Movie Review: “It Follows”

Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe, Daniel Zovatto
David Robert Mitchell

Everyone knows that you shouldn’t play with fire, because it’s been ingrained in our heads since we were kids, so might I propose adding “overhype a movie” to the list of things that future children should learn to avoid as well? Though there are obvious benefits to a small indie film building buzz on the festival circuit – and in the case of a movie like “Whiplash,” completely deserved – it can also ruin your experience when the film fails to live up to that hyperbolic praise. David Robert Mitchell’s sophomore effort, “It Follows,” is an excellent example of how misleading hype can be, because while the movie definitely has its merits as an innovative piece of genre filmmaking, it leans too heavily on the unique premise to fully realize its true potential, let alone warrant so much acclaim.

Set in a timeless Detroit where rotary phones and tube TVs coexist with miniature e-readers, the film tells the story of Jay (Maika Monroe), a teenage suburbanite who thinks she’s found the man of her dreams in new boyfriend, Hugh (Jake Leary), only to discover that he’s more like something out of a nightmare. When their sex-filled date ends with Jay chloroformed and bound to a wheelchair, Hugh explains that he’s infected her with a curse – like some kind of sexually transmitted disease – where the victim becomes ruthlessly stalked by a slow-walking entity that can assume any form. Nobody else can see it, but if it catches you, it’ll kill you, and the only way to get rid of it is by having sex with someone else and passing it on. And even then, you’re not completely safe, because if it kills that person, the nightmarish entity will refocus its attention on you until it kills everyone in the chain. Trapped in a constant state of fear and paranoia, Jay must rely on the help of her friends – including younger sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and childhood crush Paul (Keir Gilchrist) – to stop the monster from claiming any more lives.

Considering the role that sex has played in the horror genre throughout the years – where any sort of premarital coitus usually results in death – the whole supernatural STD angle is actually quite clever. Though the sex/death rule isn’t as prominent in modern horror films that defy those sort of decades-old conventions, “It Follows” is very much a retro homage to the classic ‘70s and ‘80s genre films by guys like John Carpenter and Wes Craven. In fact, Mitchell’s movie wears its influences a little too proudly on its sleeve, from the “Halloween”-esque synth score by Disasterpeace, to the striking similarities to “Nightmare on Elm Street,” both in Jay’s perpetual helplessness and the film’s dreamlike atmosphere. There’s even a scene in the final act that’s reminiscent of a sequence from the first “Nightmare on Elm Street,” which makes you wonder if there’s anything original about the movie apart from its eerie concept.

But Mitchell brings such an interesting perspective to the genre that it’s never really an issue, and the film looks incredible as well, including some really great shots using cool techniques like 360-degree pans and actor-mounted cameras. Still, “It Follows” isn’t without its problems, beginning with Mitchell’s complete disinterest in digging any further into the mythology, which raises questions like: How did it all begin? And how did the viral chain get so long when the first person who was “infected” was likely hunted and killed without being privy to the details that Hugh shares with Jay? Additionally, the acting is amateurish at times (the appeal of Maika Monroe eludes me), while the pacing could be a lot tighter. The characters spend too much time just sitting around waiting for something to happen, and though it’s effective at first, feeding into Jay’s emotional instability, it gets to the point where you wish they’d be a little more proactive.

“It Follows” may have a pretty terrifying premise – the kind of story that urban legends are born from – but it’s much scarier in concept than execution. Save for a handful of creepy moments, there’s nothing particularly frightening or suspenseful about the movie. Every scene is positively oozing with mood, but that only goes so far when the audience doesn’t feel the same mounting sense of dread in the pit of their stomachs as the characters. And that’s where “It Follows” lost me as a viewer, because while it definitely had the makings of a horror film worthy of such high praise, it never does enough to earn it.