Acclaimed as one of the most inventive horror movies in recent years, It Follows puts a clever spin on the notion of the serial killer. Directed by David Robert Mitchell, who was behind nostalgic 2010 coming-of-age tale The Myth of the American Sleepover, the movie is a sly pastiche of horror maestro John Carpenter, all prowling cameras and wooded suburban streets as central character Jay (Maika Monroe) finds herself being stalked by an especially deadly enemy. Having slept with her boyfriend, Jay is then drugged and wakes up cuffed to a chair, to be told that she is now afflicted by an unstoppable curse that will eventually catch up with her and kill her – unless she has sex with somebody else and passes the curse on. With its carefully studied visual style paying deliberate homage to Carpenter's ground-breaking classic Halloween, It Follows also pays deference in the realm of its score by Richard Vreeland (aka Disasterpeace), a jangly, synthetic, chilling nightmare that echoes not only Carpenter but a host of other horror score composers including Goblin (Suspiria), Henry Manfredini (Friday the 13th) and Charles Bernstein (A Nightmare on Elm Street). There's also more than a touch of Angelo Badalamenti in some of the quieter moments. In terms of plugging audiences into the film's nostalgic atmosphere, the score is all-important, casting back to a time where burgeoning electronics created a distinctive soundscape in the realm of horror movies.
Impressively, It Follows is Vreeland's first step into the realm of feature film scoring and a confident, skilled imitation it is, one that's sure to get the young composer noticed by Hollywood. A child of a self-confessed musical family, Vreeland got into electric guitar at high school and made his name through electronic music, having composed the chiptune (8 bit) synth score for 2012 platform game Fez. It was this game through brought him to the attention of director Mitchell, who asked him to write the soundtrack for It Follows. Although the composer admits to not being particularly steeped in horror films or horror scores, there's no denying the effectiveness of the end result. As might be expected the score is textural rather than thematic, relying on carefully gauged shifts in mood and tone to signify whether something is meant to be calm and reflective or terrifying. The opener, "Heels", establishes a particularly effective electronic percussion element that soon builds into a distorted synth assault resembling an attack of angry hornets. Broadly speaking this is associated with the curse itself, one that manifests in front of Jay as a seemingly ordinary person walking inexorably forward. The following "Title" introduces what might be described as the central theme although really it's more of a scene-setter, a menacing, Carpenter-esque keyboard figure building into some darkly enveloping synths.
It's also one of the calmer tracks, something that can also be said of the soothing and optimistic "Jay", the undulating "Detroit", "Playpen", which sounds like Ennio Morricone's score for Carpenter's very own The Thing, and the hypnotic, percolating "Lakeward", the latter of which takes a cleverly chilling turn with subtly descending chords that indicate impending danger. In-between, the propulsive "Inquiry" moves steadily forward with a sense of purpose, moody certainly but not exactly scary. Those familiar with Carpenter's work not just on Halloween but also cult classics like Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape from New York will likely find themselves smiling in recognition, although non-fans may find the score's authentically electronic approach a little alienating. Meanwhile, the curse material dominates the harsher, more challenging pieces such as the slow-burning "Anyone" (accompanying the chilling moment where Jay is first made aware of the danger), the relentless "Old Maid" and the increasingly cacophonous "Company", whose jabbing textures appropriately feel like a violation upon the body. Meanwhile "Detritus" runs the gamut from hollow groaning to more discordant and overt textures that are suitably eerie. Later on, the genuinely frightening "Doppel" builds the volume to near-unbearable levels whereas "Relay" keeps the suspense simmering at an ominous level.
Towards the climax of the album, Vreeland captures Jay's battle against the curse in a series of harshly dissonant textures. "Greg" begins with the material heard earlier in "Inquiry", synthetics replicating the sound of prickly, pizzicato strings before the volume dips to a barely audible level, steadily rising again in the manner of encroaching footsteps. That Vreeland is able to contort his limited electronic ensemble in such creative ways is testament to his dramatic instinct. "Snare" overlays a woozy rhythm with a great deal of distortion, a sense of humanity battling the chaos whereas the provocatively dripping textures of "Pool" are relatively calming. The aggressively unrelenting "Father" is where the score's scarier material comes to a dramatic head, repeatedly hammering the listener with its harsh nature. Here is where all of Vreeland's curse textures come together from the low growling to the stabbing actions and the synth percussion. Fortunately, everything calms down in the low key "Linger", which reinstates the earlier "Title" material.
Brilliantly effective though Vreeland's work is, It Follows is perhaps the very definition of a score that works best within the movie itself, as opposed to providing a cohesive listening experience away from it. By its very nature, the score is harsh and frequently overbearing, and a challenge to sit through. However, in terms of fulfilling its primary objective within the context of the movie, the score is without doubt one of the most effective, inventive and memorable of the year, skulking and prowling and unnerving the audience. It's also exceptionally well researched, bearing pleasing hallmarks of an oft-derided but memorable era in film music. For a debut film score, It Follows is very impressive – even if a stand-alone listening experience might have the listener reaching for a stiff drink.