David Robert Mitchell wrote and directed this 2014 psychological-supernatural-time-bending metaphor of a film. It Follows is essentially a big ol’ love letter to the genre that focuses on the plight of a young woman after having sex. It is an ambitious and unique genre entry that feels earnestly different from much of what the rest of the genre has to offer. If you haven’t seen this yet, it’s safe to say we here at A-Z Horror recommend you do, especially prior to reading our spoiler heavy review below.
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Jack: It Follows. Bam! I did it. First words this week. How you like them apples?! . . . Ummm . . . how do we usually start these things? I haven’t written one of these in awhile… Oh yeah! Jake, you picked this movie, why’d you do that?
Jake: Well when we drafted this batch of reviews to tackle, we played a game of idiot-horror-telephone where one guy picked a movie and the next had to pick something based off the preceding pick. You picked Creep, unprompted mind you, and I picked this because of the idea of something “creeping” along after you. It was tenuous at best, and admittedly it was a pick more because it is now freely available on Netflix and I just want to finally see the damn thing. I’d heard enough about it, it was time to take the plunge.
Jack: Well this movie for sure had the hype-machine working on overdrive for it. This is pretty widely regarded as one of the best recent horror movies by the internet writ large. How much of that seeped through your thick skull? What did you know about this going into it?
Jake: How bout we dial it back a bit there, eh bud? I knew a pretty good deal about the movie going in. I knew it was essentially about a sexually transmitted demon-curse. I knew it had a bangin’ synth soundtrack by Disasterpeace (I’ll just leave it here and TOTALLY won’t blame you if you bail on our banter to jam out) and had heard through the horror-scape that it has some temporal questions surrounding it. Other than that though, you could say I was completely in the dark.
Jack: That’s a fair little bit. But this is a pretty good movie to go into cold. It hits us with a pretty effective cold-open (see what I did there?). We get a terrified young woman running through a neighborhood, but we don’t know from what. Smash cut to her dead, on the beach, with her legs snapped backwards at the knees. Yikes. Insert any number of football, basketball, or other sport player references here.
(Editors Note: We’re not going to do that. Nope nope nope.)
Jake: It definitely sets the tone. And it’s worth noting that, despite what I just said, this was really effective for me as the first time viewer. I know all about the framework of this flick, but nothing about the execution. When chica is running around it is frenetic and a little confusing. You don’t know just yet that the unafflicted cannot see the titular “It”, so there is some mystery as to what’s happening.
Jack: One thing that’s oft-discussed about this flick is that you can’t figure out just when in the fuck it takes place. The tv shows and movies in the background are all from the 40’s or so and are played on CRT TVs, but then there’s some cars from the modern era and some from the 70’s, and to cap it all off, there’s that weird fucking clamshell touchscreen e-reader thing that’s way too fucking prominent to not be meant for you to focus on.
Jake: Definitely. And there are a lot of discussions to be had out there about the non-existent time period this thing falls the fuck into. Google it if you’re interested. The main thing that I want to discuss is the intentionality of it all. This is very obviously a meticulously crafted bit of world building. The anachronisms of some of the cars, the juxtaposition of the flip-phone clam thing and the black & white 50’s sci-fi on old tubes, etc. all are very obvious attempts by David Robert Mitchell to make you feel a sense of unease.
Jack: Yeah, and it goes further than that too. You don’t even know what time of year it is in the movie. The characters are wearing heavy coats in some scenes, but then in others, they’re swimming or laying half naked in a car with all the doors open. I think you’re right that it’s supposed to subconsciously keep you off-guard, but for me, it just made me focus on trying to figure that shit out to no avail. I guess I respect the effort, it just had the opposite of its intended effect on me. I guess if you’re coming at it from the metaphor side he could be making the point that struggle against STDs or aging or whatever meaning you want to ascribe to this thing is beyond time period, but we’re having to go pretty far out of our way here to make that work.
