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Indie film It Follows thrills psychologically

Provided by IMDb.com
Maika Monroe plays Jay, the main character and the victim in “It Follows,” an independent horror movie shot in Michigan.

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.

Provided by IMDb.com
"It Follows" by Anchor Bay Home Entertainment is available to watch on Amazon and iTunes and can be purchased as a DVD. The 100 minute film is rated R.

Cinematography, when utilized properly, lends itself well to horror above any other genre. The dimness of a room, the flicker of a shadow or the brutality of gore can be captured with poignancy. “It Follows” pushes its cinematography to create memorable shots or scenes that embed fear into the viewer’s mind. Several long steady cam shots and pans place the camera in unique angles. In one scene, the camera shoots from the foot of Jay’s wheelchair as her boyfriend rolls her around in search of “It.” During this entire shot, the camera is centered on Jay’s terrified visage, adding shock to the situation and creating audience sympathy for the character. Monroe’s performance is also excellent.

Gioulakis’s cinematography also helps increase tension, pressuring the viewer further and further into anxiety. Several times the camera pans with the characters, showing a simple image of a human figure in the distance. That image is enough to create questions about whether this person is the “It.”

When the camera revolves around the movie’s group of characters several times, in each shot several figures seem to be stalking; however, the film never mentions if this is the titular “It” or simply a real human being.

“It” itself is a mystical entity the film never bothers to apply back story to. That is for the film’s betterment, as the mystery behind “It” requires viewers to compose their own mythology, which makes “It” all the more terrifying. All we know is that this entity can take on the shape of any person in the world and that it will relentlessly walk towards its next victim, never stopping, and that ambiguity is a terrifying enough concept to work during the film’s entire run time without ever feeling gimmicky or false.

All of the main actors are teenagers in the film, and their performances vary. The best performance comes from the lead Monroe who is able to show both fear and vulnerability while transitioning her character into a more courageous and wise person by the end of the film. For the rest of the actors, expect hit or miss performances that are generally good, but viewers will definitely see some of the typical youth acting faults.

The film’s sexual metaphor, its minor treatise about sexual abuse and teenage promiscuity, is quite clear. We see several characters killed with intensity all because their careless actions have turned “It” upon them. Transferring “It” through sex does create some logical inconsistencies, however. Readers never know if “It” is one entity or many. Will “It” follow a contractor if they fly overseas? Can “It” be passed even if a condom is worn? Is “It” passed through insertion or through orgasm? Can the entity be passed through generations like some STDs? Too many inquiries are left open that could have elevated the movie if even a few simple lines of dialogue were added.

On the other hand, one of the best features of “It Follows” is what is not included. The tiresome conventions of the genre are missing. While “It Follows” will not terrify you as old classics such as “Halloween” or “Silence of the Lambs” may have, the fresh approach is nice. It has more of a psychological feel which mid-scene may not frighten much, but the anxiety, once the scene is over, will stay with the viewer. “It Follows” will follow the viewer.

A horror film has done its job when it makes the viewer check a second time that their doors are locked and that no intruders are lurking in the house.

“It Follows” is a thinking-man’s horror story which pays homage to previous horror entries while creating its own new niche. This film will choke the viewer rather than beating them unconscious, and the subversion of modern expectations makes “It Follows” an enjoyable, if unsettling, film to watch.