Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 7, 2015)
With a US gross of about $14 million, 2015’s It Follows turned a profit, as it cost a mere $2 million to shoot. The film enjoyed a bigger impact with critics, though, as it received nearly unanimous rave reviews. Those were enough to entice me to view it.
In a prologue, a young woman named Annie (Bailey Spry) flees her home and mysteriously winds up dead on the beach. From there we meet Jay Height (Maika Monroe), another young woman who goes on a date with her new boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary). After they have sex, he drugs and abducts her.
When Jay awakens, Hugh relates a bizarre tale that he’s passed a curse to her. According to him, she’ll be followed and tormented by a mysterious entity unless she sleeps with someone and spreads it to that person. We view Jay’s journey as she deals with this supposed threat.
Usually when I write up a movie, I learn something about its plot before I watch. I might view a trailer or read a synopsis, but I almost always go into the film with some foreknowledge. I find this helps me organize my thoughts as I check out the flick.
In the case of Follows, I decided to avoid any pre-viewing research. I’d heard of the film, of course, and knew it had received plenty of good reviews, but beyond that, my knowledge of the tale was virtually zero.
Why do so? Because horror films can be affected by genre conventions more than others, I think. Granted, all forms of flicks come with their own “traditions” and tropes, but I think that horror sticks with the tried and true more than most, and that leads me to more preconceptions than otherwise might be the case.
This meant I thought it’d be interesting to go into Follows fairly blind. That’s usually tough – especially in terms of horror. If I get a zombie movie, that’ll almost always be implicit in the cover art or title. The same goes for all sorts of other horror efforts, but I think It Follows’s title leaves the story pretty vague, and the movie images I’d seen didn’t tell me anything. I knew there’d be some attractive young women in the film but beyond that, I remained in “clean slate” territory.
Did this decision pay off and make Follows more interesting than it otherwise might have been? Perhaps, but I took a look at the Blu-ray’s synopsis and the trailer and think they’re sufficiently vague enough that it wouldn’t have been “spoiled” for me if I’d seen them in advance.
Still, I enjoyed the chance to check out Follows without story-related notions, though I think my foreknowledge of its rave reviews affected my screening. When I know a movie has been lauded 12 ways to Tuesday, I go into it with expectations. While I like Follows, I don’t think it merits all the effusive praise it received.
On the positive side, Follows delivers a pretty subdued horror experience. Most modern films in the genre batter us over the head with schlocky “scare moments” and don’t allow us to think for ourselves. Follows manages to draw us into its tale slowly and creates a creepy, involving universe.
Unfortunately, some of its intentional vagueness can become a problem. As much as I appreciate the ways the movie leaves elements open for interpretation, this can become a distraction because the viewer may focus more on confusing elements than on the story itself. Personally, I found myself so preoccupied with “the rules” of the movie’s premise that I occasionally became detached from the narrative.
That remains a relatively minor issue, though, and I do really like the general lack of strident horror cliches. Follows shows clear influences from Stanley Kubrick and early John Carpenter, and it creates an obvious throwback to the 80s, often viewed as the greatest age of horror films.
Actually, that latter choice becomes one of the unfortunate distractions. The production design choices of Follows usually lead the viewer to believe it doesn’t take place in modern day. Kids watch clunky tube TVs and chat on landlines. They also sport fashions that don’t quite seem modern, like the unfashionably large panties Jay wears in one scene.
However, Follows doesn’t totally commit to this conceit. At the start, Annie calls her dad on a cell phone – granted, it’s a big one, not something a 2015 kid would own – and Jay’s friend Yara uses a funky seashell-shaped e-reader. Both nods to more modern technology are clunky enough that I guess we could buy them as 1990s gadgets, but they still seem somewhat out of place in the movie’s design parameters.
I admit I find myself a bit tired of filmmakers’ self-conscious nods to 80s horror. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell isn’t the first to pile on references to that era, and he does so more subtly than most, but I still think it’s a clumsy conceit. Other than as a method for the director to remind us of horror’s supposed heyday, the movie’s throwback setting serves no real purpose. It’s a cutesy touch that creates more distractions than anything else.
These nitpicky complaints aside, I think Follows works reasonably well most of the time. As I alluded earlier, I like the fact that it avoids the witless “scares” most modern films pass off for horror. We find precious few “boo moments”, as Follows prefers a more psychological bent. The audience gets to interpret most events for themselves.
And that allows this to become a mostly involving thriller. Follows creates a creepy setting that keeps us on edge most of the time. While I don’t think it’s a great horror film, it’s at least a solid “B”.