Imagine a creature that only you could see and that could take the shape of any person with the intent of hunting you down and killing you. That is the simple premise of David Robert Mitchell’s “It Follows,” a horror film that was barely seen upon its release, but is sure to become a cult favorite every Halloween. Mitchell is clearly a fan of John Carpenter’s work since the influence of one of the greatest masters of horror is all over this beautiful and tense thrill ride.
Sex and death have been companions in many horror films, especially in the “Friday the 13th” franchise where horny teenagers meet a grisly end usually minutes after climaxing. “It Follows” takes this trope a step further by having the monster be a form of sexually transmitted disease that is passed on from victim to victim. This is explained to Jay (Maika Monroe) a young woman who has had sex with her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary) for the first time and last time. She is greatly concerned when he drugs her and ties her to a wheelchair, but he is not the monster. Instead his goal is to explain to her the rules of the monster that will now be hunting her.
This thing, whatever it may be, has the ability to take the shape of strangers Jay has never seen or people from her own life. It is slow, but once it goes after her it will never stop until she is dead. She is the only person who can see it except for Hugh who is now safe. The only way to get ride of it is for her to pass it on to somebody else, but if that next person dies it will go back after Jay and kill its way up the chain.
Jay of course wants to believe Hugh is crazy, but soon she starts to see complete strangers following her. No place is safe, from her classroom in broad daylight to her kitchen at night. What might look like an innocent passerby out for a walk could actually be the monster inching its way towards her. Jay’s friends initially have their doubts since they cannot see what she sees, but a tension-filled encounter at a beach shows them that there is definitely something very creepy going on.
Once it is established there is indeed such a thing as a shape-shifting killer, Jay and her friends analyze whatever option they have. Would it be morally right to get rid of the monster by passing it on to somebody else? Could bullets actually hurt the thing in a fight? Even so, how would they even be able to aim for it if Jay is the only one who can see it?
Everything in this movie just works on every level. The rules of the monster make sense without having to dig too deep in its motives or origins. The cast members are all great, especially Monroe as a woman fearing for her life and weighing the option of condemning someone else to be hunted. The cinematography makes great use of its location, a suburban neighborhood in the fall filled with orange and red leaves, and there are many long takes in which we see the creature slowly making its way toward its victim. As for the music by Disasterpiece it increases the tension immensely, and like all good scores for horror films it is incredibly scary even when heard without context.
There is timelessness to the story since it is never explicitly said when or where this is taking place. Jay and her friends watch old movies on a big TV set, but one of them also has an ereader shaped like a seashell. It could be the 1980s, clearly a major influence on the tone and music, or it could be today. The answer of course is that it is taking place in a nightmare dreamed up by Mitchell.
(“It Follows” is available on DVD and Blu-Ray and is now streaming on Netflix.)