By Dan Poorman
NOTE: This is spoiler-free. You’re welcome.
I’m going to cut to the chase: everyone is talking about It Follows, and for good reason. The film, which is Michigan native David Robert Mitchell’s second feature, premiered at Cannes in 2014 during International Critics’ Week and accumulated a hive’s worth of buzz, which, according to the BBC, was only rivaled by Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, at least in the American arena.
After being purchased by a subsidiary of The Weinstein Company, It Follows came home as a limited release this winter-into-spring, garnering critical acclaim at an exponential rate. Let’s put it this way: it’s one of the few horror movies of our day that can boast a 95% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
And I’ll say it again, for good reason.
It’s one thing that, without a doubt, It Follows is a remarkably original film outside of its genre box. Mitchell’s suburban Michigan is a more than convincing backdrop, and much to the approval of his mumblecore-leaning fan base spurred by 2010’s The Myth of the American Sleepover, we follow (no pun intended) a relatable group of characters on an economically poetic track through young adulthood. Then of course there’s this: it’s the scariest film I’ve ever seen.
You can scour the Internet and find countless fastenings: some call it a parable for HIV/AIDS or sexually transmitted disease in general, some more generally claim it’s saying something about promiscuity, this thing we like to call “hook-up culture,” and the dangerous social anxieties which result from our intimate encounters. These insights are surely sound, but my biggest concern is that we’re going to start marketing It Follows in this boiled-down fashion, when apart from its clever symbolism—something which, yes, American horror has until now widely skimped on—the film is a masterpiece of atmosphere; a powerfully evocative sequence of images; a nightmare granted flesh.
Mitchell himself, in several interviews, has shied away from defining a singular artistic intention, at least in terms of plot. Instead, I had noticed in my own pre-viewer investigation that he was more interested in negotiating with the recurring dream he’d had as a kid, wherein someone (something) was following him, and he couldn’t get away. Like many a human nightmare, it was illogical but it was not convoluted—it was plain and simple. It follows. You run.
The simplicity of this premise, in its being, is haunting—I got that first-hand when I went alone to see It Follows this past weekend.
When I left the theater, which for me is within this country’s second largest shopping mall, I was overcome with quite the emotional cocktail: scared and shamelessly paranoid; exhilarated and undeniably awakened. I was one in a crowd in every which direction—alone but nevertheless feeling sort of marked. I was convinced that Mitchell’s entity was somewhere here, looking for me, starting the first cycle of its pursuit in the same instant that my It Follows virginity was taken. But, out of body, I thought: this is what a successful horror movie should do. For years, I had armored myself with the confidence of “coming at it from a critical standpoint” when horror movies were concerned. I love the genre more than any other. I want to look at it as an art. And to scare is an artistic feat—but to scare on this level is truly transcendent, and (cue dramatics) totally life-changing for a geek like me.
The drive home was a white-knuckled one, and I have no excuse for it. Promotional posters for It Follows are branded by a pulpy illustration of star Maika Monroe peering into her rear-view mirror in terror; I’d be lying if I said I didn’t adjust my own a few times. With that came the questions: Are the roads unusually under-populated for a Saturday night around nine? Who is that coming out of that bar? Where the hell is he walking? Can I beat this red light? What am I going to do with myself when I get home? I had an answer only to the latter: Tell everyone I possibly can about this incredibly effective movie.
Then Todd Rundgren’s “I Saw the Light” came on the radio. Now, because I think in movies—and because I believe in the universe—this felt very deliberate. In fact, each lyric seemed to parallel It Follows, as well as my subsequent state of bittersweet derangement and my overall “At long last!” feelings for the film, which is especially snicker-worthy in retrospect considering it’s not exactly the most literary song:
It was late last night
I was feeling something wasn’t right
There was not another soul in sight
Only you, only you
So we walked along
Though I knew that there was something wrong
Then you gazed up at me
And the answer was plain to see
‘Cause I saw the light
In your eyes, in your eyes
Though we had our fling
I just never would suspect a thing
Till that little bell began to ring
In my head, in my head
But I tried to run
Though I knew it wouldn’t help me none
‘Cause I couldn’t ever love no one
Or so I said
Even if you’ve already seen It Follows, there’s a chance you might not connect with me here, thus opting to say, “But what about the fact that this is kind of just, as Mr. McCartney crooned, a ‘silly love song?’ I think you’re just trying too hard, Dan, you idiot/pussy.” To that, I defend with honesty that what happened in my car on the way home Saturday night may in essence be a textbook example of paranoia—but what’s beautiful is that initially, paranoia is always implying the subconscious and uncontrollable perception of a threat, and that, friends, is a downright staple of humanity. I couldn’t control it. I was in my head. In layman’s terms: It Follows had my blood goin’, and I can’t remember the last time a single film did that to me.
I credit a great deal of the horror film’s genesis to the 1930s, for obvious reasons—but when it comes to the idea of the contemporary Western horror film, most folks my age and in my academic position might think first of the “Golden Age”: the slasher flicks and teen screams which totally ran the ship in the ’70s and ’80s. We squirm at the sound of a chainsaw in the distance thanks to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, we are reluctant to even go to bed on some nights thanks to A Nightmare on Elm Street, and of course we are afraid to go out on Halloween because of Halloween. And speaking of which, It Follows has itself been likened to a creation of Carpenter’s—most notably in the similarities between Halloween‘s “The Shape” and Mitchell’s “It” as both stalk a pretty heroine, and the throwback, synth-laden score from composer Rich Vreeland, a.k.a. “Disasterpeace” and Carpenter’s own iconic theme. Yet, I think aside from these undeniable comparisons, It Follows still stands on its own.
It may echo or contemporize Carpenter and the Golden Age of Horror, but more importantly this film feels like the long overdue next chapter in the history of contemporary Western horror: the kind of film that should be borne from the indie genius of Halloween, and an opus which, in a perfect world, overshadows every shitty reboot or sequel or money-grabbing jump-scare Big Hollywood has churned out in the past 15+ years. As it is profoundly affecting, imaginative in the space of considerable minimalism, successfully dreamlike, and both thematically and cinematically progressive, It Follows followed me, and it’s likely it’ll follow you too.
It Follows is in select theaters now. Watch the trailer below: