Forget well defined horror icons, forget torture porn and graphic sex and gore. Throw out all your expectations, as well as your love of cheap jump scares out the window with this one folks. “It Follows” doesn’t pander to any of them. There is no mustache twirling villain explaining his motivations to his capture victims, there are no clear cut ways to kill the bad guy. All there is, is fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what we can’t explain or can’t understand. That is the driving force behind this 2015 art house slow burn horror movie. It’s subversive nature is so refreshing that for some main stream horror movie goers, it is incomprehensible and boring. They automatically dismiss it and don’t try to watch it with fresh eyes, letting the fear wash over them as the tension slowly builds up to an unconventional ending. Hint, the big hunk doesn’t get the girl, and no one genuinely feels safe or relaxed after the final confrontation. Just the way it should be in our opinion. And that’s precisely why we at Bloody Whisper love it so much.
“It Follows” plays with horror conventions. It does things in reverse– what you expect to happen isn’t what happens at all.
This movie is different. The characters aren’t cardboard cut-outs, the setting isn’t someplace glamorous in California and the camera angles are unsettling. The camera doesn’t tell the audience where to look and when to see the killer. It makes the audience look for themselves. It sets up paranoia in the viewer as well as the characters by not spoon-feeding all the details of the film.
Either the camera is watching the character being stalked and is in the point of view of the monstrous stalking entity (honestly, I interpreted it as a sort of succubus/incubus demon because of the sexual transmission angle of the plot) or it has a broad view of the background so that you can see when someone is about to start walking up to the characters; who are facing the camera, and the audience. These wide open shots with terrified characters staring at something coming towards them from behind the camera creates suspense. You see doorways and open windows in a scene and soon you’ll find yourself staring at them in anticipated terror, waiting for IT to walk into view.
Rarely does a film put the audience in a position so that they are constantly vigilant, looking for the next possible incarnation of IT to come walking slowly towards the characters.
Usually it’s easy to spot a fake-out scene in horror movies, oh, it was just the cat, or the friend or whatever. In “It Follows”, the scenes are set up so well, that not even a veteran movie viewer such as yours truly could anticipate who or what was knocking on a door, or walking towards the victim at any given moment.
Even the Opening Scene is Subversive!
The audience is set up to scan each scene for the malevolent entity at the very beginning, when a girl runs out of her house in high heels and undergarments. She runs in a wide arc, watching something that we can’t see, utterly terrified of it, and ends up driving to the beach and sitting in the dark with the car lights on, and her back to the open water.
If you’ve ever been to the beach at night, the open expanse of water can be terrifying; it’s cold, and even though it feels empty, there could be something out there, lurking, waiting to strike. And you’re left wondering, why does she have her back to the water? What does she really see?
We never know.
Her life ends gruesomely off-camera; we only see the after-effect of what happens when IT touches you. That’s how this movie starts. The opening tableau of the killer’s first victim is flipped right upside down, it never shows the lurking, slow walking invisible monstrosity. It just shows us the fear of the victim, in all it’s resplendent glory.
“It Follows” holds its cards very close to its chest. It made suspense a fine art– neither the audience or the character knows when IT will appear, walking slowly into view from off-camera. And that was done on purpose. The very threat of violence and a horrible death is what makes the ponderous entity so freaking terrifying.
Sometimes only the audience can see IT walking at a slow stiff-legged pace, sometimes with a creepy uneven, almost inhuman gate as it stares at its victim. It has to interact and destroy things to get into buildings, and although no one else can see IT, they can see it interacting with the environment.
It can look like anyone in order to get close to you. It is a curse transmitted by sex, and if you pass it on to someone else, it ignores you until it has killed its next victim, then it comes back after you with a slow, onerous vengeance.
It is violent, it will stop at nothing to get you, and yet it is slow, and uses no weapons except for things it can pick up in its surroundings at any given time.
What we learned from this film is that to make things scary, you give them only a very simple explanation. There are rules, and they are few; everything else, well, comes from your imagination.
David Robert Mitchell got the idea for the entity from a nightmare he had as a child. So it has a nightmare logic– the cursed character is tagged it and the entity, while it always changes its face and body shape, is easily spotted and identified by the cursed. Sometimes the audience can tell when a person walking on camera is IT, but often not until the characters freak out when they spot them. This simple, yet genius move keeps the audience on its toes.
