A thick, mounting dread lingers for days after the end of “It Follows.” Just as the lead character discovers, there’s no easy way to shake the nightmare.
Maika Monroe portrays Jay, a sad-eyed blonde living at home and attending college in suburban Detroit. We first see her floating casually in an above-ground pool (one of many distinctive overhead shots) when she detects a neighborhood boy spying on her.
“I see you,” she says in what will be her last playful use of that sentence.
Soon after she sleeps with her new boyfriend, Hugh (Jake Weary), for the first time, only to awaken bound to a chair in a parking garage. Hugh reveals he’s being stalked by some supernatural entity he contracted through sex. Now he’s passing it to Jay, and it will slowly pursue and then butcher her unless she spreads it to someone else.
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But he needs Jay to see for herself. This is where the film introduces its merciless signature image: an individual walking slowly and deliberately straight toward the viewer.
“It can look like someone you know or a stranger in a crowd,” Hugh says.
Worse still, no one but the victim can see the shape-shifter. This poses a problem for Jay’s younger sister (Lili Sepe), best friend (Olivia Luccardi) and childhood buddy (Keir Gilchrist) who has always nurtured a crush on his seemingly unattainable gal pal. They know something profoundly traumatic happened to Jay, so they defend and comfort her, even though there’s no real evidence to support her story. At least not yet.
Writer-director David Robert Mitchell hit the indie scene with the 2010 coming-of-age drama “The Myth of the American Sleepover.” “It Follows” maintains the same low-budget immediacy of an art-house film (it was a Grand Prize nominee at last year’s Cannes festival), methodically portioning scares with believable character drama.
Whereas most current horror flicks favor rapid-fire editing or Steadicam prowling, Mitchell and cinematographer Mike Gioulakis (“John Dies at the End”) rely on a wide range of artsier selections: jump cuts, 360-degree pans and peculiar close-ups.
“It Follows” — which certainly lays claim to one of the best-ever horror titles — feels like a throwback to the heyday of ’70s genre classics. There’s an intentional lack of modern technology employed by the teens as their search for answers leads from comfy middle-class neighborhoods to blighted urban cavities. Few things hint at what era this is, which gives the movie a timeless quality.
Adding to the hazy ambiance is a soundtrack by Disasterpeace, whose spooky synth compositions are suggestive of John Carpenter’s score to “Halloween.”
However, it’s not all stylistic choices that make this movie great. There’s something deeper at work.
It’s simple to view the film as an STD allegory. The concept of unmarried teens having sex and then passing a disease to their partner is rather hard to ignore. But it also can be considered a cautionary tale about how any action has lingering consequences. It’s the ideal horror movie in a post-Facebook, post-Twitter, post-Instagram world, where a few imprudent seconds can lead to repercussions that never go away.
“It Follows” only stumbles in its finale, when the friends concoct a plan to dispatch the fiend. It’s “Scooby-Doo”-quality at best. Fortunately, Mitchell finishes with a closing shot perfect in its ambiguity.
There’s no ambiguity about the impact of “It Follows.” It horrifies. It disturbs. It rules.
Rated R | Time: 1:40