When it came to the Graveyard Shift at this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival, no film gained more acclaim from the audience than David Robert Mitchell’s ‘It Follows.’ Critics and film fans alike exclaimed that the movie was one of the best horror movies that they’ve seen in a while. However, when I finally got around to seeing it, I didn’t share that same enthusiasm.
Fresh from its premieres at Cannes and Toronto, ‘It Follows’ takes the horror movie convention that sex kills and it flips it on it’s head. (Or, more accurately, on its back in the backseat of a car.) Whereas in teen horror movies of the past, you perished if you weren’t a virgin, this movie makes sex integral to your survival. After a strange sexual encounter, a teenage girl named Jay finds herself plagued by a demonic presence that constantly walks towards her. When this spirit catches up, it means the end for Jay, so the only way to spare herself is to have sex with someone else to pass on the curse to buy her more time to escape.
After the credits rolled, the first thing that came to mind was that this whole thing reminded me of a terrible ‘Doctor Who’ villain. A sexually transmitted curse that comes with a spectre that only you can see? There’s totally a sci-fi angle to that, especially since the Twelfth Doctor just encountered something similar to this (minus the sex). But then I remembered that ‘Torchwood’, a ‘Doctor Who’ spinoff, actually did do something similar to this. Upon realizing this, it was hard to look at ‘It Follows’ in a threatening light.
It also didn’t help that the campy, John Carpenter-esque music was entirely too over the top. Every time that you’d expect some dark and ominous score to indicate something scary coming, there was this screeching synthesizer that was simply laughable and it took me out of any moment that might have been considered scary in any other situation. Some might say that it’s meant to be a gag since everything else in the film that seems far fetched is played straight, but I feel like it’s an out of place homage that probably should have been reconsidered.
Although, I will say that the twist on the genre conventions was really unique. First, the hook is so simple and it makes you wonder why no one else thought to do it before. But then you see that it’s actually about something deeper and provides commentary on today’s view of sex and the circle that it traps you in, but without really relegating the sex in the film to an allegory for AIDS or another STD. Then, the tools that Mitchell utilizes to get his points across, especially wide and lingering shots, are executed masterfully. It gets to the point that you’re searching every scene for an out of focus spirit that may be hiding in the background. Terrible music aside, the camerawork used to build tension worked very well. Unlike many modern horror movies these days, ‘It Follows’ didn’t depend on jump scares to get to its audience. Instead, the threat is something that requires much more thought and somewhat stays with you since you never see it coming.
Overall, ‘It Follows’ was highly original and showed lots of potential, but in the end, it was just too campy for me. I don’t doubt that it will find its audience, but there’s a chance that that audience may largely stumble upon it via Netflix. But then again, when was the last time that a B-list horror movie on a streaming service made you think? So maybe there’s more merit to this film than I’m actually giving it credit for.