film review: it follows
After watching a myriad of gore-tastic movies over the past couple of decades, I’d forgotten how utterly terrifying a foe that walks, not runs, toward you can be. Torture porn will no doubt disgust and horrify (and if it doesn’t that is really weird) but the slow walk of the predator in It Follows – an enemy that knows no matter what you do it will inevitably catch up to you – will cause you to forgo sleep for weeks. Director David Robert Mitchell is clearly adept at knowing when to let the audience stew in their own terror with little more than implication.
Set in a dreamlike suburbia and displaced in time, the film follows a group of teenagers on the cusp of coming of age. One of these youngsters, Jay (Maika Monroe), has sex with her boyfriend and is subsequently stalked by an entity that takes the form of people she knows. Jay is left with a choice: run forever and hope this slow-moving curse will never catch up to her, or have sex with another person and ‘pass it on’.
Fans of Halloween will love this film: It Follows effectively blends voyeurism and the claustrophobia of suburbia that make John Carpenter’s films so terrifying to this day. Every single angle the camera takes lends itself to the feeling that something or someone is watching, waiting. Likewise, the cookie-cutter houses that offer the appearance of safety and banality while in reality offering no protection from what is coming. Add to that the uncertainty the audience feel about when this film is set: the clothes and aesthetic styles are somewhat familiar but there are no references to smart phones or any kind of social media. Is it a dream? What kind of logic should the protagonists follow?
Many reviewers are certain that this film is a metaphor for STIs, specifically HIV. Keeping this condition at bay and feeling the dread that one day, despite all the miracles of modern medicine, that this affliction will catch up and kill you is certainly a valid theory. I enjoyed the less popular but equally plausible theory that this film explores the idea of sexual abuse; how it inescapably taints all future sexual encounters. Whatever interpretation you subscribe to doesn’t necessarily matter: the way in which it illicits high levels of tension and anxiety mean that the film can standalone without further analysis. It is terrifying in its own right.
One thing that makes me sing this film’s praises is the distinct lack of judgement surrounding the sexual encounters in this film. Out with the tired cliché ‘she who opens her legs gets the chainsaw or whatever the weapon of choice is’. Harking back to the subversion of the trope in 1996 slasher flick Scream, when Neve Campbell’s character shoots the killer in the head directly after losing her virginity, It Follows has a pleasing lack of finger-wagging of the ‘that’s what you get for having sex you filthy hussy’ variety. Instead the audience is given the sense that sex can make things complicated, which we all learn when we grow up. It’s something we all do and will often use poor judgement about, but it is not something to be used to measure a person’s worth or morality.
I completely understand the desire to stay away from scary movies: for the overly imaginative, they turn movie going into an unpleasant experience. However this film is worth a few sleepless nights for the densely layered metaphors and masterful execution. Whenever I watch a scary film I think ‘this had better be good. I’m not putting myself through endless gore if there is no point.’ Luckily, It Follows delivers on so many levels.