Most of the impact of It Follows comes from the novelty of the idea. The horror genre often relies on a lot of tried and true concepts and ideas to terrify the audience. It Follows comes up with an interesting, different idea and watching that idea mature and unfold sustains a good deal of the film’s runtime. However, that alone is not enough to make a solid horror film.
The film opens with a woman fleeing her home in terror, gazing at something off-screen as she runs circuitously back into her house, then back out again to get in the car and drive away. Eventually she stops and waits at the beach. The next morning she is dead, her body contorted and twisted into something grotesque.
From the initial moments, one of the strengths of the film is its noticeable camerawork. A good deal of the film relies on long takes, many often spinning around in a circle. These long takes go a long way to adding a sense of suspense and tension as the audience watched and waits, unsure when or if something frightening will strike. Knowing that something might be passing just off-screen, or seeing a glimpse of something as the camera pans by, leads to waiting breathlessly for the next pan.
In many ways, the film feels a lot more like a mood piece than a horror film. As the nature of the terror is revealed, the potential for visual fright is somewhat diminished. The idea is still unsettling, but the images that result are more surreal than terrifying. There’s a sense in which this is the greatest strength of the film as it’s a film that’s built more around this constant, unnerving tension and less of a roller-coaster of terror and mundanities.
While a solid piece of filmmaking, the writing is where the film begins to break down. The characters are painfully dry. While the horror genre is prone to use characters more as monster fodder than fleshed-out characters, here the characters come across as more like cardboard cutouts with a tiny smattering of the occasional quirk sprinkled on top of them. Likewise, the dialogue and acting is often stale and stilted.
The staleness results in the final act of the film not being as visually interesting or unnerving as it could have been. The visual fright just doesn’t quite pay off as well as it could, especially given how frightening the idea should be. But without the solid character work, the impact is lost. There’s a lot of potential in the idea that the film doesn’t fully embrace.
A lot of It Follows merits comes from that originality, but it fails to take the ideas as far as they could go and the writing is lacking. Given that this seems to be lined up as the next cult hit ala Paranormal Activity, there’s a good chance someone else will come along and will build on this idea and make for something great instead of simply good.
© 2015 James Blake Ewing