Of the many traits that a film (or TV show, for that matter) can possess that really strikes a chord with me, it’s mystery. I don’t mean in a textbook Murder She Wrote kind of way, I mean mystery in the way that, even after the conclusion of the film, you still don’t quite know exactly what happened. David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is a perfect example of that, and even with a few shortcomings, it’s a huge part of why I love this film. You have the main event, if you will, which is the mystery of whatever IT is, but there’s so many layers to that, that I think a lot of it is easy to miss.
Right off the bat, we see a young woman, Annie, running out of her house in a state of panic, though she tells a concerned neighbor (and her father), that everything is fine. After a bit more frantic running around, Annie gets in her shiny Lexus and drives off in a hurry, her cell phone ringing the entire time. After finally answering her phone while sitting a beach sobbing, Annie tells her dad how much she loves him, and then… well… Annie’s leg ends up pointing the wrong way somehow. So, here’s where things start to get interesting, and not simply because of the mystery around who or what decided to see how many points of articulation Annie had. Cut to the main character of the film, Jay, who after a dip in the pool joins her sister Kelly, and her friends Paul and Yara inside. In a house that looks like everything is 1975. Watching a black and white movie on a small, old CRT television. There’s nothing remotely modern about this scene at all. Oh, wait, Yara has some weird clamshell e-reader/cell phone/flashlight thing. So… that’s a little weird.
This movie is chock full of things like that, things that intentionally leave you confused, so that NOTHING makes any sense. Everything about Jay’s house screams that this is set sometime in the late 70s to early 80s, a fact that’s seemingly confirmed when she’s walking around the block with Kelly and they see their neighbor, Greg, washing his car – a circa 1980 station wagon. Oh, wait, when we see Greg get something out of the refrigerator in his kitchen, it’s a shiny new stainless steel fridge with an icemaker in the door. You’ll scratch your head over this shit the entire time, and I love that. The confusion triggers go beyond that, of course, and it’s all intentionally done to throw the viewers off balance. A brilliant film making move, no doubt about it.
One of the potential flaws with the film, at least based off of conversations that I’ve had, is that whatever IT is, doesn’t follow some set of rules that are supposedly set for it – “Why does it break windows?”, “Why is it just standing there?”, “Why is it throwing things?”. First of all, it’s a weird, creeping, murderous entity – what makes you think it’ll follow ANY rules? Second, thanks to the magic of dialogue, we know that it’s slow, but it’s not dumb. Wouldn’t you think, then, that it could learn, adapt, and evolve? It has to be more than just a thing that walks along behind you, waiting for you to get a charlie horse or something, so it can pounce on you. How boring would that be? The slow dread of something trailing you relentlessly obviously has roots in Romero, but the terror with his Living Dead films is that there are thousands and thousands (if not millions) of relentless things walking towards you. Just one wouldn’t be all that scary if that’s all that it did. In order to really be effective, it HAS to evolve. It has to find a way past locked doors and windows, it has to find a way to get to someone that it can’t reach.
Speaking of Romero roots, I’m also a huge fan of the way this film proudly wears its influences without coming across as a rip off in any way. Romero, Carpenter, and Craven are all given nods in this film, and it all works wonderfully. Hell, even the soundtrack is a huge (and amazing) nod to Carpenter. All of that, of course, is another part of why it has that 70s/80s feel, even though Yara can’t get off her god damn e-reader thing that shouldn’t exist.
I can’t help that think that complaints that It Follows doesn’t make sense are lobbed at it from people who don’t really get that it’s not supposed to make sense, at least in a traditional way. Sometimes, the answers aren’t all laid out for you, and that’s the beauty of cinematic diversity. Just because it doesn’t make sense to you, it doesn’t mean it’s a horrible film. Maybe it went over your head, or you just weren’t the intended audience (I’m looking at you, Bret Easton Ellis). What David Robert Mitchell and the cast of this film did here was create a modern horror classic, plain and simple. A film that’s entirely deserving of the praise that is heaped on it.