Home > Reviews > IT FOLLOWS – Rich Vreeland

IT FOLLOWS – Rich Vreeland

itfollowsOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

It Follows is a low-budget independent American horror film, written and directed by David Robert Mitchell. The premise is deceptively simple: after having sex for the first time with her new boyfriend, a teenage girl named Jay becomes drawn into an inescapable nightmare when he tells her that, now that he has had sex with her, she will be followed by an ‘entity’, which can only move at walking pace, but which will kill her if it catches her. The entity can take on the appearance of any person, cannot be reasoned with, cannot be killed, and can only be seen by the person being followed, and the only way to ‘pass on’ the curse is to have sex with someone else, at which point the entity will begin to follow the new person. However, once that person is dead, the entity moves back down the chain, and begins following the previous person once more… The film stars Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe and Daniel Zovatto, and has become something of a cult sleeper hit, with critics comparing the film favorably to early genre efforts by directors like John Carpenter.

The score for It Follows is by 28-year-old New York-born composer Rich Vreeland, who writes using the pseudonymous stage name Disasterpeace. To date Vreeland is best known for his work in video games, notably the scores for Shoot Many Robots and Fez, and his embracing of the classic ‘chiptune’ audio style which mimics the synthesized 8-bit electronic music heard in vintage computers, video game consoles, and arcade machines from the 1980s. The director, in the liner notes to the soundtrack, says that he fell in love with Vreeland’s music while playing Fez, commenting on its “style, melodies, and sense of subtlety,” which is what led him to approach Vreeland to score It Follows. As such, it makes sense that Vreeland took the same approach to his first feature film as he did to his games scores: It Follows is a completely electronic score, featuring layer upon layer of processed sounds and effects, with numerous moments of explosive dissonance, which are in turn counterbalanced by a couple of more intimate suburban themes.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will announce up front that I find this sort of music very difficult to connect with on an emotional level. Intellectually, I understand the technical aspects of the score, the creativity that goes into designing the sound elements, and the skill involved in performing the different layers of electronic textures. Conceptually, I understand that this type of music is intended to be a nostalgic throwback to many people’s childhoods, to remind them of the sounds they heard playing on their video games from their Atari and Sega systems. I also realize that the whole thing is an homage to the low-budget synth soundtracks that accompanied so many of the genre classics of the 1970s and 80s, from John Carpenter’s own Halloween to Charles Bernstein’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, and even a little bit of Harry Manfredini’s Friday the 13th. But despite all that, I personally find scores like this very challenging, and from the point of view of pure enjoyment, it’s not easy for me to put a positive spin on things.

In the context of the film, for me, the score works about 50% of the time. Vreeland has a general leitmotivic structure to his score – not in terms of melodies, but in recurring conceptual ideas. There are booming explosions of sound that emerge whenever the entity is near; percussive beats that underpin the noise, almost mimicking the sound of a train, illustrating the entity’s relentless, unstoppable mission; and more downbeat, subdued themes which speak to the malaise afflicting the film’s setting on the boundary between the sterile suburbs and the urban blight of contemporary Detroit south of 8 Mile Road. These ideas are all good, and are mostly successful. Unfortunately, the score is spotted and mixed very poorly, so much so that, on several occasions, I was taken out of the film by the inappropriateness of the music. The director and composer seemed to be using music in ways which did not complement the on-screen visuals, highlighting the wrong emotional aspects of certain scenes, or creating an atmosphere which seemed contrary to what was actually happening in the story at that time.

However, on CD, the score is actually a better listening experience, but still one which those with an aversion to electronic scores will have difficulty connecting with. Cues like “Title,” “Detroit,” and “Pool” have a more melodic core, and contain the same sort of ‘twisted suburbia’ sound that John Carpenter famously brought to his Halloween scores, music that hints at murder and mayhem lurking behind the manicured lawns and white picket fences. The similar-sounding “Jay” has a wistful, dreamy ambience, while the more determined-sounding “Playpen” has a strong, rhythmic core intended to express fortitude and a sense of purpose.

Other cues, like “Heels,” “Old Maid,” “Company,” the brutal-sounding “Doppel,” and the cacophonous “Father,” are angry and in-your-face, overwhelming the listener with massive aural assaults full of chugging, grinding textures and low-register rumbles which seem to have been intentionally designed to lose their fidelity when played at volume. The composer himself acknowledges classical composers like John Cage and Krzysztof Penderecki as influences here, and I can definitely hear echoes of something like Penderecki’s “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima,” specifically in the way the music is composed of buzzing, dissonant tone clusters, insect-like and incessant. Unfortunately, the watery, plinky-plonky echoing sounds of cues like “Inquiry” and “Greg” were the pieces which took me out of the film, and continue to sound out of place both in the context of the film and on the CD, breaking the carefully-crafted atmosphere of impending doom Vreeland worked so hard to develop.

It’s difficult to know how to summarize It Follows because, as a soundtrack album, it will really only appeal to a small niche of fans. Anyone whose tastes lie solely within the world of orchestral thematic writing will undoubtedly listen to It Follows with a mixture of incredulity and increasing irritation. Much of the score is very difficult to digest, and as such should be approached with caution. Beyond that, anyone with an affinity for 1980s horror movies and John Carpenter-esque synth scores, or anyone who saw the film and found themselves intrigued by it in context, will likely find parts of it interesting, even enjoyable, for its throwback nostalgia and creative programming, but may also find too much of it too abrasive and anarchic to truly appreciate – I fall into this category, with the caveat that I thought it didn’t work in the film as well as it should have. However, if you are into contemporary electronica, chiptunes, and synth scores which push the boundaries, then perhaps you will glean more from it than I did.

Buy the It Follows soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Heels (2:47)
  • Title (2:17)
  • Jay (1:28)
  • Anyone (1:48)
  • Old Maid (2:32)
  • Company (4:12)
  • Detroit (1:20)
  • Detritus (2:18)
  • Playpen (1:28)
  • Inquiry (2:20)
  • Lakeward (1:34)
  • Doppel (5:25)
  • Relay (1:52)
  • Greg (3:28)
  • Snare (0:59)
  • Pool (1:35)
  • Father (5:01)
  • Linger (2:20)

Running Time: 44 minutes 45 seconds

Milan M2-36720 (2015)

Music composed and performed by Rich Vreeland. Album produced by Richard Glasser, JC Chamboredon and Stefan Karrer.

  1. April 13, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    I was kind of disappointed by this score. I’ve been a fan of Disasterpeace for years, and a lot of his game work is highly melodic. But I suppose there’s not much room for bleepy bloopy melody in a movie like this, and FEZ did have its moments of sonic anarchy.

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