By Jeff Boudreaux
Every few years, a horror movie comes along that practically re-invents the genre. There was the terrifying “Insidious” in 2010 followed by the brilliant “Cabin in the Woods” in 2012. Then in 2014 came “The Babadook,” which was the perfect marriage of two types of horror: psychological and perceived. Each one of these films was a veritable breath of fresh air in terms of breaking the mold that horror was stuck in throughout the previous decade. Enter 2015, and we already have a new contender – “It Follows,” the latest release from Radius-TWC that has been taking the festival circuit by storm.
The film begins with an unnamed teenage girl hysterically running away from her home, as she appears to be attempting to escape something, although we do not see what that something is. We realize that whatever it was cannot be good, because the very next scene shows her dead on the beach. The film then introduces us to Jay (Maika Monroe “The Guest”) who goes on a first date to the movies with Hugh (Jake Weary). Jay suggests the two pass the time before the film starts, by playing a game where you pick someone from the crowd that you can see yourself as in the future, and then the other person speculates who it is. When Hugh guesses a lady in a yellow dress as Jay’s pick, it becomes freakily obvious that she cannot see the person he is talking about. Needless to say, Hugh grabs Jay and rushes from the theater. The “good times” police need not fret though, as Jay and Hugh have found something even more fun to do – in the back of Hugh’s car!
Just let me say this, I think anyone would agree that sex on the first date is always bad when it ends up with the girl being chloroformed. But Hugh isn’t exactly the villain here. As he explains to a tied-up Jay, he had to be able to show her the random figures that will now be following her everywhere she goes. Well, I guess he’s a villain by proxy since these people were following him before he passed it onto her through none other than the act of sexual intercourse. That’s right, forget about STD’s, we’re talking about an evil curse passed between people that no prophylactic in the universe will stop! But we have to give Hugh props for warning Jay about what she’s facing. He advises her to stay alive by finding someone and…you know…the curse will be theirs. Oh, and by the way, if she gets killed before doing that, then the curse will return to Hugh. And there you have it, instant promiscuity in the suburbs of Detroit.
Luckily Jay has a group of friends to rely on in her time of need. There’s Yara and Kelly (played by respective newcomers Olivia Luccardi and Lili Sepe) and the timid Paul (Keir Gilchrist “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”) who has secretly had a crush on Jay since they were children. At first, it’s hard for Jay’s friends to believe her, since she’s the only one who can actually see the individuals that are constantly following her. However, due to the mere closeness of this group, not to mention a little ingenuity, the terrible danger becomes all too apparent to each and every one of them.
While the premise of this horror gem has its tongue planted firmly in cheek, there are genuine thrills to be seen here. The entities that follow these teenagers can assume any human shape or form, from a disfigured woman to a gruesome giant to a beloved family member, either alive or departed. It’s this renewed perspective on evil beings that sets this apart from conventional horror vehicles. The two leads in this film are excellent. The emotions conveyed by Maika Monroe and Keir Gilchrist result in teenage portrayals that we become invested in. We actually want these kids to survive this curse, unlike teens in films like “Friday the 13th” or “Scream” that try their darndest to make the viewer not care about their fate, one way or the other.
“It Follows” is the sophomore effort by David Robert Mitchell, director of 2010’s coming-of-age, film festival-darling “The Myth of the American Sleepover.” Judging from his small, yet effective filmography, it’s clear that this promising filmmaker has a conveniently placed finger on the pulse of teenage America, even if it does only represent the indie sect.
***1/2 (three and a half out of four stars)
“It Follows” opens in local theaters on Friday.