You're gonna die. If not in the next few minutes, then sometime later. You can run, hide, throw things, but your demise is inevitable.
The premise of David Robert Mitchell's indie horror film It Follows couldn't be more basic, but the Michigan-based filmmaker's treatment is novel. He assembles the tropes of the teen-horror film — pretty girl, gang of friends, absent adults, suburban home, isolated country cabin, casual sex and a relentless killer — and arranges them into a fresh, compelling take.
The film opens on an ordinary suburban street, where a young woman is freaking out before driving to a beach. She makes farewell calls to her family. The next time we see her, she's a pile of dismembered bones.
From this cold open, the tale unfolds slowly, centered on Jay (Maika Monroe), a teenage girl enjoying the summer. She's dating a new guy; they hook up and he drops a bomb: He is being followed by a mysterious killer only he can see, and now that they've had sex, the threat has transferred to her. If she has sex with another person, it passes to them — but if the killer gets that person, it comes back to her.
And who is this killer? "It could look like someone you know, or it could be a stranger in a crowd — whatever helps to get closest to you." On the upside, it can pursue its victim only by walking slowly. But if you outrun it today, it just comes back tomorrow, or next week.
It Follows doesn't offer any backstory on this deadly chain letter — it just is. And it sounds ridiculous, until you think it's after you. Mitchell cleverly places Jay in the center of wide shots, so even the viewer is scanning the frame's edges, scrutinizing dog-walkers, old ladies, that guy across the street.
The film builds up a lot of tension through waiting and wondering, as Jay and her friends figure out what to do. (Because they're kids, nobody debates the ethics of passing on the threat, but you'll ponder it.) There are scenes of panic and peril, but It Follows is free of gimmicks and jumps cares, unspooling languidly at times, like a drama about disaffected teens inexpertly grappling with real and existential horror.
Some viewers might be frustrated by the film's pace and the lack of mythology, but I found it an effectively unnerving experience. And anything that moves the needle toward more thoughtful horror films and away from creatively bereft found-footage franchises is a plus.