Thursday, April 16, 2015

IT FOLLOWS Is a Retro Horror Gem


- The recent indie-horror renaissance continues - and IT FOLLOWS is the new standard-bearer. Paying homage to the classic John Carpenter-style horror movies of the 80's, IT FOLLOWS feels like a spiritual successor to recent cult-favorites like House of the Devil and The Guest. And it joins those films - plus The Babadook, You're Next, etc. as proof that we are in a new golden age of thoughtful, genre-bending thrillers. But this isn't just a me-too horror flick. On the contrary, this is a film that genuinely blew me away with its ingenuity and cleverness. In a world that still feels a bit too saturated with cheap jump-scare horror, this is one that more about creeping-dread atmosphere than stuff jumping out at you and loud noises. That's the kind of horror I love. And if you like old-school creep-fest horror, then you absolutely have got to check out IT FOLLOWS. It's the sort of movie that effortlessly sticks it to the more slickly-produced, bigger-budgeted blockbusters and says "actually, *this* is how it's done."

IT FOLLOWS establishes the rules of its nightmarish premise with elegant simplicity. A spectral force is out there, haunting its chosen victim. It's invisible to all except its target, and it can appear to that person in any form it chooses. It could look like a random person, or like a friend or family member. But it follows its target with methodical precision. It walks, and walks slowly. But it never stops. And if it reaches you, it will kill you. The other wrinkle is that one becomes the creature's prey when it is passed on via sexual intercourse. In turn, the only way to stop being stalked by the creature is to pass it on to someone else. It's the ultimate STD. Sleep with the wrong person, and you become the target of an unwavering, unstoppable invisible killer.

After an absolutely harrowing opening, the movie shifts focus to its protagonist, Jay - a nineteen year old girl who becomes the creature's latest target. Jay is played by Maika Monroe, who is quickly becoming the new queen of indie thrillers, after starring in both this and the seminal The Guest. Monroe is fantastic here. She is the perfect actor for these throwback films, as she's got a knack for capturing just the right left-of-center, subdued (but, eventually, wide-eyed and creeped-out) tone that gives her performances that vintage 80's feel. She's the kind of actress that you'll willingly follow into any sort of down-the-rabbit-hole weirdness. But she's also someone who has an inner spirit that makes you believe she just might be able to turn the tables on whoever or whatever is after her.

And that's part of what makes IT FOLLOWS so fun. Jay and her friends aren't just passive victims. In grand 80's fashion, the kids band together and try to come up with ways to outsmart and outmaneuver their invisible stalker. It all culminates in an insanely fun climax that sees Jay and her friends making a ballsy last-stand against her tormentor.

Writer/director David Robert Mitchell is clearly one to watch. He shoots IT FOLLOWS in a vintage, evocative style that is an incredibly refreshing change of pace from most of what's out there today. Rather than quick cuts and lots of sound-and-fury, this film is all about creating an ominous atmosphere. Mitchell seems to inherently get how to do creepy right - and he fills IT FOLLOWS with a number of memorably disturbing shots - often lingering rather than cutting away from the object of dread. The dread and intensity becomes even more heightened thanks to the awesomely moody synth score, which only adds to the overall Carpenter-ness of the film. It's funny, the movie seems to be set in the modern day, but if not for the presence of a few modern touches, the overall setting (think 80's-style suburbia) and set-design would make you think we'd traveled back to 1985. So if, like me, that sort of thing floats your boat, get ready for a film that - aside from just being awesomely atmospheric and creepy and intense - is also a bonafide bit of retro goodness.

On that note, IT FOLLOWS is indeed a horror movie, but it's also got a real coming-of-age film vibe as well. Geeky crushes, first loves, and sexual trauma are all in there. Sex in this movie is scary in more than just the usual adolescent ways. And you can debate what if any significance the nature of the movie's premise has. Regardless though, there is certainly an overall theme of creepy-suburbia - that staple of 80's teen flicks. The idea that behind a facade of bland normalcy lies untold, barely-contained terror. And there's also loss of innocence. These latch-key kids are at once not-quite-prepared for adulthood yet also forced to grow up fast. They have to come to terms with certain truths on their own, and all they really have is each other. I don't think it's an accident that there are no real adults in the movie. IT FOLLOWS is unabashedly a movie about teenage wasteland turned upside down.

IT FOLLOWS is the sort of creative, passion-filled movie that, as a writer, is downright inspirational. Seeing how much David Robert Mitchell does on a low budget makes you want to sit down and make a movie in a similar vein. This is one that gets the job done with a great premise, boatloads of atmosphere, and a clear and genuine affection for the genre and its tropes - but with a desire to have fun with convention and be innovative. This is also one of the flat-out best, creepiest, coolest horror movies of the last several years. It's quick cult-status is well-deserved. If you haven't seen it yet - get to it.

My Grade: A-


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