Directed by: David Robert Mitchell.
Written by: David Robert Mitchell.
Starring: Maika Monroe (Jay Height), Keir Gilchrist (Paul), Jake Weary (Hugh / Jeff), Lili Sepe (Kelly Height), Olivia Luccardi (Yara), Daniel Zovatto (Greg Hannigan), Bailey Spry (Annie).
If you have read anything about It Follows, the terrific new horror film by David Robert Mitchell, it probably sounds like any number of other, post-John Carpenter’s Halloween, slasher movie. Yes, this is another film in which a beautiful, suburban teenage girl engages in sexual activity, and then is stalked by a killer of some sort for the rest of the film – perhaps as punishment for daring to have a sexual appetite. Carpenter (who is clearly an huge influence on this film) kind of established that premise with his 1978 original, low budget shocker – and it’s been copied ever since in all the Halloween sequels – not to mention the Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and seemingly hundreds of other, lesser known knock-offs. The idea has been done to death, and satirized to death (sometimes in those very sequels that are still engaging in the same plot) – and the whole thing has become a tired, horror movie cliché. Why, then, does it work so amazingly well in It Follows? Partly, it’s because of the way director Mitchell shoots the film – lots of long, unbroken shots, with a swirling camera. Part because of the way the “killer” (which takes on different forms) stalks its victims – you’ve seen “slow” killers before, but never this slow. It gets you not because of its speed, but because it seemingly cannot be killed, and will never stop coming for you. You can outrun it for a while, but eventually, it will be right there again. But mainly it’s because Mitchell does unexpected things with the group of friends he centers his movie on. Even without this killer stalking them, this group would have enough drama to fill a movie – there is more than enough hormones, lust, petty jealousies and heartbreak going through this group to keep the movie fascinating, even when Mitchell isn’t trying to scare you (which he does expertly). It’s also because of the way Mitchell portrays sex itself in the movie – there is no “slut shaming” going on in It Follows, unlike many horror films. The characters are not being “punished” for their transgressions. The movie doesn’t really paint as neither good nor bad for their young characters – rather, it portrays it as having the potential to be either of those things – and how one mistake can haunt you for the rest of your life.
The movie stars the talented Maika Monroe, from last year’s great horror movie The Guest (which not enough of you saw!) as Jay, a teenage girl out of high school, but not quite in college yet. She’s dating a new guy – slightly older, named Hugh (Jake Weary), and although they haven’t had sex yet – she knows they will soon, and is looking forward to it, in a slightly dreamy, naïve way (no, she is not a virgin – but her romantic ideals around sex still mark her as somewhat immature). Eventually, Hugh and Jay do have sex – in his car, and in the post coital period, he shocks her by knocking her out with chloroform – when she comes to, she is tied to a chair. Hugh did this not to hurt Jay – at least not more than he already has – but to tell her what to expect. He has just passed something to her – and it’s something she can only get rid of by having sex with someone else. Someone or something will follow her – it may be someone she knows, maybe not, it may appear alive, it may not – but a few things are clear: it won’t stop until it kills her and no one else can see it. And if Jay lets it kill her, then the presence will immediately go back to trying to kill Hugh again, so at best, this is a temporary reprieve that you can never truly shake.
I know this probably sounds slightly ridiculous – but believe me, it isn’t (besides, go through the basic plot of pretty much any horror movie, and they all sound ridiculous, don’t they?). As Roger Ebert never tired of saying “A movie isn’t about what it’s about – it’s about how it’s about it” (or something like that anyway). What It Follows does is take that ridiculous premise, and play off those previous horror movie clichés, to make a film that both scary and disturbing – and more so the later than the former. As Jay enlists more of her friends to try and help her, the group dynamics become clear. Paul (Keir Gilchrist) looks longingly at Jay – it’s clear he’s in love with her, and she thinks of him as little more than a friend, and although she toys with him a little, it isn’t cruelly. Greg (Daniel Zovatto) is the “cool” kid across the street – the one with the car and the cabin they can run away to and hide out. There’s also Jay’s sister (Lili Sepe) and her friend – and they all band together to “help” Jay – even if none of them really can.
The movie does deliver on the scares – for the most part. To be honest, the big horror movie climax is actually one of the weakest scenes in the movie. It tries too hard to be scary, and is undercut at least a little by the inherent ridiculousness of the killer – something that doesn’t hurt the rest of the movie, because it doesn’t have the kind of sustained, physical confrontation with it. The rest of the scare scenes in the movie work remarkably well though. This isn’t a bloody movie by any means, and neither does it rely on cheap scares. The “killer” makes George A. Romero zombies look like sprinters. What the movie does remarkably well is building a mounting sense of inescapable dread.
The movie is even more disturbing and unsettling than scary though – especially as it moves along, and its implications become clear. Yes, It Follows could very well be read as a metaphor for an STD or unwanted pregnancy – if you want it to. But I think the implications of the movie and its view of sex are far more universal, and somewhat saddening.