It Follows, by The Myth of the American Sleepover writer/director David Robert Mitchell, had various and sundry film journos and horror geeks losing their minds during its festival run, which kicked off at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and made stops at Toronto, Fantastic Fest, and Sundance along the way. “Holy shit!,” went the buzz. “Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit! It’s original and scary and amazing, and none of you get to see it yet, nyyyyyehhhhhh.” But now you do get to see it, because it comes out in limited release today. So is it worth all the praise?
The premise of It Follows is certainly intriguing. After an “innocent sexual encounter” (reads the official press verbiage), college student Jay (Maika Monroe, who was excellent in last year’s The Guest; watch that instead) starts getting followed by, essentially, a supernatural boogeyman STD. What’s really creepy about it is that it always looks human, but which human changes, so whenever someone walks in her direction she—and we—think it could be the creature. The score and constantly moving camerawork do an excellent job of ramping up the paranoia, particularly during crowd scenes, which are genuinely scary.
Solid horror concept: Check. Freaky horror atmosphere: Check. The plot is where this one falls apart, because really… there isn’t one. It’s like Mitchell had a really good brainstorming session to sketch out the basics, and then he laid down for a nap and forgot to fill in the rest of the story when he woke up. (Or some of the characters—“Nice guy best friend who wants to get on the main character, but he’s shy and also a gentleman and he’s so nice he’s just so nice.” Are you going to try and add something interesting to that tired old tropetastic character, or…?)
This movie is the epitome of “dumb white teenagers in a horror movie running around doing dumb things.” And I get that to a certain level that is an acceptable genre convention (the “dumb things,” anyway, not the “white people”—diversify, god dammit). But even for horror, having the heroes try to defeat the bad guy using a method that we were explicitly shown to be 100-percent ineffective about a half an hour earlier is just lazy storytelling.
I like the idea of leaving the monster ambiguous—it doesn’t matter what it is, it doesn’t matter what it wants, it just matters that it wants to kill you, holy shit—but this movie needs something else to beef it up, whether a dose of monster mythology, some indication that the baddie isn’t invincible (even if horror movie villains have a tendency to pop back up again—like daisies!—after each KO, for the sake of suspense you generally have to believe they could be killed), or main characters who actually take initiative instead of running around being useless for an hour and 40 minutes. Then it might have deserved its hype. As it is, It Follows is miles and away better than a lot of the low-budget horror that abuses the eyeballs of genre fans (The Pyramid, anyone?), but it’s not good enough to be worth the time of people who aren’t already into horror (like The Babadook is). It’s a lazy day Netflixer.