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A terrifying start gives way to fatigue
Loves: Something new, synth music
Likes: Effective horror
Dislikes: Weak endings, doppelganger horror
Hates: Horror without rules
It Follows opens with a buxom young woman in high-heels running from a house in obvious fear, and offers no explanation as to the origins of her terror. There's no snarling beast, so ghostly apparition, no chainsaw-wielding maniac. But after a few minutes, we realize the danger is very real. And then we meet Jay (Maika Monroe), as she floats in her pool, being watched by a couple of neighborhood boys. And then we meet Hugh, her boyfriend. And then they have sex. And then she wakes up in a wheelchair. Obviously, not the best night of her life.
We learn, through a rather horrifying display courtesy of Hugh, that Jay has been passed a particularly awful STD. This condition will cause an unyielding being--who can take any form, often choosing that of someone you know-- to follow her, walking, until it kills her. The only way to escape is to pass it on to someone else, and hope that they aren't caught, otherwise it's back on your trail. It's a very simple, original premise that ties in nicely to the horror genre's tradition of punishing the sin of sexuality, while offering a great twist on the idea of unsafe sex. It also creates an incredibly scary villain, one you won't recognize until it's almost too late, one that's unstoppable and one that is not in any hurry to get you, as if it knows it will.
For the first 40 or so minutes of It Follows, the film is an absolute masterclass in establishing an atmosphere of tension and fright. Between director David Robert Mitchell's exacting, yet still naturalistic style (seemingly influenced by Stanley Kubrick and John Carpenter) and an incredibly effective synth score by Diasterpeace, which guides and shapes the terror, the viewer never feels at ease, putting them directly in Jay's shoes. Mitchell's camera even plays with the viewer, showing the follower but then looking away, so you know they are right there, but you can't see them, while also interspersing some small but heart-stressing jump scares.
Smartly, Mitchell gives his audience credit, letting them put things together without drawing attention to them through close-ups or framing. As a result, the image of a person in the background of a scene purposefully walking toward the viewer (in many of the shots, the viewer shares perspective with a character) is chilling, even if you're not quite sure if it's the curse or just a regular person. One scene, in which you only realize the building danger if you're actually paying real attention, is brilliant in this way.
However, something I'll call "dread fatigue" set in. Sadly, as a post-9/11 world can attest to, one can experience a sense of constant terror for only so long before it becomes the new normal. That tolerance is hard to overcome, and though it tries, by allowing "it" to get closer to our heroine and her friends resulting in a few more haunting moments, It Follows doesn't have the juice to get over that hill again. It's a common problem in any genre that utilizes the idea of doppelgangers. If the bad guy can be anything, you can't trust anything, and you lose the ability to be surprised because you suspect everything. The thing is, It Follows leaves that whole concept behind and instead sets up a direct clash between Jay and her crew and the "it".
Of anything in the film, this is the dividing point for viewers who love or just appreciate this movie (count your reviewer among those who love the effort, particularly the blurring of the film's setting in time, through the media the characters consume and the technology they use.) Though the reasoning the director has given for this sequence does make sense theoretically, that it requires an explanation is evidence that it doesn't quite work. Sure, logic isn't always front and center in a horror film (if it was, they wouldn't last long, as the victims wouldn't walk directly into danger, the way they often do.) But this comes off as kind of silly, and not particularly satisfying. The thing is, what would have been satisfying? That's the challenge when dealing with an unstoppable force, especially in a sequel-happy genre like horror, where you can never cleanly close the book on a story.
The film arrives on a single Blu-Ray disc, which is in a standard Blu-Ray keepcase with a slipcover that makes beautiful use of spot UV-coating and embossing to enhance the cover art. The disc offers an animated menu, with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust the set-up and check out the extras. There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer here is just what the film needs, with deep black levels and a high level of fine detail, which allows the viewer to do their job in playing "Where's Waldo" with the "it" (one shot, involving a fence, would be essentially meaningless without the quality found on this disc.) Despite the quality of the sharp detail, it feels like a film, living in a world of subdued, natural color, and it does a fine job with skintones and scenes with a variety of light levels and palettes. There are no concerns about digital distractions.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sort of has just one job it needs to nail, and that's to get Disasterpeace's score right. It does. The music sounds tremendous spread around the room, supported by the depth of the low-end. Thankfully, the rest of the mix isn't ignored, as the dialogue is clean and clear, sound effects are placed efficiently with good directionality and atmospheric effects sound great. For a film that's all about setting the mood, the presentation does the trick.
The big extra here is a critics commentary, hosted by DVDTalk alumnus Scott Weinberg. He's joined by Eric D. Snider (MovieBS), Screencrush's Britt Hayes, Samuel D. Zimmerman of Shock Till You Drop, Alison Nastasi (Flavorwire) and Ain't it Cool News' Eric Vespe. Weinberg keeps a tight grip on the track as he brings each guest in on the phone to talk about a different section of the film and a different theme, including the actors, the score, sexual politics, originality in horror and voyeurism, as well as some talk about a critic's role in hyping a film (though what wonders what was cut between Weinberg and Vespe to cause a large spot of dead air late in the film.) Because he talks to each one separately, he has to repeat some points a few times, but between the five guests and Weinberg himself, It Follows gets an impressive degree of analysis.
A 4:56 featurette on the man behind the score, "A Conversation with Film Composer Disasterpeace" brings plenty of insight into that all-important element by letting Richard Vreeland (a.k.a. Diasterpeace) talk about his background (including his work on Fez), what it was like working with Mitchell, the themes and elements in his music and the thought process behind his compositions.
Five pieces of poster art are available in a manual gallery, all of which are quite nice, though it certainly feels a bit lacking at just five.
The trailer for the film (2:13) wraps up the on-disc extras, while in the package there's a code for a download/stream of the film.
The Bottom Line
If It Follows was a short film, it would have been as close to perfection as humanity would allow, but because it runs 100 minutes and fails to stick the landing (in some viewers' eyes), it is simply a tremendous exercise in atmospheric horror that goes a bit astray. It's certainly an experience you'll never forget.The presentation here is outstanding, a key aspect for a film so dependent on the feel (this is not a film for watching on a phone,) and the extras, though not plentiful, add to the film well. Far from perfect, but well worth watching at least once (if not twice to catch the details.)
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.