Scary movies come few and far between for me. The last worthwhile one I saw was “Drag Me to Hell” back in 2009, and before that it was “The Ring” in 2002. Unlike most modern horror films these days, those two relied more on psychological fear than gallons of faux blood. Because it takes a lot for me to respond to “frightening” movies, I was intrigued by some of the rave comments I read about “It Follows.”
Now before I proceed, please understand that what frightens one person does not necessarily frighten another one. For example, many consider “The Exorcist” one of the most terrifying films ever made, but I found it completely laughable. My idea of a truly effective thriller is “Seven” or “The Silence of the Lambs” and, of course, the original “Psycho.” This being said, let’s return to the matter at hand.
Because I’m always up for a good fright-fest, I decided to sally forth to the theater in the hopes of being scared to death. My faithful companion for such journeys to films of this genre is my daughter, who, for some strange reason, has enjoyed movies aimed at spawning nightmares since she was a little girl. Thus last weekend we waited in eager anticipation as the houselights dimmed for a matinee showing of “It Follows.”
As the film begins, we see an obviously terrified young girl run out of her house, jump into a car, and drive to the beach. The next morning she lies dead on the sand, her body horribly mutilated. We have no idea who she is, and we never learn anything about her.
The story really gets rolling when a college student named Jay Height (Maika Monroe) and her boyfriend, Hugh (Jake Weary), go to the theater to watch a movie, but they leave early after Hugh spots a strange woman who is invisible to Jay. At this point Jay should have known something weird was going on with Hugh, but unfortunately she didn’t.
The next time they go out, they end up having sex in Hugh’s car, and afterward good, old Hugh knocks Jay out with chloroform and ties her to a wheelchair. When Jay awakens, Hugh tells her that he used their sexual experience to rid himself of a curse that’s been plaguing him by giving it to Jay. What a guy!
Much to Jay’s horror Hugh explains that Jay now will have a being capable of assuming multiple identities constantly following her. It will always be walking after, and if it ever catches her, it will kill her. The only way she can rid herself of her new buddy is pass it to someone else by having sex. Thus instead dealing with a sexually transmitted disease (STD), we have an STF (sexually transmitted follower).
The remainder of the film deals with Jay’s trying to cleanse herself of the pesky follower which appears variously as a woman with a bare boob hanging out, an enormously tall man, her own father, and a naked guy standing on the roof of her house. Of course she must erase the curse by having sex with someone, and she doesn’t really want to do this. She has a big problem!
Although I thought “It Follows” was about as frightening as a first-grade Halloween assembly, I will give its makers credit for eschewing the seemingly obligatory fake blood-fest and concentrating more on the psychological aspect of fear. Director and writer David Robert Mitchell (“The Myth of the American Sleepover”) showed some real imagination with many unique camera angles, and the overall cinematography of the film was outstanding. The same can be said of the superb musical score, which was perfectly suited for a thriller because of its overall eeriness.
My problem with the film, however, was that the events and the “followers” simply lacked any viable fright value. For the most part, I thought the strange creatures following Jay were laughable. In fact, they were pretty much cookie-cutter monsters.
The best scene in the entire film occurs near the end when Jay and some of her friends have lured the follower to an indoor swimming pool where they attempt to kill it. The tension in this segment is palpable, and Monroe convincingly coveys her character’s fear. But one effective segment does not make a great thriller. In an online interview with Alec Kubas-Meyer of Filmmaker Magazine, director Mitchell explained what he was trying to achieve when he wrote the screenplay and offered his reaction to the way some have interpreted the movie.
“I wrote it with several different things in mind in terms of layers of subtext. I intentionally left that open, and I’m trying not to make it about one specific thing. There are a few different things that people tend to gravitate towards, which make total sense to me, some very positive and some negative with regards to that interpretation. Some people have told me that I’m making a puritanical statement with the movie, and that’s one that kind of irks me. I’m not, or at least that’s not my intention.
“But I completely understand why some people would read it that way. I don’t agree, but that’s fine. If someone wants to see it that way, cool. If someone reads it that way and is bothered by it, I mean that’s unfortunate, but maybe they like to be bothered. I don’t know. As for it being a new variation or response to the idea of sex equals death in horror films, it’s not such a literal thing. I also think it’s doing more than that. It’s not just about sex. That is the literal thing that’s on the surface of the movie, but it’s also about life, and death and sex and love are an integral part of that. But we’re getting into a too analytical view of the movie.”
I really would like to talk with someone who thought “It Follows” is frightening just to see what I might have missed. But because I thought it was terribly overrated in the same way “The Blair Witch Project” was years ago, it follows that receives the final score of a mediocre five. And so my quest to find a really good thriller these days will continue!