It FollowsReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 12/09/14 00:49:55
SCREENED AT FANTASTIC FEST 2014; "It Follows" is genuinely weird in a few places, and there are moments when I think writer/director David Robert Mitchell had a great idea for a horror movie without any idea of how he would finish it. This thing is pure distilled "stalker who won't stop and whom nobody will believe exists" without much worry about mythology, and that's okay - it lets Mitchell really get at the emotion of never feeling safe again, and the ending he comes up with is, in its own way, kind of fantastic.The premise is simple - as soon as Jamie "Jay" Height (Maika Monroe) has sex with her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary), his curse - a strange pursuer that only he could see - is passed on to her. It can take any form, but it is always coming, its intentions are not good, and it never stops. Soon Jay isn't sleeping, and is otherwise acting weirder than her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), their friends Yara (Olivia Luccardi) and Paul (Keir Gilchrist), or neighbor Greg (Daniel Zovatto) can ever recall.
What is "It"? Mitchell doesn't say, and in some ways that's terrific. His heroes are teenagers who don't know anything, and the setting - basically 1980s Michigan, although cars and some electronics are present-day models - doesn't give them instant access to information. It is a set-up that minimizes the importance of mythology while leaving plenty of room for the characters to try and figure stuff out. It is an impressively clever way of concentrating the story and with it the audience's attention in specific areas: Not just how good they are at figuring out puzzles, but how committed they are to doing the right thing. There's an easy out if Jay is willing to just think of her own safety, but the movie has been built to make that seem unlikely.
For that to work, Maika Monroe has to really grab the audience as Jay, and she does. She's kind of transfixing in the part - Jay is described by another character as "annoyingly pretty", and that certainly helps the audience to go for her, but she doesn't just carry confidence around. She's scared and good but not foolish, with Monroe holding the movie fast even while Jay wobbles a lot. The group of supportive friends around her is interesting because in some ways they're as much her plainer (by movie standards) sister's friends as hers, and that's a neat dynamic: It reinforces Jay's isolated unattainability in some ways but doesn't force her to be icy or arrogant.
They work as a solid unit - Lili Sepe's Kelly works as a sort of hub while also being a character who could pop out of this movie and be fully formed, with Olivia Luccardi a great deal of fun as her best friend. Daniel Zovatto and Jake Weary find different shades of the character who sees this situation as a way to get with Jay. There's certainly an angle on how that's what Keir Gilchrist is doing with Paul - it's just as overt as Zovatto's Greg but maybe even a little creepier because we see him a lot and Gilchrist is good enough that we can see him both aggressively trying to take advantage of the opportunity and also possibly deceiving himself as to his motives, and he becomes interesting for it: He's just as led around by his attraction as the other guys, but Gilchrist's portrayal of a hormone-addled kid trying to do right for occasionally selfish reasons makes him interestingly real.
And while Mitchell's doing a lot of things that may seem to call back to previous film The Myth of the American Sleepover, he's also making a nifty horror movie. There are a number of thrilling set-pieces that aren't necessarily eye-popping in an obvious way, but the relentlessness of "It" is never in question. It's also kind of fantastic that the characters here are all pretty smart; they may occasionally screw up out of nerves or being out of their depth, but it is very rare indeed for the viewer to groan at a turn of events. It's also got a great low-fi look that feels more like a small town indie teen movie than a commercial bit of horror, and a unique soundtrack by Rick Vreeland (aka Disasterpeace).
But most of all, it's got a heart that's many times larger than one might expect from a horror movie, and that can kind of sneak up. It's easy to look at how things start and write it off as just being another slasher where the girl who has sex is going to be the one targeted for death - it happens more literally here than in most, where it's usually just subtext. But in doing so, Mitchell's movie is far more sympathetic than judgmental - a bad sexual experience or relationship can mess a person up, but it doesn't necessarily damn them. As much as stories like this will often have someone called crazy, "It" really does feel like mental illness in a way - it's always there and incomprehensible to those without it. But the movie is hopeful - Jay has friends and they do what they can. Ultimately, it's a movie about sharing weight even when you can't necessarily see a friend's problem yourself.That, my friends, is a pretty great thing to put at the center of a thriller that's already full of inventive, exciting material. It may not please the crowd that goes to horror movies with a sort of nihilism, grading them on the bloodiness of the kills and cheering reversals that happen for no reason (although they'll get their jumps and blood), but it's a fine movie that earns its scares because it can convince the audience to give a damn.
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