It Follows (2015)
The horror genre has become helplessly diluted and has all but stripped itself of its actual purpose. We all know it, and yet there are still thankfully filmmakers out there trying to work within the medium to make horror that’s actually worth watching. I’ve been a devotee to the scary stuff since childhood, so it’s always an immense pleasure when I get the fortune of stumbling across a horror film that lives up to the genre’s name and makes an effort to go beyond it.A lot of things about It Follows hearken back to horror’s glory days. Director David Robert Mitchell clearly has a deep knowledge of the material, as he coats his movie with a foreboding synth soundtrack and prefers deep suspense over slasher tactics and copious gore. There are plentiful scenes during which he employs camera angles that leave the film’s characters (and viewers) in a state of vulnerability. Sometimes we don’t know what’s around the corner, while at other times we can plainly see the danger in the distance even if the characters on screen can’t. As is almost always the case with horror, context is a big part of why It Follows is able to succeed in its goals visually, and the fact that it is also shot downright beautifully helps as well. This is an aesthetically masterful movie.
Much like some of the best (and worst, honestly) entries into the horror genre, It Follows has an extremely basic set-up. The movie begins with a pretty terrific cold open, as we see a frantic and scantily-clad girl exit a suburban house in a complete panic, repeatedly looking over her shoulder and eventually taking off in a car. She drives to the water, leaves a desperate and heartbreaking message for her father, and the next thing we know she’s dead. If that doesn’t set the stage effectively, I don’t know what would.
Knowing that awful things are to come, Mitchell then introduces us to our main characters, a normal group of young adults who simply want to sit around and talk, watch TV, and sometimes go for a swim. While It Follows spends a ton of time with the central group, its unabashed main character is Jay (Maika Monroe), a pretty and peaceful girl who has begun dating a new guy in town named Hugh (Jake Weary). Hugh seems nice enough, but he freaks out for what appears to be no reason on a date with Jay after she doesn’t see the same girl in a yellow dress that he does. Jay thinks this is weird, but she still likes Hugh enough to give herself to him in his car a night later.
While Jay was totally willing to have sex with Hugh, she certainly wasn’t willing to deal with what would come after. It turns out Hugh, now cold and uncaring, has passed something truly awful to his newest sexual partner. He ties her down and forces her to witness as a slow-moving naked figure approaches them in the darkness. He explains that he has passed to her something, something that will follow her and brutally murder her unless she also dumps it off to a new sexual partner of her own. “It may be slow, but it’s not stupid,” Hugh explains. He urges Jay to keep out of its grasp not because he gives a shit, but because if it kills her it will come back to claim him and continue down the line of those who have passed the ominous plague on.
Obviously Jay has a big decision to make as her life falls into complete disarray. Still trying to deal with the horrifying night she had with Hugh, she now has to constantly flee for her life as a slow specter no one else can see comes after her in different forms the unafflicted can’t even see. It’s either that or callously allow someone else to take the risk by having sex with him. Her sister and friends believe she’s merely traumatized from a date with a monster, but soon they (especially Keir Gilchrist’s Paul, who has a long-standing crush) begin to come around.
It Follows doesn’t employ a wealth of plot twists, and it doesn’t revel in a high body count. Instead, the film (especially for the first 2/3 or so of its running time) delights in finding ways to make viewers feel criminally uneasy and on edge. I was in full tense-up mode for what felt like an hour or more straight, as the premise means that the characters were never safe even in public settings or daylight. How can you call for help when no one can see the danger?
It Follows also takes the time to make its mythology work as some sort of parable, although the decision on what everything really means is largely up to each viewer. Clearly the film has a distinct coming-of-age feel in addition to its horror elements, and it could easily be argued that the characters burdened with, um, “it” are terrified of their lives passing them by as they start reaching adult milestones (i.e. sexual liaisons) and these milestones become commonplace and lose their shine. Maybe “it” is a warning against trusting the wrong people or a condemnation of using people who might want more for casual sex. Whatever the case, it’s a lot of fun to delve into all of the possible meanings It Follows has to offer.
So everyone go out and watch this thing. I’m sorry if it kills your sex drive or forces you to keep lights on while you sleep; these are just more side effects of the nameless specter you will have just spent 100 minutes with!