The opening shot of “It Follows” creates a palpable sense of horror, even before the first line of dialogue is spoken. An unnamed girl scurries across her street. Silence ensues except for the girl’s own heavy breathing. The camera then follows the girl in a tracking shot that lasts until she escapes in her father’s car. It’s a cinematic shot, done masterfully by director David Robert Mitchell and cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, who together set the stage for a movie that uses many camera tricks to further the film’s suspense.
Usually, a film doesn’t completely capture the essence of what it is and what it will become during its opening scene. Viewers just get a slow introduction or the tease of an action to come. However, a bit of both strategies are taken with the opening shot of “It Follows.” For a film in the dying genre of horror, where every plot and cinematic furnishing has been employed to force fear into the viewer, “It Follows” manages to carve its own horror niche while still paying homage to the horror films before it.
This is an ’80s film told through a modern lens and a high-definition camera. The influence of films like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” are evident in the story-telling, the presentation of the monster and the ’80s tropes. Most of the throwbacks work, but clichés such as the teenager’s parents being absent are bothersome when viewed in the vibe of a new generation.
The music here also has a retro feel reminiscent to John Carpenter’s scores, and the score adds to the atmosphere without feeling silly.
After the opening scene, “It Follows” transitions to 19-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe) who is mid-swing in the usual teenager roles: carefree days filled with laziness, friends, a lack of responsibility and an excess of sexual fervor. Sexual fervor is perhaps the biggest enemy of the film’s characters, as “It Follows” can practically be used in any sexual education class as propaganda against having sex (unprotected or not, premarital or post).
Jay’s first sexual experience doesn’t end with the pleasure she may have expected; she is chloroformed by her boyfriend, stripped and tied to a wheelchair. Upon awakening, she comes to learn that she has contracted “It,” a sort of imperishable and indistinguishable entity gained through intercourse.
Rules are established for both Jay and the audience, as both learn that this entity will follow Jay until it kills her. If she is killed, the entity will be passed back down the line of those who previously contracted “It.” However, if she has sex with another person, she will pass the “It” on to them. The entity will never stop pursuing her, otherwise.
The premise is a simple but ingenious one and perfect for a new-age horror film. While the film is not overtly terrifying (there are relatively no jump scares or the cheap tactics modern horror filmmakers employ), the intensity and anxiety of the characters’ situations begin to pester the viewer with suspense.
A film that does not scare but instead intimidates and psychologically taunts the audience is a refreshing tactic. The knowledge that whatever follows Jay is constantly moving makes every scene, even those warped by comedy or lightheartedness, simultaneously heavy with the knowledge that “It” is still coming.
Maika Monroe plays Jay, the main character and the victim in “It Follows,” an independent horror movie shot in Michigan.