every film, several jump scares are sprinkled in here and there as per the standard formula.
I think part of the scare for me came from the sense of being followed, a concept that also crept up in a lot of my nightmares as a kid. It was either one, or several figures that would follow me around in my dreams at the same slow, walking pace that resembled the mysterious entity in It Follows. It doesn’t really come across as a surprise to me to know that the director based the film upon recurring nightmares he had in his youth that inspired the same concept portrayed in the film. This film plays well to our instinctual fears, which I would argue makes this film all the more effective.
And this leads to a fine point I want to make with horror films: I don’t think they need to be action-packed, stuffed to the brim with maniacs running after you or gore splattered here or there just to have something to keep the audience’s attention. While I have enjoyed these films traditionally, I don’t think it’s necessary for an effective horror film to feel the need to terrify the audience by using any old cheap trick in the book. That may seem counter-intuitive: Horror films shouldn’t try to make you as scared as you can possibly be? Let me explain. For me, horror films gain value in their memorability. There’s something, usually deeply rooted in the premise of the film that sticks with me; it doesn’t quite settle right. That is precisely what horror films should aim for!
I know that this might sound a bit vague, but I think the memorability value in horror films is dependent a lot on the person. When I was 10 and watched The Descent, I was terrified of the dark for weeks. I had very visual nightmares and even during waking hours, I would ponder and imagine the strange creatures in the cave coming after me. While this wasn’t enjoyable for me at the time, that’s how I knew The Descent succeeded in what I think horror films should strive for. Beyond simply scaring us for the hour and a half to two hours, it should lurk inside our thoughts for days to come. Being quite a bit older than 10 now, It Follows failed to keep me up for nights on end, but it did remain in my thoughts for a while. With something as simple as a person walking in my direction I’m transported back to the haunting figures of the film.
Moving on from that, It Follows is interesting as well in that it has led to several theories and many discussions revolving around the origin of “It” and the various symbolism used in the film. Several of these theories are reflective of overarching global issues, such as the significance behind a sexually transmitted entity. Other theories suggest that some of the themes in this film are an honest, albeit grim portrayal of the human condition. I won’t go into these theories here since they can be easily found on the Internet, but it’s also worth considering if you like to become invested in a horror film with depth.
Ah yes, I wanted to mention that Rich Vreeland, also known as Disasterpeace, composed the musical score for this film. If you’ve kept up with some of my previous posts relating to my favourite chiptune albums, you’ll know that I’m a pretty big fan of his. When I first saw the trailer to It Follows, I wasn’t convinced that his musical genre would mesh well with the film but it worked unexpectedly well when I saw the film. Rich is known for his ambient chiptune music, which takes on more somber tones in this dark film (mixed in with some screeching sounds during the higher action scenes). His musical style, I think, made sense given the inspired 80’s feel of the film.
As for the performances, I thought they were really solid. I thought Maika Monroe was convincing in her role as the classic female protagonist who must fight against the odds and survive. While none of the names in this film were recognizable for me, I was impressed by how well put together this film was.
Anyhow, I would recommend giving It Follows a watch to horror film fans and non-fans alike. I wouldn’t consider this film a typical horror film, even though this film has fun at incorporating a lot of old horror film cliches. The premise of It Follows is gripping and original at the least, and succeeds mainly in delivering a chilling atmosphere that keeps you on your toes. There’s something to be had for any viewer; there are genuinely terrifying moments for the keen horror fan, allusions to literary novels and symbolism for the academic viewer, and a fast-moving plot that is sure to captivate any ol’ Joe off the block. Enjoy~