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« Sundance Quickies: Dope, Last Days in the Desert, Nasty Baby | Main | Red Carpet Lineup: The 21st Annual SAG Awards »
Tuesday
Jan272015

Sundance: "It Follows" is Brilliant High Octane Nightmare Fuel

Michael C here in Sundance to report on a horror film that already feels like a cult classic even though it doesn't even come out until March.

Put into words, the plot of David Robert Mithchell's It Follows sounds almost comical in its simplicity. There is a creature that will follow you until it kills you. If you are unlucky enough to get this creature on your trail there is nothing you can do. You can try to run or to hide, to destroy it or to deflect it towards another victim. These strategies may have some effect, for an hour or a day, but they are all temporary. Sooner or later the creature will get you. It's in no hurry.

One might suspect that such a simple concept would get old fast, or at best amount to an entertaining genre exercise, but that is far from the case. By stripping the horror genre down to its barest essentials Mitchell makes It Follows into the purest possible distillation of a drug. A kick of undiluted fear straight to the subconscious. With its pulsing, foregrounded music the whole thing takes on an unexpected grandness. I am reminded of the subtitle to Murnau's Nosferatu -
"a symphony of horror".

[More]

I can't recall the last film that so successfully retuned viewers' brains to operate on nightmare frequency. Not just in the classic scenario of being followed by an unstoppable force, a concept that has been repurposed for everything from Cat People to The Terminator, but in an unsettling way where the film never quite has both feet down in reality. And I don't refer to the appearance of a monster. I mean in more subtle ways like how the film exists outside of time. You may spot a cellphone in an early scene but then much of the technology appears to be from the 80's and the TV only seems to show sci-fi B movies from the 50's. As in a nightmare, the creature can change shape from scene to scene without explanation or meaning. What was an old lady in one scene is a young girl in a yellow dress in another. The creature's existence is never explained nor is it supplied with a motive. It just is. In classic nightmare fashion It Follows doesn't invite you to parse its logic. It runs on sensation, on dread.

I wouldn't be complete in describing It Follows' pervasive nightmare vibe without mentioning how sex is infused throughout the film. I won't give away exactly how it is involved or relates to the creature, but like the rest of the film it goes beyond plot points, operating on a more elemental level. All great horror recognizes how sex and death are tightly entwined. This twist It Follows gives this idea is especially wicked. 

But don't let me get carried away with symbolism and theory. Above all It Follows is a cracking horror film. An efficient nerve shredding machine. The cast is on target right down the line, no amateurish horror film acting or clunky dialogue to trip over. Maika Monroe is excellent as the teenager unfortunate enough to attract the creature's attention. Between this and The Guest, Monroe is angling for the title of this generation's Jamie Lee Curtis. As a director Mitchell puts other more elaborate horror films to shame with the amount of tension he can squeeze out of the most basic horror scenarios. Saw's absurd Rube Goldberg torture devices are not needed here. It Follows is so masterful at controlling the audience that all it need do to wind the tension tight as violin strings is drop the lead character down in front of a deep background. Instantly every single person in the audience is scanning the horizon, looking for It.

Grade: A

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Reader Comments (9)

Sounds great!

January 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

Great review!

My favorite horror movie since God knows when. I think it's the closest I can get from a real John Carpenter movie nowadays...

January 27, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterremy

It does sound great. Can't wait. Nice review. Thanks.

January 27, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdavey

Just watched The Guest. Monroe as the new Jamie Lee seems apt, though she may need to scream more and kill more to really earn the title.

January 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

Caught this at the Chicago Fest, and it really plays brilliantly. I am starting to worry a bit about horror's fixation on updating the 80s. This and "The Guest" are fantastic in their own right and I wouldn't change a thing, but at some point a synth score is going to turn cliche, right? These individual films are artful, but the impulse to revisit the same reference points time and again shares some distant DNA with Hollywood's current reboot craze.

January 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

I'm really looking forward to this one. They just announced distribution for it, too: a March 13 VOD and theatrical release. Didn't catch who bought the rights.

January 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

Dave S. - I get what you're saying about the synth score trend. Sooner or later everything turns into a cliché but for now its working brilliantly. I also think that IT FOLLOWS transcended the synth score as just a reference and made it feel new with the way it boldly foregrounded the msuci and cranked it up way beyond the level of a regular score.

Plus, taken on its own It Follow's score is just fantastic, reference or not

January 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMIchael C

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Visit nearest Kroger stores and save the receipt code to complete the Kroger customer experience survey. After the survey, we have a chance to get 50 Kroger fuel points.

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