Jake: Your brain definitely crosses streams, and it doesn’t like it. At first, I was a little annoyed because I thought it insisted on itself a little bit but after watching the whole film, the sheer number of acknowledgements to the history of the genre are staggering. This is a love letter by Mitchell, and he got his Kubrick to great effect. Anyway, we digress…
Still Jake: This movie does an exceptional job of establishing what’s going on. Via the cold open and a couple early date scenes between our main character, Jay (Maika Monroe), and her college dating interest, Hugh (Jake Weary) we are delivered all the important rules the movie will follow as it progresses. It’s obviously exposition, but it feels essential and brings you into what’s going on. The scene of central importance is when the two have sex and Hugh, knowing the stakes, traps her so he can show her what “It” is and ensure she believes him. It’s super effective, well shot, and intense.
Jack: That scene is fucking terrific. It delivers so much exposition and clearly lays out the rules of the world, but it all seems believable and none of it feels unnatural. That’s a goddamned feat. And that paves the way for the second part of the movie where Jay is being terrorized by “It,” and her friends are slowly realizing that this just might be a real thing. This chunk of the movie is pretty interesting because it seems pretty slow paced, but actually works. You never feel like you’re waiting for anything. What about this chunk stood out to you?
Jake: The cinematography, mostly. The bread & butter of this film, to me, is how intense it is despite there being very few scenes of real climax. More than most movies I have scene in recent years, this does an incredible job of creating real, pervasive dread. The aforementioned intentional attempts to cross your brain’s wires is effective, but when you add to that the long takes, spinning cameras, and super deep shots, there is a lot going on for you to digest as a viewer. It keeps you on your guard the whole fuckin time. Another good touch is the depth of story that is constructed through a trip to Hugh’s old hideout. As Jay and her friends explore the place, you get a sense of the background and measures that he has had to take to stay alive. In the process, you get a better feel for the terrifying idea that this will never stop now. Jay is going to deal with this until she dies.
Jack: I really liked Hugh’s house, which the heroes eventually stumble upon in their effort to get to the bottom of this mystery. It continues to set the rules for “It”: that you can run away from it; that it can’t go through walls and is a corporeal thing; etc. The attention to detail there was pretty damn good. I also really dug the beach scene. You see “it” walking excruciatingly slowly toward Jay, but none of the other characters can see it so you’re just screaming at the screen the whole fucking time.
Jake: It’s another example of the effective long shots and uses a spinning camera technique that obfuscates what’s actually going on by keeping it out of view for the majority of the cut while allowing things to progress in real time. It’s fantastic. There are a few qualms I have with this section of the movie in particular, but chief among them is that the filmmakers diminished the power of “It” a great deal when they chose to have it’s invisible being lift up Jay’s hair. I understand that this is the moment that allows all her friends to truly understand it is real, but I just feel the cons vastly outweigh the pros. If we are to believe this is a killing machine, it would have taken its shot to straight tee-off on unsuspecting Jay’s dome. Not play with her hair.
Jack: I don’t know man. I understand what you’re saying, and it is an inconsistency, but that scene was overall so effective that I didn’t mind that much in the moment. There a fair number of scenes like this: where I can look back and pick stuff apart, but really enjoyed it in the moment. It feels like not a whole lot happens between that and what I’ll call the climax of the thing: the pool scene. Having determined that shooting “It” won’t kill it, these jabronis’ plan is to lure it into their high school swimming pool, and then throw a bunch of electronics in to try to zap it like a damn looney tunes cartoon. Really? That’s your damn plan? I know they’re kids and stuff, but fuck, there’s a number of different things they should have tried before this.
Jake: It definitely felt lazy to me, too. I mean fuck, use your imagination, kids. You spend half the goddamned movie watching The Day the Earth Stood Still and other sci-fi flicks. Go interstellar on this thing’s ass. Bang an astronaut right before he goes into space. Dig a really deep, titanium-lined hole and lure it in then close the door. Find a fucking well ala the Samara in The Ring, shove the fucker in, and build a cabin on top. But here we are, Jay swimming in the pool and trying to point at its invisible ass while it throws appliances at her with velocity that would make Henry Rowengartner look like a little bitch.
