Thursday 27 May 2021

Movie Review: It Follows (2014)

An innovative horror film, It Follows challenges genre conventions in adopting an addition-by-subtraction ethos.

In Detroit, a girl attempts to escape an unseen threat. She is killed at the beach. 

Teenager Jay (Maika Monroe) is dating newish boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary). He is acting a bit jumpy, but they eventually have sex in his car. Hugh then violently ties Jay to a chair and explains that by sleeping with her, he has passed on a curse of an evil entity that will now always pursue Jay, slowly but relentlessly, unseen by others. Jay will die if she is caught, and the evil being will turn its attention back to Hugh. The only way to get rid of it is to have sex with someone else.

Jay confides in a small group of teens: her younger sister Kelly, childhood crush Paul (Keir Gilchrist), friend Yara, and hunky neighbour Greg. Despite various levels of scepticism they do their best to protect Jay and help her escape the evil being, which appears in various hideous forms. After several narrow escapes the exhausted and battered Jay starts to consider passing the curse to someone else, with Greg and Paul among the candidates.

An independent, low-budget production, It Follows surpasses humble origins. In his debut feature, writer and director David Robert Mitchell offers a remarkably assured vision, combining an embrace of vagaries with courage to avoid cheap jump scares and needless gore. The haunting music, spooky camera angles and threat through sheer presence all carry echoes of Halloween, while the low body count demonstrates trust in the concept.

In addition to bold, sometimes abrupt, scene transitions, Mitchell goes out of his way to answer almost no questions. This is both frustrating in a traditional sense, but also adds vigour to the mystery. The meager information offered, mostly through Hugh's initial exposition, is also not necessarily entirely accurate, and it becomes apparent Hugh only knows what he knows and there may be a lot he does not know.

Deepening the sense of deliberate exclusion bleeding into unease, several dream-like scenes hint at unseen actions. Jay swims out to a boat occupied by three men. Paul drives by street hookers. Greg flirts with an anonymous girl. Whether the characters just thought of passing on the curse or actually acted on the impulse is up for debate, heightening the film's lingering impact.

The inescapable evil as a metaphor for sexually transmitted diseases is just one of several possible conclusions. Mitchell leaves intriguing doors open towards alternative interpretations, including horrors imposed on kids by absentee parents. Rational adult characters are notably absent and indeed avoided and mistrusted by the teens; and when parents do appear, they are decidedly unpleasant (let's leave it at that). Or maybe the threatening entity is just death itself as the other bookend of life: the act of sex instigates life, and death just as surely follows, only the time and place to be determined.

The cast of young actors are functional without necessarily shining. Maika Monroe is adequate in the central role, but with Mitchell again studiously avoiding climactic cliches, she is not provided the expected opportunities for traditional heroism.

It Follows is refreshing both for what it is and what it isn't. The intentional omissions may disappoint, or stimulate.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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