Maika Monroe plays Jay, a young woman who finds her life thrown into chaos after a sexual encounter with a young man (Jake Weary) who has deliberately chosen to pass on a deadly curse. He immediately informs Jay of the situation: it will appear to her in humanoid form that anyone "uninfected" will be unable to see, it doesn't move quickly but is relentless, she will die if it gets hold of her, the only way to become safe is to pass it along, if Jay is caught and killed then it will go back to pursuing the previous victim. Jay tries to explain everything to some of her family and friends, and it's no surprise that they find it hard to believe until they start to see things that are scary and inexplicable. Can they help Jay to stay safe, and is there a way to break the cycle?
There's a lot to like here, not least of all the lead performance from Monroe. She's very easy to like, which helps to make up for the lack of real personality in the mixed group of supporting players (Keir Gilchrist has an understandable crush on Monroe's character, Olivia Luccardi has a memorable moment in which she ends a thought by breaking wind, and that covers the "highlights" of moments that don't focus on Monroe). The general dialogue is good, pacing is brisk, and there's a good synth soundtrack by Rich "Disasterpeace" Vreeland (despite the overused trick of the volume increasing in a way that signifies an approaching terror, not unlike THAT cue in the John Williams score for Jaws). You also get good special effects, all the more effective for being used quite sparingly, and the strength of that main premise.
Mitchell shows great confidence for his second feature, but his creation of such a great central conceit is as frustrating as it is entertaining and intriguing. Considering the potential here, there are a number of ways in which It Follows lets down viewers. First of all, moments that play things out with the potential to comment on abuse, and particularly sexual abuse, seem to veer close to saying something meaningful and then swerve away at the last minute. It's not that any horror film MUST have more to it than the superficial tension and scares, but Mitchell occasionally shows that he knows the potential of his premise (e.g. the scene in which police are questioning Monroe over her sexual encounter, certain specific incarnations of the curse) and that is what makes it harder to overlook.
It's also hard to view the curse as anything but inevitable, which is another problem. This isn't something you can pass onto someone else and be done with, nor is it something you can surreptitiously return to the person who initially gave it to you. It's a constant thing, as explained in the film, because once you pass it along to someone then that will only give you a temporary reprieve until the next person is killed. That's fine for the duration of the movie, and it ends with a suitable final image, but it's no good once you start to think outside the confines of that runtime.
Those things are easier to forgive, however, than the main thing to take viewers out of the movie, which is a truly dire third act that involves the worst plan to try to capture an evil entity since Ray, Egon, and Peter tried to jump on that ghost in the library at the start of Ghostbusters. In all seriousness, if anyone can explain to me why that was the big plan then please let me know. I understand that the characters soon realise it won't work, as things start to happen, but I don't understand how they reached their flawed conclusion in the first place. Are we just supposed to believe that the character who came up with the idea is a complete idiot, making the others more idiotic for going along with the scheme?
And yet, despite those big mis-steps, the film still works. It's a fantastic mood piece, with that score matched by some fine, creeping, cinematography (by Mike Gioulakis), and manages to keep you suspending disbelief for a good hour or so. And it also gains points for trying something a bit different.
You can buy It Follows here.
Americans can buy it here.