IT FOLLOWS Review | TIFF 2014

     September 8, 2014

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It Follows is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  It’s understated yet has this incredibly bold, unique tone, it plays rather slow but is still suspenseful and, perhaps best of all, it’s got a fun, fascinating idea at the core.  There is a chance that those on the hunt for action, big scares and gore might tune out, but if you stick with it, It Follows boasts quite the payoff and it’s not because of a third act blowout, but rather due to narrative revelations that are deeply connected to everything you’ve just experienced.

Maika Monroe leads this one as Jay, a girl who’s living it up in her last year as a teenager, making her new boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary) top priority.  He seems like a kind, standup guy, but immediately after sleeping together, Hugh reveals that he’s just given Jay a sexually transmitted disease of sorts.  Thanks to Hugh, creepy people will continue to follow and try to kill her unless she sleeps with someone else and passes the burden along.  However, if Jay submits and lets it get her, it’ll go back to hunting Hugh after.

It’s a brilliant idea that let’s you play along and wonder, what would I do in that situation?  Do you pass it on or take the noble approach and suffer the consequences of your actions yourself?  And writer-director David Robert Mitchell doesn’t let you just answer the question and be done with it.  There are some serious layers to this situation and you get to explore each and every one of them right along with Jay.

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It Follows is a particularly strong character piece.  It’s not just about the novelty of the situation, but much more so about how Jay deals with it personally.  A major reason that approach works so well is because Monroe is an absolute natural in the role.  Jay may be dubbed the pretty one who gets all the guys, but she’s not just out to find the hottest one and then move on.  She really cares about her budding relationship with Hugh and that’s why the condition is instantly accessible.  Rather than just throw this supernatural demon of sorts at the audience, Mitchell and Monroe offer some transition via a believable and relatable issue – being betrayed by someone you thought you could trust.

Fortunately, Jay’s got a very supportive group around her.  Lili Sepe steps in as Kelly, Jay’s sister.  Even though she’s the younger of the two, Kelly’s especially mature and also quite levelheaded about the whole situation.  Then there’s Keir Gilchrist as Paul, Jay’s lifelong friend who wants to be something more.  There’s also Olivia Luccardi’s Yara, another close friend, as well as Daniel Zovatto’s Greg.  Greg isn’t part of the group per se, but he clearly does have a little something going on with Jay, so opts to join in and help her through this.

Minus Paul, none of the supporting characters get many layers, but their personalities are charming enough to make them a very likeable gang together.  The way they approach Jay’s condition is also especially believable and refreshing.  Only Jay and others who have contracted the disease can see what’s following her, so at first, her friends don’t believe her, but nobody just comes right out and says it.  Even though there’s a part of them that thinks she’s totally nuts, they still care about her, so they hesitantly feel it out in a genuine effort to figure out what’s going on.  Getting the opportunity to see someone who’s actually suffering from the disease come to terms with it right alongside others who can only take her word for it makes the whole scenario remarkably dynamic and far more digestible than one might expect.

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Mitchell’s technical decisions are almost as prominent in the film as the characters themselves.  It Follows is the exact opposite of flashy, modern, quick-cutting horror.  Mitchell offers up very little coverage and lets the shots he has breathe and, for the most part, it’s to great effect.  There are definitely moments when you’ll wish you could get a closer look at something or that the filmmakers would have thrown in a few more vantage points for the sake of speeding the experience up, but overall, the approach works and actually enhances some of the scares.  Of course I don’t want to spoil anything, but there’s one scene on a beach that plays especially well.  (Not the first one, but the second.)

Mitchell also runs into a similar issue with his music and sound selections.  Generally it works and really helps solidify the tone, but there are moments when the score feels heavy-handed, especially in the first half of the movie when you’re first getting used to it.

It Follows is a fantastic film overall.  It’s thoughtful, engaging and just an all-around blast to watch, but it’s different and when you’ve got something that’s so strikingly different, some might not take to it.  There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s a matter of taste more than anything, but clearly my taste aligns with what It Follows delivers.

Grade: B+

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