One of the surprises of the spring season in the film industry has been the success of the low-budget horror film It Follows. After weeks of buzz and strong word-of-mouth, the movie expanded to wide release and made back its budget several times over. As a fan of horror, I eagerly anticipated seeing the film as soon as it swung by my neck of the woods, and was glad to hear that an original vision was getting so much praise and was being commended for actually being “scary.” While I appreciated the skills displayed by the director and actors, and found it to be a well-crafted film as a whole, I felt It Follows ultimately failed to deliver on the terror that had been promised; perhaps the reason my assessment was so harsh was because of how impressed I was with another recent horror film, The Babadook, and felt that It Follows suffered in comparison. Nevertheless, if there is one aspect of It Follows that I can unquestionably recommend for any prospective viewer, it is the film’s masterful and brutally effective score.
The music has long been an essential part of creating a successful horror film. Who can think of The Exorcist without recalling its theme “Tubular Bells”, or remember Psycho without Bernard Herrmann’s whirling strings, or recall Halloween without John Carpenter’s unsettling and menacing piano score? Even terrible movies have become classics in part due to their memorable soundtracks, like the goofy sound effects that serve as an alert that you are watching some part of the Friday the 13th franchise. Last night, I even ended up doing an accidental experiment that helped confirm the specific power that music has in horror movies. I saw a trailer for the upcoming Poltergeist remake in the theater, and chuckled a bit at the supposed scares, but those chuckles became full-fledged guffaws when I saw the trailer again later that night, but on mute. There is nothing like seeing a silent killer clown toy trying to attack a little kid without the sound on.
In time, I believe that the score for It Follows will be recognized along with those legendary performances mentioned above. Unlike those other examples though, it is impossible to single out a definitive theme or melody from It Follows; instead, the score is built on well-placed accents and unsettling motifs that help ramp up the suspense and build up a sense of dread as to what may happen next. Disasterpeace, the score’s composer, does an excellent job of ratcheting up the tension for long stretches of time, before punctuating the music with jolts of terror. The score is so effective in startling the listener that even after multiple listens I find myself being caught off-guard when my attention drifts elsewhere.
Disasterpeace does an excellent job of giving the soundtrack a retro feel without falling into the potential trap of sounding derivative; the brilliant use of synths helps evoke memories of the 80’s, much like the soundtrack to Drive, and the unnatural sounds and tones help instill terror in the listener. The score also does a great job of manipulating dynamics, lulling the listener into false feelings of peacefulness and security, before exploding in sudden shrieks. There are also moments where Disasterpeace vamps on a particular dissonant chord or riff, then suddenly shifts into a relentless, pulsating figure, which instead of releasing the previous tension, amplifies it to an even greater degree.
I am not sure when I will see It Follows again, but I know I will be revisiting its soundtrack time and time again.