Note: Typically my format for Summer of Horror reviews is to lump three together for the sake of efficiency. But I found It Follows noteworthy enough to warrant its own full length review.
Every year has its out-of-left-field surprise horror hit, released in late Winter or Spring, far from the halcyon horror days of September and October. Cabin in the Woods, You’re Next, Oculus, and The Babadook being recent examples. It Follows was the latest film to generate that kind of positive buzz, but sadly I wasn’t able to carve out time to see it theatrically.
Talk to anyone about It Follows, and they’ll likely focus on the premise, which is both highly unique and somewhat convoluted. Put in the simplest possible terms, it’s a sexually transmitted stalker-killer that can shapeshift. And it walks. It only walks, and of course, it follows.
You can get a crash course on the “rules” of this antagonist and the plot setup by reading any other review. But for my own purposes, and those of my readers, I find it more salient to point out another oddity about It Follows: It’s absolutely a modern-day Halloween. As in John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978).
I had read descriptions of this film being Carpenter-esque (most revolving around the score), but I wasn’t prepared for just how much inspiration writer/director David Robert Mitchell drew from not only Carpenter’s filmography, but Halloween in particular. From the opening shots, it’s clear this film is set in a town eerily similar to the fictional Haddonfield, IL. In fact, I remarked that they must have filmed it in the same area of California. You’ve got the long suburban road with mature trees, recessed sidewalks, and tall shrubs just begging to conceal a killer. I even thought I spied a couple of jack o’ lanterns on stoops in the background, but it could have been a trick of the eyes.
And about that score. This is the aspect most other critics singled out as being particularly John Carpenter, and it certainly is that. It’s minimalist, it’s synthesized, it’s repetitive, and it absolutely ratchets up the tension any time it starts to play. But credit must be given to the composer for not merely aping Carpenter’s scores, but paying homage to them by bringing them into the modern era. The score of It Follows has a retro feel, but the driving, urgent bass reminds you that it’s still 2015, even if the rest of the film’s visual aesthetic seems purposefully designed to confuse you as to its time period (check out the weird dual screen makeup compact/smartphone used by one character).
I know I’m beating the horse to death with these Halloween comparisons, but I’m really taken by how well It Follows adapts the qualities that made Halloween a classic without directly ripping it off. The suspense of knowing that an inhuman, soulless killer (who nonetheless looks like the shape of a human being) is out there somewhere, always making its way to you, with one purpose and one purpose only, is almost unbearable. You can outrun it easily, you can put as many walls and as many miles between you and it as you wish, but eventually it will catch up. As you watch the film, any time the camera lingers on the main character, your eyes immediately start scanning the background for suspicious figures. That’s good suspense.
As for the potential to battle this killer goes, that’s something I won’t spoil. Suffice to say, they handle it in a refreshingly logical way.
I’m a rare defender (some would say apologist) of Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween, but having now seen It Follows, I can’t help but feel like an opportunity was missed. If David Robert Mitchell had made a name for himself about a decade sooner, perhaps It Follows would have instead been reshaped into a Halloween remake that everyone could get behind.
Or maybe it’s better that this is an original film, without the stigma of “remake” all over it. Either way, I’ll be in line for Mitchell’s next film – in the theater.