The creature at the heart of It Follows is a testament to the power of a well-realized terror. The rules are established early on — passed along through sex, the creature can assume the form of anyone, and it will follow you relentlessly until it gets close enough to kill. It’s also invisible to everyone else, making it difficult for even the most understanding of friends to believe or even help. It’s that Terminator-like relentlessness combined with the isolation of an invisible killer that makes for a potent cocktail of horror.
After a date gone horribly wrong, our protagonist Jay finds herself stuck with the creature, unable to escape its hunt for her unless she too passes along the curse through sex. She’s aided by her sister and a handful of friends, including an eager boy named Paul who she had a brief fling with in the past. They’re all believably young and believably dumb, which makes the whole affair easier to swallow than the typical slasher film.
When It Follows focuses on the hunt and the escape, of the hopelessness of the situation, it works brilliantly. When it diverges from that, taking extended breaks to explore teenage angst, it drifts dangerously into aimless indie preciousness. Long, quiet takes hang over the faces of a group of kids full of desire and uncontrollable hormones. The themes present, things like the lengths of male desperation and the fight for female control over their sexuality, are undeniably strong. Technically, It Follows does THE BEST THING, wherein it crafts a creature that drives deeper, smarter themes than the average horror film. The only issue is when those themes get in the way of decent pacing.
Simply put, It Follows drags it’s feet more often than I would have liked. Its cast spends too much time staring off into the distance as an undeniably unique soundtrack builds and builds. They wake from careless sleep knowing a deadly force could be right behind them, yet they rise up slowly — painfully slowly — never once checking around them for their impending doom. It’s frustrating in all the wrong ways.
And it’s a disappointing, nitpicky flaw in a film with a fantastic sense of dread and intelligent themes to explore. It’s beautifully shot, offering up a unique world that blends the modern day with touches of the 1970s and 80s. Its soundtrack — written by Disasterpeace of Fez fame — roars like a pixellated nightmare at its height while lulling the audience into a false sense of security in the interim. It’s a film successfully firing on so many cylinders that it’s a shame the goddamn thing won’t MOVE sometimes.
I hate to harp on a singular flaw because I think It Follows is a great film in many ways. That said, I think so much of what is good about it can be turned on its head if you’re driven to boredom. The things that feel like a breath of fresh air — especially, in a genre suffocated by bland “ghost in a house” premises — can so easily come across as pretentious-mumblecore-BS shoved into a horror film. Yet with a quick cut here, and a shorter long take there, we’d all be too busy catching our breath to question it.