Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.
Horror movies tend to reflect the fears of the time in many ways. There’s been a resurgence in horror movies over the last few years with some that have not just been critically acclaimed by people who love the genre but by a more general audience as well. Such is the case with It Follows, a film that dives deep into ideas about sex in the modern world. It’s kind of a coming of age story with a very macabre and nasty twist. It’s sex that’s going to condemn our characters and it’s sex that conceivably is going to save them as well.
The film opens with Annie (Bailey Spry) who suddenly dashes out of her house, ignoring offers of help. We later see her on a beach tearfully calling her parents and telling them that she loves them. Cut to the next morning and the film’s one gore shot of Annie’s brutally mangled body lying on the sand. It’s a good starting point.
From here we move to Jaime Height (Maika Monroe), a college student in the Detroit suburbs who lives at home. Jaime, who goes by Jay, is at the start of a new relationship with a guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). The two go to a movie and play a game that Jay invented with her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe). They take turns picking someone out of the crowd around them that they’d like to change places with and then the other person attempts to guess who they’ve picked and why. When Hugh insists that Kelly wants to trade places with someone she can’t see, he gets spooked and the two leave.
Later, on another date, Jay and Hugh have sex in his car. It’s a nice moment for Jay that is immediately spoiled when Hugh chloroforms her and ties her to a wheelchair. When she wakes up, Hugh tells her that she will now be pursued by a terrible entity that will kill her when it catches up to her. This entity can only be seen by her and her last sex partner. It will always move toward her, walking slowly, but never stopping. It can look like anyone. If it catches her, it will kill her, then head to the person who passed it on to her. The only way to save herself is to pass it to someone else and make sure that person passes it along as well. It’s never stated at the start of the film that Annie was Hugh’s previous sex partner, but I think that’s a pretty safe bet.
Naturally, then, the rest of the film concerns Jay attempting to get rid of the creature that is following her and that creature catching up to her and attacking in situations where no one else can see the entity. In addition to her sister, she is aided by their friends Yara (Olivia Luccardi) and Greg (Daniel Zovatto), and by Paul (Keir Gilchrist), who is quite obviously infatuated with Jay. The group moves from place to place, attempting to find out what they can about the entity that is stalking Jay, and having some weird experiences where Jay is attacked by something they can’t see.
It Follows is rare in modern horror films in what it attempts to do. There are some disturbing scenes here, but almost no real gore beyond the opening sequence. It’s also not a movie that shies away from nudity in general, but all of the nudity here is the least erotic nudity I can remember. The entity that pursues Jay is often partially clothed, sometimes pissing itself, and always terrifying. While there are certainly moments of sex in the film, all of this is tastefully done and not exploitative in any way.
Also odd for modern horror is the body count. Horror movies, especially those that involve a teenaged or early 20s group of protagonists, have deaths like clockwork. It Follows has a few implied deaths, but only a couple where we actually see what has happened. This is rare, and impressive in this case. It Follows isn’t going for the cheap scare or the gross out, but is trying to do something a lot more real and a lot deeper than just making the audience say “ick.”
It Follows does manage to be creepy and disturbing in the way that the best horror does. It’s not wildly paced, but moves almost languorously ramping up to full speed when it needs to. Because of this, it’s also not a tiring film, but one where the tension is given some rein to build over time and come bursting out when it needs to. As someone who likes smarter horror movies, I appreciate that a great deal.
So what’s it about? Well, opinions vary. While writer/director David Robert Mitchell claims that it isn’t a parable about AIDS or sexually transmitted diseases, I think that’s a clear and obvious way to read the film. The entity that pursues Jay, after all, was sexually transmitted to her, and this sexually transmitted thing is out to kill her, requiring her to pass it on, continually infecting people down the chain. There’s no indication of how it started or where it comes from. It just is, and it is programmed to kill whomever is in its sights. That it can look like anyone (anyone can have AIDS or an STD) and in this case seems to be incurable only adds to that impression.
Analogy for AIDS or not, It Follows is a solid horror movie that is absolutely worth seeing for any fans of the genre. Is it a cautionary tale? A warning? Maybe. What it absolutely is, though, is a damn fine movie.
Why to watch It Follows: This is how you do modern horror.
Why not to watch: A surprisingly low kill count.