Sundance Review: “It Follows” Doesn’t Quite Follow Through
Title: It Follows
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Screenwriter: David Robert Mitchell
Primary Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Oliva Luccardi, and Lili Sepe
When I attend the Sundance Film Festival one of the first things I do when I get a guide is check the Midnight in Park City section. I know Sundance doesn’t seem like a place where you could find some amazing horror movies, but you would be wrong. Movies such as 28 Days Later and The Blair Witch Project started out as Sundance movies. The Midnight movies tend to be where the trashy scifi and horror movies tend to go that don’t fit into the Premieres category or want to go for an award. Out of all of the Midnight movies this year, the one that was getting the most buzz wasIt Follows. I decided to check it out after initially setting it to the side because it seemed like there might be some sexualized violence and I just can’t do that.
It Follows is an interesting concept that is ruined by a series of annoying character mistakes, zero attempts to make any sense, and lack of any real scares.
The story follows a young woman named Jay (Maika Monroe) who is living a fairly normal life and dating a normal guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). They are getting along well enough, but Jay is a little concerned when Hugh freaks out during one of their dates. She disregards it, though, and after another date they sleep together. Hugh then kidnaps Jay and tells her that he gave her something and that it was going to kill her. That thing is a person that is walking toward them. Hugh tells Jay if it kills her it’ll come back and kill him too and the only way to survive is to pass it on to someone else by having sex. Jay bands together with her friends to try and survive the thing that is trying to kill her that only she can see.
The “thing that is trying to kill her” is a very blatant metaphor for a STD. I want to say that I like that idea quite a bit. There is a common trope in horror movies what whenever two good looking people decide to have sex they are going to die next. In this case the sex is literally the thing that is going to kill you. That could be explored in a really interesting way because most STDs are not things that will go away. I tend to like movies that use a common trope or idea as a metaphor for something else. It shows that the screenwriter is thinking outside of the box.
However, It Follows doesn’t evolve past the fact that it is a metaphor. The symbolism is about as subtle as a two by four to the face. I don’t have a problem with that, but the movie seems to meander around and just keeps telling us that Jay isn’t going to get rid of this thing even if she passes it along to someone else (which, of course, she does). Jay also has a friend from when she was a child that is lurking around the edges of the movie looking like he is about five seconds away from saying “I’m okay with dying, I just really want to bang you.” The STD metaphor even falls a little flat because no one ever mentions wearing a condom. The idea that the thing is spread by unprotected sex makes sense but it’s never established in the narrative if having sex with protection is going to, well, protect you from the thing that will follow and eventually kill you.
The monster in question takes the form of various people walking toward Jay. Sometimes they appear a little off but they never look overly disfigured. Since this is a movie all about sex, there is a pretty good chance the person approaching Jay at any given time is naked. If the person is a woman she is most definitely naked. There is an inequality in that we don’t see any naked men but that shouldn’t surprise me considering the state of Hollywood. One of the people is a woman who is half dressed and urinating on herself, which I think is supposed to be a side effect for whatever disease they’re trying to portray. I’m not entirely sure because the movie does a very poor job of explaining itself. Like I said, there was a good idea here but by the time the big climax hits (pun intended) the movie has written itself into a corner and realizes it has nowhere else to go. I’m not expecting some logical explanation for why this is happening, but It Follows makes zero attempts to explain itself. I feel like it wanted to stand on its metaphor alone but you can’t be that unsubtle and expect to have a leg to stand on.
There was also the little thing that the walking people idea doesn’t work after a while. The first time we see someone walking toward Jay it is a little weird and intense while we wait for them to do something. It was effective and I really liked it. However, by the third, fourth, fifth time where the only thing that really happens is someone walks toward Jay and looks weird, it loses any tension. By the time the movie ended I was annoyed that I spent the entire time waiting for something to actually happen. Jay also annoyed me as she continually would run away, which makes sense, and then do something like sit alone in the woods. I understand that nine times out of ten you have to make a protagonist dumb to advance the plot in horror movies. The final “confrontation,” if it can even be called that, is a McGuyver type plan that I still don’t understand. By then I was convinced there was no possible way this movie was only 90 minutes long.
Director David Robert Mitchell does a pretty good job but he tends to frame the shot so we can tell right away where the next person is going to appear. It seemed a little lazy to me because a horror movie is supposed to surprise you to try and at least get some sort of scare. There was really only one scare and it was one of those loud bangs. The music by Disasterpeace was good at building tension but the sound editing made it so loud at times that I almost wanted to cover my ears.
It Follows might be an interesting idea and it starts out with potential, but it fails to follow through. The filmmakers seemed to be so interested in making sure that their important message of “STDs will kill you” that they failed to provide any sort of resolution. There is enough material here for a really great short, but a full feature just doesn’t work.