There is something I freely admit to people: I am an absolute wimp when it comes to horror movies. I can’t watch super gory films. Suspenseful films keep me awake for weeks. I’m pretty sure there are still movies I saw in my childhood that come back and get me some nights. So why, then, did I go out and see It Follows? Because I found out it was scored by none other than Rich Vreeland, and if Disasterpeace is putting his music in something, I’m obligated to give it the good ol’ college try and check it out.
I was not disappointed. I was, however, quite wound up after the ordeal, and had to take an hour chatting with a friend and eating some late-night Korean food to wind down enough to think about going to sleep. In retrospect, seeing a late night screening of a horror movie ranks pretty low on my list of “Good Ideas To Act Upon Before Bedtime,” but sometimes you just have to go with what’s available. I went into the theater without expectations, and I left completely in awe. As this is now the second movie in recent memory (if not just in general) with a chiptune composer scoring it, I felt it necessary to report on the film and soundtrack here. Unfortunately, Rich was not available for an interview, although he has posted an article on his blog about his work on the film, which contains basically everything I would have asked him in the first place. Give it a read, come on back, and we’ll keep this train rolling.
*Note: The following paragraphs will contain light spoilers for the movie.*
It Follows knows exactly what it wants to be: a classic horror film for a modern audience. The entire visual aesthetic of the film is purposely dated, from the choices of cars to the style of the suburbs and down to an old-timey movie theater with a Wurlitzer organ featured early in the film. In fact, the only grounding the film had to tell that it was from the modern era was one character had a clamshell e-book reader. And likewise, between the 80’s-style synthesizer feelings and the overall compositional architecture, Rich has created a score that is at once evocative of older films and yet is something so thoroughly modern so as to not be discounted as some sort of nostalgia trip. Rich and David Mitchell (the mind behind the film) seem to have synced up perfectly to get across exactly what feelings need to happen where. It Follows is a film about children growing up and exploring emotions. It’s about kids getting out and exploring each other’s minds and bodies. Unfortunately for the kids in the film, it’s also about a sexually transmitted curse that, once you’ve caught it, will kill you via a monster that follows you everywhere you go. Mitchell has admitted in interviews that his influences come from the early George Romero films, among others, and it definitely shows – the slow, inexorable doom that comes from early zombie films combined with a teen drama works remarkably well together. So much of our adolescent lives are some form of creeping dread anyway – be it about grades, or physical appearance, or perceived popularity. To have a death curse become one of those forms of impending doom fits in so perfectly to the teenage narrative it’s surprising that isn’t actually real life for most people.
What I found most interesting about this film, though, is that while it may telegraph its influences quite loudly to those who know the genre (even in passing, like myself), it never tries to break the fourth wall . There are no genre savvy characters – in fact, the characters act much as anyone else might and try to kill the monster with the means that are available to them. For a movie that plays with horror tropes as much as this movie does, it surprisingly avoids the one that seems to take the punch out of most movies now – the characters never learn the “magic way” to get rid of the thing. They don’t look up the history of it on the internet, they don’t find some wizened crone who tells them the way to break the curse. Just like the real problems we face growing up, all they can do is ask other people in their immediate area who have dealt with the same problem, draw their own conclusions, and hope for the best. This is, perhaps, why I was so wound up after watching the film – you aren’t supposed to relate to monster movies. Monster movies are supposed to be solidly fiction, and having themes and characters being relatable to real life means having to come face to face with the monsters in your own life, which can be scarier than any movie.
As to the score: Rich’s work does double duty in both adding tension to the most terrifying scenes and giving us brief reprieve in the breather scenes. Rich says in his blog post (linked above) that the start of he and David’s partnership was based off of Rich’s work on Fez, which does explain why a few tracks can sound a little similar. Strangely, having a sense of something familiar going on during a horror film was comforting, and was almost an audible easter egg to distract from the most jarring of scenes. This is so much different than anything else Rich has done, and while I’m not surprised he rose to the challenge, I’m certainly amazed by the result. The fact that the score goes back and forth between harsh, dissonant stress inducing tracks to more mellow but never quite “happy” pieces over and over again makes me wonder if Rich was alright by the end of the scoring process, because to say that the score itself is an emotional rollercoaster on its own is an understatement. Rich describes himself as a minimalist in his blog post, saying he sticks to a few instruments and Logic, and it’s extremely obvious that that self-imposed limitation has made him extremely strong in the musical paths he has chosen.
I did as best as I could to keep this article as spoiler free as possible, because this is a film that will absolutely be ruined if you know too much of what’s going on. It Follows thrives off of building suspense, and it would be a disservice to rob you of that. Now, at this point, it isn’t playing in many theaters, if any, but the good news is that it’ll be out digitally and on your physical media of choice in just two weeks! To tide you over, though, there’s always the soundtrack, embedded below the links and linked above the embed.
That’s all for this time. Seats out!