Jack: Yeah, it doesn’t work like, at all. All they really manage to accomplish is shooting one of the other non-Jay girls in the leg. Great work. It’s genuinely staggering that her friend Paul manages to snipe the invisible thing he can’t see while he’s aiming directly at Jay underwater. And that’s setting aside the whole ‘9mm rounds don’t penetrate water in that way’ thing. There’s a lot wrong with this scene.
Jake: Either way, I guess it sort of works? The pool fills with the blood of a thousand corpses in one of the only moments of bad effects in this movie, and then Jay and Paul bang because repressed feelings or something. Man, she banged what, 6 guys in this movie? How long does this take place over? A week? RIDE THE TRAIN.
Jack: Yeah, what the fuck is going on with that? I took it to mean that Jay thinks they genuinely killed “It”, so she’s now happy to bang Paul with reckless abandon, while Paul knows they didn’t kill it, and is just taking one for the team to save Jay. What did you get from that?
Jake: I got the same thing as you, perhaps with a smattering of Paul just wanted to bang Jay anyway so maybe his agenda wasn’t quite as heroic as he let on. Anyway, you’re left with Paul making what is actually a somewhat clever decision and setting off to bang some hookers so as to distance himself (and Jay, I guess) from the thing’s grasp. If it is still around. It’s a little open ended.
Jack: Yeah, he’s pretty much firing down the Detroit version of Colfax Ave. So much, much scummier I assume. Ratings?
Jake: Something something this movie is a metaphor for STD’s. Ratings.
For 1, think of how Ernie K-Doe would rate his mother-in-law:
Jack: 9 - This is a really unique story. It’s simple enough, but not overly so. It has one of the most natural and effective exposition delivery scenes I’ve seen, and all the little qualms I had with it didn’t bother me as much as I was watching it.
Jake: 8 - This is a fairly straightforward story with A LOT going on slightly under the surface. There is very effective dread that does not let up for the duration of the film, and the pacing is great.
WORLD BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Jack: 6 - Like I said in the review, I think the trying to subconsciously throw me off base with the ambiguous time period had the opposite of its intended effect on me. I just made me focus on trying to figure out what was going on, and less on the movie. The movie is immersive, but has some stuff that takes me out.
Jake: 8 - I was highly immersed in this movie despite all the strange, intentional juxtapositions that really had me focusing on them, rather than the events on screen at times. The world that is built is extremely well realized, perhaps because of those juxtapositions and anachronisms. It creates a unique sensation that I really enjoyed.
Jack: 6 - The movie does good work in the mood-setting department, and is overall a scary concept, but I just wasn’t that scared watching this thing. It’s creepy, but it’s not really scary.
Jake: 7 - The idea that there is no way to ever truly rid yourself of this and be “clean” again is a terrifying one. Metaphors or no, this is a scary movie.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Jack: 9 - This is a shining example of how this should be done. The movie clearly knows how to effectively use effects, as the dead girl at the beginning and the a few other effects scenes look good, but it’s also cognizant of its budget, and when it can’t make effects look great, it doesn’t use them. Overall the effects are just great.
Jake: 7 - For the most part, the effects in this flick were great. The sets and overall attention to detail were fantastic, and the sound design was unbelievable. Most notably, the soundtrack was eerie, bombastic and all around excellent. There are a couple CG missteps, but hey, this was a $2 million movie. I’d say it wildly succeeded on most fronts given that budget.
Jack: 7 - This is a great film. It’s definitely different, and really well-executed. This isn’t one of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen, but it’s a definite recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen it.
Jake: 7.5 - Really happy I finally got to see this one. It’s extremely unique and a genre standout. I’d recommend this to almost anyone both as an example of a horror movie that simply does horror well and as an example of something that is pushing the genre to more unique places. Highly recommended.