It Follows: hype and (no) story

I’m a sucker for a good horror movie. Give me some chills and thrills, but not too much gore, and I’m into it. but good horror movies are hard to find. Too often the thrills are just obvious and trite. Every scary story has seemingly been told.

it-follows-movie-posterThat’s why when I caught word of the new horror film It Follows, I was excited. io9.com, one of my go-to websites, called it absolutely must-see horror flick. They gushed over this movie so much (as did other media outlets) that I couldn’t wait to see it. So I forked over $14.50 and went.

First, the premise. Set in a typical middle America suburb (in Michigan), 19-year-old Jay (played by Maika Monroe) is dating a mysterious guy named Hugh (played by Jake Weary). After they have sex for the first time, he ties her up and tells her that he’s passed on a curse to her. A mysterious, slow-walking demon-like creature that can take the form of any human will follow her, and if it touches her, she will die. If she dies, then the curse will revert back to Hugh. The only way she can survive is to pass the curse on by having sex with someone else.

A killer premise, right? But premise doesn’t equal plot.

Before I deconstruct the hype, I’ll talk about what works.

It Follows is beautifully shot. It comes off like an expertly made indie flick. the imagery, from dull suburbia to decaying Detroit, are all lush and inviting.

–The soundtrack is both jarring and creepy. It Follows is scored by Disasterpiece, and it is filled with sudden electronic bursts, thumping synth beats, terror and pounding hearts gone ragged.

–The cast is generally appealing. This movie is not filled with the too-pretty Hollywood types we’re used to seeing. They’re good looking enough to be believable, and the actors all do fine jobs.

it-follows-banner

–The pace of the movie is steady. I never felt bored or hurried.

–There were some genuinely creepy elements. The way the creature would stalk Jay was unsettling, and it stayed with me long after the movie ended.

–Early in It Follows, after Jay is first infected, she is scarred by the fact that Hugh attacked her and tied her up. The actor who plays Jay relayed the shame and horror of that all-too-real occurrence in a way that left me shaken.

it follows jay

But while watching the movie I was acutely aware of the fact that while the premise was strong, and the production was excellent, the plot was thin. Many horror movies fail when it comes to crafting a compelling narrative. Too often the movies simply turn into repetitive scenes of the hero trying to elude or battle the monster, a back-and-forth that just ends suddenly, leaving the viewer unsatisfied. It Follows fell into this trap.

Part of the problem was that the characters were underdeveloped. It took me a good 45 minutes before I realized that the blond girl’s name was Jay — and she’s the main character! There is no backstory, and the movie suffers as a result.

Then there’s the theme. All horror movies have a theme, a primal fear that the writer and director exploits. For It Follows, it was clearly sex. The curse is passed on through sex. But this is a well-worn trope that has almost become a cliche. In my opinion, the writers missed a great opportunity to offer a twist on this. As I said earlier, I was moved by Jay’s traumatized reaction to her attack. It was real and visceral. What would have It Follows been like if they explored the theme of sexual trauma?

Maika Monroe and Jake Weary in It Follows

One of the most compelling scenes is when Jay and her sister and friends track down Hugh, the one who passed the curse along to her. The group sits in the grass as Hugh explains what happened to him. Rather than a villain, Hugh came off as a tortured, terrified soul. I couldn’t help but wonder what this movie would have been if it had spent more time on the characters of Jay and Hugh, and explored the repercussions of their sexual/relational traumas. There were also hints of a Freudian/Oedipal undercurrent, as the creature takes the form of parents of two of the characters. But this was too fleeting to leave much of an impression.

I wish that the writers had gone through a few more drafts. This could have been a truly great horror movie. As it stands, I’m going to buck the hype. It Follows, while well made, is not a brilliant horror film, and not one of the best of the decade. It is well made, chilling, but ultimately unsatisfying. Watch it on Netflix, and save your $14.50.

2 thoughts on “It Follows: hype and (no) story

  1. Thanks for this review! Now I can save my money and wait for Netflix. I was also planning on seeing it based on all the positive press. I love the premise of turning the hero into a disease vector to save him/herself – like they do in The Ring. But from what you say, it sounds like they just didn’t do enough with that in this case.

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