There’s just something about horror films centering around an evil entity. These malevolent beings can’t be reasoned with, and their aura of invincibility makes them truly terrifying to encounter. Few films tackle the evil entity concept quite like the 2014 film “It Follows” – and if you’re a fan of this film, you’re probably thirsting for more like it.
"It Follows" is a unique horror film with an eerie and unconventional approach to the genre. The movie revolves around a supernatural entity that relentlessly pursues its victims after being passed to them through a curse transmitted via sexual contact.
This entity, which can take the form of various people, stalks the protagonist, Jay, and her friends, creating an atmosphere of constant dread and paranoia. The film's innovative concept, coupled with its haunting visuals and soundtrack, crafts a deeply unsettling experience that lingers with viewers long after the film’s final twist.
But what is it that makes “It Follows” such a compelling film? And what other movies are out there for horror buffs to sink their teeth into that follow similar themes? We spoke with executives and directors at Level 33 Entertainment – a Hollywood-based company that distributes films starring household names like Tom Arnold, Brian Cox, Lauren Bacall, and Sean Astin.
Specifically, our conversation included Andreas Olavarria, founder and CEO of the movie distribution company; Michael Bafaro, director and co-writer of Level 33's new horror film "Don't Look Away;" and Michael Mitton, co-writer of "Don't Look Away."
We talk about what makes “It Follows” such an effective horror film, and dove into seven other movies like “It Follows” that they fell in love with as filmmakers.
Jump to the films:
The Magic of ‘It Follows’: What Makes It Such a Frightening Film?
"It Follows" stands out in the horror genre for its unique blend of suspense, atmosphere, and the unsettling feeling of being pursued by an unseen evil. Olavarria said the film is appealing because it “has that creepy sense of 'what evil has been unleashed that is hunting me down?'"
This sentiment reflects a fundamental aspect of horror that resonates deeply with audiences – the fear of the unknown and the relentless pursuit by an unseen adversary. And when it comes to making films like this truly effective, it’s all about atmosphere, Bafaro said.
"I'm very forgiving with horror films – because of that atmosphere. Atmosphere is my number one thing when it comes to horror,” he said. “Of course, everything else matters, but the atmosphere for me is key."
"It Follows" masters the atmospheric elements that are so essential to a good horror film. For example, in one scene, Yara is recovering in the hospital and reads aloud from Dostoevsky's "The Idiot." The passage she reads includes the line, "the most terrible agony may not be in the wounds themselves but in knowing for certain that within an hour, then within ten minutes, then within half a minute, now at this very instant — your soul will leave your body and you will no longer be a person."
This moment stands out not for its visual horror, but for its stark confrontation with a universal truth. Unlike the supernatural entity that haunts the film's characters, the horror Yara articulates is undeniably real and inescapable.
When a film gets the atmosphere right, it draws viewers into a world where their normal expectations are suspended, and they're left feeling vulnerable and on edge. And that’s where the fun begins.
"I think people want to be scared,” Bafaro said. “People like to be scared and they're still safe. They're sitting in front of a TV set or in a movie theater. They want to feel that sensation. But they're safe."
This paradoxical desire to experience fear while remaining in a secure environment is a key driver behind the popularity of horror films. It allows audiences to confront their fears and anxieties in a controlled setting, providing a thrill that is both exhilarating and reassuring.
7 Movies Like ‘It Follows’ – Some You Might Expect, Some You Might Not
When discussing their favorite horror films in the vein of “It Follows,” Olavarria, Bafaro, and Mitton offered a diverse list of films that inspire and thrill them in this genre. A few of them you might expect, but there are a few surprises on the list. All of them illustrate different aspects of effective horror films.
1. Halloween (1978)
When discussing influential horror films, "Halloween" inevitably comes up. In fact, Michael Mitton and Michael Bafaro draw a direct line from their new film to this 1978 classic slasher,
"For us, the big one was Halloween,” Mitton said. “Really, our movie [Don't Look Away] was Halloween with a mannequin – almost.”
This film, more than any other, belongs at the top of this list because of how it pioneered the slasher genre and inspired horror films that followed, Bafaro said.
“I grew up with Halloween,” he said. “When it's on television this time of year, it's always, ‘Oh, I can stay watching that.’"
2. The Shining (1980)
"The Shining" is another masterpiece that resonates with the filmmakers. Mitton and Bafaro both agree that it's one of the biggest in the genre – and its unique style and atmosphere rubs off on their work.
"I think the Shining was a big influence on us – not just for this film but across the board the shining star.” Added Bafaro: "Yeah, the Shining is our number one.”
The film's psychological depth, atmospheric tension, and iconic imagery left a lasting impression on these directors, shaping their vision and approach to the horror genre.
3. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
"Nightmare on Elm Street" is a cornerstone of horror. There are few horror film antagonists quite as iconic as Freddy Krueger. The original film went on to inspire eight more films in the series, not to mention a TV show and even comic books.
The film's other-worldly qualities are particularly influential for Mitton.
"I love the original Nightmare on Elm Street series from the 80s, because they were so surreal,” he said. “Like I remember being a kid watching these, and I didn't go to them to see the kills. My interest was to see this fantastical world."
4. Final Destination (2000)
"Final Destination" is a little bit different from the other entires in this list. The film doesn't involve an evil or demonic presence in the traditional sense, but it does position death itself as an unavoidable, unstoppable force that never gets cheated.
This unique film tackles the concept of fate, and effectively uses atmosphere to build dread for the inevitable and inescapable death that await its victims. The film plays with the idea that death is always lurking and striking in unexpected ways.
This theme resonates deeply with audiences, as it taps into the universal fear of the unknown and the inevitable.
"More than anything, it's the atmosphere of the film," Bafaro said.
5. Jaws (1975)
In horror, the antagonist is often demonic, but not always. The 1975 film "Jaws" may not seem to be very similar to films like "It Follows," but there are definitely some parallels.
Bafaro says the effectiveness of suspense and the unseen in "Jaws" is what really makes it a true horror classic, Bafaro said. A remorseless killing machine like the shark in "Jaws" is just as deadly and unstoppable as the devil himself, so there's no need to bring in the supernatural with this film.
Bafaro believes the fact that you see so little of the shark in the film is what makes this film truly elite.
“The best thing that ever happened [during filmmaking] was that that shark didn’t work in the water,” he said. “For Spielberg, it was an opportunity to have the shark represented by other things"
"Jaws" masterfully uses the unseen to build tension, making the audience's imagination a tool in crafting the horror experience.
6. Silence of the Lambs (1991)
This 1991 classic plays with the idea of an evil entity that is human rather than supernatural. This makes it all the more terrifying by forcing us to imagine that any one of our fellow humans – a quiet neighbor, even – could turn into a monster like this.
Bafaro said he remembers showing “Silence of the Lambs” to someone who was not a fan of horror, and how the ending "freaked the crap out of her to the point where I was like, ‘oh my god.' I was really feeling bad,” he laughed. “I didn't think it would affect her. Because it's not even a typical horror film.”
Her reaction showed how important it is for a good horror film to have a powerful psychological impact, and how filmmakers can blur the lines between genres, he said. The film’s blend of horror and psychological thriller elements creates a deeply unsettling experience that resonates with viewers on multiple levels.
7. M3GAN (2022)
While many of these films came out decades ago, there’s a new entry to the genre that Olavarria is a big fan of: “M3GAN,” a 2022 film about an artificially intelligent doll that becomes self-aware and hostile toward anything and everything that threatens to come between her and Cady, an 8-year-old girl who lost her parents in a car accident.
While the doll is not technically “possessed,” it follows on many of the themes of possession in horror films. Possession films often explore the horror of losing control and the psychological impact of an external, malevolent force taking over. These themes tap into deep-seated fears about identity, autonomy, and the unknown, making possession a powerful tool in horror storytelling.
"I think people people like that," Olavarria said, noting that "Don't Look Away" played on similar themes. "The possession of a mannequin is like the possession of the doll in M3GAN."
Honorable Mention: Don’t Look Away (2023)
All of these films were big influences on Level 33’s latest horror film, “Don’t Look Away.” This film presents a twist on the horror genre, centering around a menacing mannequin as the primary source of terror.
The concept plays into deep-seated fears of inanimate objects coming to life and the uncanny valley effect. The filmmakers drew inspiration from classic horror films like "Halloween" and "The Shining," incorporating elements of suspense, the unknown, and psychological horror.
Olavarria said what makes “Don’t Look Away” so much fun is how it plays on the unknown, creating a sense of mystery and fear that is both intriguing and terrifying.
One thing you’ll notice in the film is the profound influence of the 70s and 80s horror, Mitton said. This reverence is not just a nod to the past but a foundational element in their filmmaking – a blend of classic horror elements with Mitton’s and Bafaro’s own twists.
You may even notice a nod to Italian horror cinema, Bafaro added, particularly when it comes to camerawork and the style of “Giallo” slasher films. This eclectic mix of American and Italian horror styles creates a distinct atmosphere in "Don't Look Away," setting it apart from its contemporaries.
At its heart, the filmmakers wanted to make the film fun – which is often overlooked but equally important in the world of horror, Mitton said.
“I wanted it to be something you can put on late at night at like 1:00 in the morning," he said. "You see a movie about a mannequin that kills people and you're like, ‘OK, what are they going to do? That sounds kind of fun.’”