“It Follows is the scariest American horror movie in years”, “I’ve rarely been as scared as I was by It Follows“, “A terrifying, mesmerizing coming-of-age movie”. That’s the way most critics have described It Follows, the second movie by David Robert Mitchell, who you may or may not remember as the director of the very Sundancy The Myth of the American Sleepover. With that type of praise coming from critics I respect and admire, I was naturally very excited to see what It Follows was all about.
Now, it has happened to me in the past that a movie is so hyped before its release, that nothing short of loving the movie becomes a disappointment. Our internet culture, in which everything is either “the best thing ever” or “the worst thing ever” doesn’t leave room for the middle-ground, and when something is as highly praised as It Follows, liking it wouldn’t be enough. I was prepared for such an outcome, so I went into the movie determined to not let the anticipation color my response. Considering all the mental preparation I did for watching the movie, it is with deepest sadness that I tell you that I was heartbroken to find that It Follows was a very disappointing experience.
Before I go into the things I didn’t like about the movie, I want to take a moment to praise what I think is the one truly excellent aspect of the movie: an eery throwback synthesizer score by Rich Vreeland (credited as Disasterpeace). Vreeland matches minimalistic eighties electronic sounds with baroque arpeggios that evoke the organ instrumentation of old school horror movies. It’s a fantastic piece of music that is unfortunately trapped in a mediocre movie.
The music is just one of the elements that make It Follows so disappointing. You can see the talent of the people involved, and can’t feel frustrated that they are limited by the mundane script. David Robert Mitchell both wrote and directed the movie. As a director, he does a pretty interesting job. Along with cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, he shows himself especially gifted at framing the action, often playing with what the relationship between what is in and outside the frame, as well as what we can see in the background of every shot. At moments, it was like watching a horror movie directed by Wes Anderson. As a huge fan of Anderson, I believe this is a compliment.
However, I think I’ll only be interested in a future David Robert Mitchell project if he decides to direct a script that he didn’t write. It Follows starts out with an interesting premise: A curse has been passed onto Jay (rising star Maika Monroe who you might recognize from The Guest) after she had sex with a guy she liked. “It” is going to come for her, and “it” won’t stop until she is brutally murdered.
An unstoppable horror movie villain as metaphor for STDs is a pretty cool idea, but Mitchell doesn’t seem to have any idea of what he can do with the premise. Ten minutes into the movie, I already knew basically all the twists and turns the movie was going to take. I don’t want to get into spoilers, so I will say there is one development, which is a natural story-telling continuation of the film’s premise that the movie takes almost forty minutes to get into. The thing with It Follows is that it doesn’t go anywhere. I don’t know how people can be so excited about a movie that sits in the same emotional place the whole time.
Predictability is one thing, and it can be forgiven if the package is exciting enough, but the other problem with It Follows, and the fundamental reason why it is ultimately a failure, is that is not a scary movie. There is no dread, no anticipation, no fear. I think, for example, of last year’s The Babadook, a movie that was also, and rightfully, praised as the best horror movie in years. I think of how tense and uneasy I felt during every second of watching that movie, and how casually bored I was while I waited for something to happen in It Follows.
The title gives us a clue into why the movie fails as horror: it is more focused in what lies behind its metaphors and not in what is coming next. A lot of energy was spent by the production team to make It Follows look and feel like a seventies or eighties horror movie. Some of it proves distracting. Our heroes don’t use cell phones, watch old television sets, and drive old cars, which makes us think the movie is taking place sometime in the past, but we see modern cars in the background of the shots, and one of the main characters read an e-book. To put it in blunt terms, It Follows is stuck up its own ass. It cares so much about its STD metaphor and its placement as a new horror classic that it forgets that all the classics are movies first, and classics second.
Grade: 5 out of 10