The dream-like quality of the movie doesn’t end there. The movie itself has a timeless retro feel of something that was made in the 1990’s, where people still used cathode ray television sets, and often stacked the new one atop of the old broken one. The style of clothes are a mix of ’70s and ’90s fashion. Characters drive cars from the ’70s and ’80s. But what is even more telling is the way that the characters are played by actors that are believable as the kid-next-door, childhood friends type of people. Horror movies in the ’70s and early ’80s often had unknown actors with humble looks playing down-to-earth type characters. So in a sense, “It Follows” is completely timeless, and follows dream logic all the way from the beginning to the ambiguous end.
“It Follows” is a Nightmarish Slow Burn Horror Film
For a slow burner horror film to be effective, it must set the tone early on and keep building on it until the audience is captive, their attention fully on the screen, their body’s tense, hearts pounding, palms sweating, chewing their nails or placing a hand over their mouth as they watch in anticipated terror for what hells await the characters next. And that is exactly what “It Waits” does. It is, by far, the most perfect example of an atmospheric growing dread type horror film. Which, to me, are the scariest ones to watch because they make you think, they force you to participate and actively scan the environment and tense up and freeze when you think you have spotted the monster lurking, just out of focus in the background.
But what Makes this Really Scary is that the Characters Act like Real People!
The entire film is very down-to-earth. It uses simple yet powerfully effective monster concept to great effect and parallels the paranoia of catching STDs, because often times, those who carry them don’t even appear to be sick.
Jay’s childhood friends and her little sister, believe her and act to protect her, even if they don’t quite understand what is going on. They see that she’s spooked, and like most kids of that age group, they do what they can to make her feel safe.
It reminded me of my small group of friends that I had in high school. And since I live in the Detroit Metro area, the entire movie was eerily similar to my own late teenage life experiences. Although, I’d like to note that I was told never to go east of Telegraph Rd. because that is where the city starts, not south of 8 Mile like they discuss in the movie– but what they say is true. In some areas, Detroit city proper does start just south of 8 Mile.
The suburbs they walk through look exactly like the types of neighborhoods I frequent, right down to the brick-faced houses, the house numbers painted on the curb, and the cracked pavement.
I had friends that worked at the local ice cream shop. We would hang out on the porch playing cards, swim in the pool in the backyard, even the pine trees with the maple and oak trees lining the streets, and the school playground in the wide open park with the sand under the swings brought to mind images of home. Parents working or passed out and exhausted from work were a common thing.
I would even walk to a park in the middle of the night with some friends and just sit on the swings and talk when I was that age. Everything those characters did, is something that real people would do. Isn’t that amazing? Can you imagine if all horror movies had realistic characters acting like normal people in horrifying circumstances?
The main character Jay and her latest boyfriend Hugh go on a date to the Redford theater and then go eat at a Mexican restaurant. We have a ton of Mexican restaurants here; in-house made chips and salsa, margaritas, the works. Hell, we even have a hand crocheted afghan in the same pattern as the one on their couch. It’s just different colors than the one in the movie. (Ours is blue and white)
To me, watching “It Follows” was just a perfect reflection of our lives here in the suburbs of Michigan as kids. You certainly don’t see that in mainstream horror movies, that’s for damn sure. Everything is homogenized and sterilized prior to viewing.
In some ways, I think that Detroit Metro is a character in the story, in the way that a lot of Noir Films have a setting with personality that heavily influences the plot and feel of the piece. “It Follows” would not be the same movie it was set somewhere else. Graffiti is slathered everywhere, there are run down areas, the crumbling condemned buildings, all of it screams Detroit to me. And the sad, hopelessness of the abandoned buildings ads a level of foreboding dread instead of detracting from it. Detroit’s personality had her hands in creating the atmosphere of this movie, and I think it’s brilliant. Other people that don’t live here may not pick up on it, but I thought that since I was a native and it affected me in such a way, that I should tell you about it.
“It Follows” was just a perfect reflection of our lives here in the suburbs of Michigan as kids.
Overall, I highly recommend that you go see “It Follows.” It’s a one of a kind horror film that will make you think, about well, a lot of things. If you watch closely enough, you’ll probably find bits and pieces of your own childhood lurking in it somewhere, staring out at you with vacant eyes as it slowly follows you home.