I went into It Follows with only the knowledge that it was a good horror movie, and that a lot of people thought it was a good horror movie. They were correct. If you want to go in like I did, just stop reading here. No hurt feelings, as long as you clicked a link to get here and gave Drunk Monkeys its fix. No serious spoilers, I just want to get butts in seats without loaded expectations. Still here? Hey that's cool, then I'll indulge you with some words.
On paper, It Follows sounds a bit like a traditional slasher. A supernatural threat terrorizes a teenage girl, her sister and their collective friends in a suburban neighborhood. Hell, our protagonist Jay (Maika Monroe) bares a striking resemblance to Freddy vs Jason's lead, Monica Keena. But It Follows manages to be something completely new and different while reminding us where it came from, is unrelentingly tense, and – in a rare feat – is actually scary.
There are two ways you can intend your horror characters to come off: good, so we root for them against the foe, or bad, as body-count cattle, making the audience root for the villain so they can see these horrible people die in horrible ways. It Follows wisely opts for good, likable protagonists. Jay is cursed with the baddie of the picture not from her own stupidity or ignorance, but against her will. She is a victim. She runs the emotional gamut wrought by the creature, but never comes off as weak. Her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and their group are all genuine people with history between them and you don't want to see them hurt.
I'm being purposefully vague about the monster. It follows you, there you go. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell is also reserved about how much he tells you. We get a general set of rules for how it all works, but not much of any back story. Just enough to make the story work while keeping us curious. No one wants to see teenage Darth Vader, right? (little boy Jason is perhaps more apt here but I wanted to see that one even less, so I didn't.)
Music plays a huge part of It Follows' success. Little did I know going in that the score was done by Disasterpeace, who I know from various video games and video game remixes. I'll admit it caught me off guard at first (the Fez soundtrack is a steady writing companion), but it gave the movie an unsettling tone I wasn't expecting. Disasterpeace has a distinct sound akin to retro gaming but not exactly what I would call chiptune (a lazy umbrella term on my part for 16-bit and older music.) I believe it has to do with his sweet synth. Classic gaming audio is starting to be used for a feeling of childhood or nostalgia (such as Scott Pilgrim or The Kings of Summer), and as It Follows is set somewhere in the 80's it made a clever half step to the John Carpenter scores of old without aping or even being a direct homage. Disasterpeace's music can also be oppressively powerful when called for, in that it actually pushed me back in my seat. Like many great scores, I can't imagine It Follows without it.
Worth pointing out is how much of the movie is in broad daylight while not losing its dread. That's very hard to do (Joon-ho Bong's The Host being the only significant other recent horror movie I can think of and that was almost ten years ago.) It Follows was sparse on gore, too. In fact the only real grotesquely gore-ish image I can think of was right towards the beginning as a warning. But in the way that Pulp Fiction has little on-screen blood and guts, It Follows doesn't let you off the hook. Your imagination is more powerful, after all.
My last tonal note might sound weird, but I was happy that It Follows didn't crack one single joke as far as I could tell. Horror and comedy are two summer camps separated by an easily-crossed haunted lake, one sneaky canoe trip at night away from frivolity behind the back of a negligent camp counselor. They're close is what I'm saying. Jokes are tempting, oh so tempting not only to relieve the tension but because why not? You're making a horror movie, and making a horror movie is super fun. These days everyone is a comedian, from The Onion to the C.I.A.'s twitter. By resisting, the nervous atmosphere never let up, and as a bonus – no groaners! In a way, the “curse” of It Follows is reminiscent of Raimi's Drag Me To Hell, an overt comedy, in which their was a literal curse. Back to back, you can see how close the two genres are, comedy sometimes being just a gypsy chant away.
I'm not even going to go into what I feel the major theme is as it tells a bit too much. Also, any negatives aren't worth mentioning as they're small and overshadowed by all the positives listed. It Follows comes off feeling distinct, fun and scary due to an interesting new monster, strong realistic relationships, a unique soundscape, and an ever-present tension. It was a good horror movie.