As Jaime Kennedy pointed out so notoriously in Wes Craven’s Scream, you never have sex in a horror film…unless you have a death wish. It’s clear here in It Follows that some people didn’t get the memo.
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The film opens with the panorama shot of a quiet suburban street at dusk before a young woman bursts outside the front door of her house in nothing but a nightie and high heels. Running frantically around the block from a threat unseen by the audience, she eventually races back inside her home to grab her car keys. The girl burns rubber as she floors the vehicle out of the subdivision, only stopping once she’s reached an isolated beach. With nothing but the lights from her car illuminating the nighttime scenery, the girl cries apologetically on the phone to her father, staring out at the unseen force. The scene cuts to black, opening back up to the following morning where the girl’s lifeless body lies in the sand. Considering the grisly state of her disjointed, mangled limbs, it’s made clear that this invisible entity isn’t a force to be taken lightly.
So what was after the girl? 19-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe) finds out all too well following a quickie in the backseat of her date’s car. Just when the pair’s date seems to be going well with their roll in the hay, heartthrob Hugh (Jake Weary) suddenly chloroforms Jay. She awakens bound to a wheelchair on top of an abandoned parking structure, where Hugh lays out the rules of the game.
Apparently, a demonic entity has been following him ever since he had a one-night stand with a random girl at a bar. The only way to rid yourself of the curse: pass it on to someone else by having consensual sex, leaving Jay in the starring role of the worst chain letter known to man. This shape-shifting monster only ever moves at a walking pace, but it’s unyielding. No one but those who have been tagged can see it. It never stops. It can’t be killed. And you are its sole target until it murders you in grisly fashion. To make matters worse, if you don’t pass it on and consequently die, then the previous victim is targeting again…and so on down the line back to the origin.
It Follows pays homage to classic horror films, à la John Carpenter’s Halloween. The time period to which the movie takes place is ambiguous. Everything from the fashion and vehicles to the use of corded landline phones gives the impression that we’re looking at the late-70s to early-80s, yet one of the characters is seen using a futuristic e-reader in the form of a make-up compact and another is using a cell. Director Robert David Mitchell’s use of wide-panned shots and continuous panorama views adds to the thriving fear wrought throughout the entire movie as audiences share in Jay’s constant state of paranoia as they, too, try to spot the unnamed wraith.
Since its screening at Cannes last year, It Follows has been hailed as the most terrifying movie in recent history. In all honesty, that’s not necessarily true. It’s really an unfortunate case of over-hyping, potentially leaving horror fans let down by the lack of blatant scares. Though some might be genuinely frightened by the movie while watching, the majority of viewers will find that it’s more about the impression the film leaves that makes it effective. It’s next to impossible not to become analytical over It Follows.
The premise of a demonic STD sounds hokey, and in the hands of typical horror filmmakers, the movie would be utterly ridiculous. Hollywood’s persona of young adults usually involves girls in provocative outfits, casual sex without consequence, infuriating jump scares, and torture-porn death scenes. What Robert David Mitchell does so beautifully with It Follows is present the audience with a contemporary film that just so happens to be a horror movie as well. The character of Jay never comes across as promiscuous, the supporting cast feels like a genuine group of teenage friends, there’s a surprising lack of gore, and there’s an interpretive message to take away from the feature.
Clever movies are far and few these days, and ones of the horror genre are almost nonexistent. The only point audiences takes away from most slashers and thrillers is to stay away from killers with bloody knives and to learn not to fall down while running away from someone chasing you. So when a film like It Follows comes along, it demands proper attention. Theories speculate that the movie is a metaphor for AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases while others think it’s a representation of coming to terms with growing into adulthood, and Mitchell’s lack of clarification on what it means only further drives our interest. Composer Rich Vreeland, a.k.a. Disasterpeace, also lends to the film with a masterfully crafted 80’s throwback-electro score. Its unique blend of shrill horns, pounding percussion, and an unsettling hive of buzzing catapults every scene with a new level of tension.
It Follows is undoubtedly smart, but at the same time flawed. That’s what makes the film even more intriguing. How could Hugh know the rules of the game if he didn’t even remember the name of the girl he slept with that cursed him? How did this STD even begin? These unanswered questions only demand more inquiry, and it’s quite the achievement that a film from the highly stigmatized horror genre provokes such a reaction.
It Follows Rating: A-