Critics are tripping over themselves to praise and read a great deal of significance into It Follows, a modestly-budgeted thriller that attempts to mix a retro vibe with postmodern horror and comes up empty-handed.
Infuriatingly sluggish and nonsensical, It Follows certainly could’ve been a clever homage but nothing much happens and it doesn’t make much sense. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell seems to want to evoke memories of the ’70s and ’80s thrillers (especially Halloween) with widescreen cinematography and a nonstop synth score, but he skimps on the suspense and gory payoffs.
The film opens promisingly enough with a distraught girl staggering out of her house in a state of confusion and driving out to Lake Michigan. Sobbing on the dark beach, she calls her father one last time to tell him that she loves him, and then there’s a shock cut to her horribly maimed corpse lying in the sand as the sun rises. It’s reminiscent of the discovery of the corpse at the beginning of Spielberg’s Jaws…and that’s really about all there is to it.
Next, we’re introduced to Jay (Maika Monroe, also in The Guest, another problematic retro-thriller), a normal, sexually curious high schooler who can’t wait to bag her new boyfriend (Jake Weary). Once she does, however, he chloroforms her, ties her up, and tells her that he’s transferred some sort of killer curse to her.
As she writhes in terror, he gives her the whole rulebook — she must pass the curse on to someone else as soon as possible or a creature — that only she’ll be able to see — will kill her, go back to get him, and continue down the line to collect its earliest victims. Plus, it has the ability to look like anybody. Then he drives her, barely conscious, back to her house and dumps her in the street.
Mitchell takes the “sex equals death” theme that drove the Halloween and Friday the 13th films to its literal extreme, but it’s a tedious and ultimately empty journey. It’s attractively photographed by Mike Gioulakis and has some interesting visual themes, but unless you’ve always feared being trapped in an indoor swimming pool while some undead creature is hurling kitchen appliances at your head, it doesn’t add up to much.
Anyhow, we’re dragged along for an endless ride as Jay, her sister (Lili Sepe) and friends (Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi and Daniel Zovatto) try to outrun whatever sinister shapeshifter is following her as Rich Vreeland’s Carpenter-inspired score cranks on endlessly.
The director’s retro fetish extends to vintage cars and old-school tube televisions everywhere, constantly broadcasting 1950s sci-fi flicks (as in the original Halloween). What at first seems clever becomes a risible conceit, to the point where we see VHS tapes sitting on a table next to the actors. All I could think was “They must be way overdue.”
As for the creatures, they shamble along in a Carnival of Souls/Let’s Scare Jessica to Death manner, and for some reason, a few of them are naked, as if that’s supposed to make them more horrific. Probably the creepiest aspect of the whole production is when the kids travel into Detroit itself. It looks like a war zone, with its boarded-up houses and silent streets. And when they go into one of the gutted homes to discover strung-up cans and bottles hanging from all the windows, serving as makeshift burglar alarms, it’s reminiscent of all the bones and feathers hanging in — you guessed it — The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
It Follows is one of those films you get about halfway through and realize, with a sinking feeling: “This is all there is to it, isn’t it?” Alas, it is.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00KDU8HQQ]