It Follows paints its widescreen canvas with chromatic set dressing and wardrobe, not the blatant neon lights and disco balls that hang over the fanatically spun 80’s throwbacks like a standardized niche aesthetic. In this way, it feels a bit more honest too, and a lot less artificial, and still chilly cool. I responded to the subdued vibrancy of the images first (the film begins with a long 360 degree take) and then to the fidelity of the synth heaving score. And quickly it was clear, It Follows is a mean orchestrator of sound and image.
Shot in 2.35:1 Anamorphic scope, cinematographer Mike Gioulakis works with a wide frame, often sectioning the composition off with strong horizontal lines and taking advantage of the deep spaces on both ends of the screen. It’s not just to paint a pretty picture though. It actually inflates the tension by providing a larger space. When our protagonist is placed in the foreground, the horror can often be seen gradually creeping in from the far ends of the screen. It trains us to move our eyes then and look for any suspicious details in the backgrounds. That extra space also acts as a constant reminder of the horror that follows and never gives up, meaning it could show up at any oblivious moment in those dastardly corners.
I haven’t described exactly what that horror is, but that’s because it’s rather abstract. Not just literally because it shape shifts and comes in the forms of different people, but also the origins from where it manifests. Maika Monroe plays an extremely watchable Jay, the neighborhood girl next door. She had an image of herself, as she explains to her current flirt Hugh after sex, “...Holding hands with cute guys” driving around, but not necessarily going anywhere, “... Just some sort of freedom, I guess” This soliloquy, murmured as the camera observes her pick some tacky flowers that look well against her tacky red fingernail polish, can be overlooked as usual angst. But pay attention to some key details, “It was never about going anywhere really” and yet it was also some sort of freedom. Jay, now in college, seesaws on the precipice of adulthood. The daydreams she explains allow her to indulge in the adult pleasures of sex without having to leave the safety of her adolescence and deal with the consequences.
This is the direct spring the horror derives from (The fear of being forced from that youth). But It Follows has more layers to peel back on, including some Freudian conceits, and the many other fears that accompany sexuality. For one character “it” manifests in the form of his mother. For others, it’s old people or some variation of a sexually perverse looking character. Just as the figure of the “It” metamorphoses, so too does the root of the fear (Old age literally chasing them, vs sexual fears). They all threaten to follow these kids indefinitely, out of the suburbs, and into the city, out of adolescence, and into old age, and ultimately (at some point perhaps even in between) death.
It’s a brilliant concept that extends upon familiar ideas, and I’d say perfects it. Director David Robert Mitchell and his cast and crew arrive with slippery clean bravura. They don’t just terrify, they refresh and succeed in various modes. There're scenes full of nostalgic angst that involve the friends channeling Scooby-Doo, and a few moments of brilliant visual humor that spike up the heavy atmosphere. But Mitchell’s too careful to compromise it, and the dread refuses to let up.
And I must make note of the soundtrack... Composer Rich Vreeland conjures some toxic tunes, electronic pulses that throttle the heart rate and barely allows it to drop back to resting level. It’s also simultaneously, unusually, dazzling to hear, beautiful even, sometimes nourishing. It Follows looks and sounds so satiable, that the horror may be difficult to anticipate. It may not utilize neon, but it’ll use the reflection of the waves of a candy blue pool, or tape vibrant illustrations to the window allowing the sunlight to overkill their saturation. It’s never uninteresting to look at, or to listen to, and it’s got a substance strong and tall enough to vindicate its glossy style. Did I mention it’s terrifying?
See it in theaters Now.