When information about It Follows started traveling down the internet pipeline, and after I’d watched the trailer, two words immediately popped into my head: “Black Hole“.
From 1995 to 2005, comic artist Charles Burns released a limited run story called Black Hole. Set in the dreary, overcast Pacific Northwest during the mid-70s, Black Hole follows a group of suburban teenagers with nothing better to do than wander the woods, smoke dope, go to the ocean, and screw. It’s well known between the two leads in the story (as well as every other character) that a mysterious sexually transmitted disease (“The Bug”) is being spread among the teens – one that affects each person differently, but still turns them into some sort of freak or mutant. And just like life, some get it worse than others.
Besides being gorgeously illustrated (I hate to use hyper-bowl on ya, but every damn page is absolutely jaw-dropping), the thing that really sells Black Hole is how nauseatingly real and relatable it was – afterall, we all were, at some point, teenagers – and we all had to deal with those awful, shitty teenage feelings. First loves, the pressure of not fitting in, the uncertainty of the future. I’m breaking out in a sweat just typing about it now.
But Burns managed to take this story of teens-turned-freaks and somehow make it a metaphor for teenage life in general and the loss of innocence. Don’t roll your eyes, it’s true! But we’ll get back to Black Hole. Let’s talk about It Follows.
I didn’t bother digging up any more information on It Follows than I’d already come across on the internet before seeing it in the theater, because all the reviews were rave and that was enough for me to want to go into it fairly blindly. I wanted to experience it as purely as possible.
The first scene of the film immediately establishes several things: tone, atmosphere, music, and suspense – all of which are enforced throughout its entirety, without ever losing steam or focus. And it’s those components that are so vital in making this film so damn effective and probably why it’s been garnering such high praise.
There’s something strange about It Follows that I can’t even explain, something unsettling. Watching it made me feel something. Set in a suburb of Detroit, the residential streets are wide and bare, the lawns are perfectly manicured, the sidewalks are lined with lush, drooping trees. In a way it very much reminded me of my own teen years, endless days filled with a listless wandering of the streets.
Perhaps it’s the unconventional way the film is shot – during the ‘golden hour’, lots of shadowy night shots, lots of natural indoor lighting – that make it feel real and therefore inherently more scary.
And it’s all of these things which liken it to its other greatest influence (besides Black Hole): Halloween.
Not since John Carpenter’s 1978 genre-defining classic has the combination of dreary suburbia, droning synths, and a widescreen lens created such a powerful and memorable horror flick. It Follows is filled with tons of wide shots, and this is an important and effective technique: it isolates the subject and makes them look (and feel) small and alone. And again, I can’t stress how important the use of natural lighting (and night shooting, and during the ‘magic hour’) is for the film: when the teens sit around the house, with nothing but the dim glow of lamps and a TV set illuminating the space, a chord is struck deep within your brain.
When The Guest was released last year, director Adam Wingard described it as, “Terminator meets Halloween.” And while I can appreciate that in a homage-y sense, It Follows actually feels like something John Carpenter filmed sometime in between Halloween and The Fog.
Another thing I really appreciated about this film is the characters. For once, I didn’t want any of them to die! And brother, let me tell you – that is a rare feeling for me when watching a horror flick. Usually I find the characters so damn irritating, that I’d be fine with having ’em all wiped out within the first 10 minutes. They’re usually real dum-dums, and when they’re not screaming at the monster, they’re screaming at each other. But the teens in It Follows feel like a real group of teenaged friends. They feel like real teens. They feel like real friends. And that’s important. Empathizing with the characters, rooting for them – that’s crucial.
At the time of this typing, I watched the film about 10 hours ago, so it still has some settling to do – steeping, marinating, coagulating. But how I’m feeling now is that I really, really enjoyed the film. I’m tellin’ you: there’s something about the way it makes you feel. This film is all about feel. It’s…hard to pinpoint. And that kinda creeps me out.
Overall it’s a refreshing take on a subject that hasn’t been too played out within the genre. I definitely want to see it again – as soon as possible, in fact – and rarely do I feel that driving need to want to rewatch a film immediately. There is a recurring water motif that I haven’t quite deciphered yet, but it’s got me thinking – and when’s the last time a horror movie made me think?
There are a few artistic choices I found silly, if not wholly unnecessary, but they were fleeting and not distracting enough to take me out of the movie. That’s another thing I give It Follows credit for: it rolls along at such a perfect pace, you never have a spare second to worry about what has happened – only what’s going to happen.
Oh, and one more thing about Black Hole ‘fore I wrap this up. At one point Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary were attached to a film adaptation. And after they dropped out, David Fincher was signed on. Eventually director Rupert Sanders produced a short fan film in hopes of actually getting a full length release produced. Unfortunately, nothing ever came of it, but fortunately the short exists on Vimeo, and you can watch it (just click the pic!)
With its drab and wearisome setting, throbbing synth score, natural indoor lighting, and array of STD-affected teens, I can’t help but wonder if this short wasn’t in some way an influence on It Follows. Or maybe they simply exist within the same creepy, depressing world.
Go see It Follows. And then see it again.