It Follows

2015 - 100 minutes

Rated: R

Directed by: David Robert Mitchell

Written by: David Robert Mitchell

Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe

Sex has long equaled death in horror movies, usually from a masked or burned madman with an axe to grind, or usually, swing. Along with other vices – underage drinking, drugs, and general poor decision-making, the sin factor is a major no-no for the dimwits trying to survive a cinematic bloodbath. When horror went postmodern, movies like Scream and The Cabin in the Woods called out the conventions while also tweaking them for usage.

It Follows is another genre evolution that niftily appropriates tropes. With technical swagger and ardent dedication to premise and complex metaphor, writer/director David Robert Mitchell forgoes the trappings of generic horror conflicts. He succeeds at giving us the heebie-jeebies without buckets of blood or choreographed jump scares. There is one moment of grotesquery and only a couple false alarm jolts that don’t feel cheap; the fright in It Follows is achieved through unrelenting atmosphere. Here, sex, and more importantly all it stands for, is dread.

Jay (Maika Monroe) is a community college student living at home in a lower middle class Detroit suburb. The older guy she’s dating (Jake Weary) provides a break from her monotony, and the couple is eager for their relationship to progress. After their first sexual encounter, Jay is knocked out and awakes tied to a wheelchair and hears an explanation of the “it” that has been passed to her. Call it a Sexually Transmitted Demon that will stalk Jay until it kills her or until Jay passes the curse on via sex – then that unfortunate soul will be the primary target. If that target is killed, the curse works its way back down the line. Together with younger sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and a group of friends, Jay tries to figure out how to cope and stop the entity.

The STD and promiscuity subtext is obvious and the conceit could easily be a device to string together some gory comeuppances. Mitchell’s chiller instead favors mood over mayhem and establishes the tone in a gripping prologue. A young woman in a negligee and high heels bursts from the front door of her home and runs in a circle around her neighborhood, the camera tracking her 360 degrees as she flees from unseen torment. Long takes and a probing camera remain constant, establishing the architecture of various locales and forcing us to probe the area for potential threats. The “it” can look like anyone and appear anywhere, but it always just walks methodically towards its prey.

Walking is one of the few rules that are established for the “it.” Thankfully, It Follows doesn’t get hung up on particulars and withholds information that would only invite headache-inducing questions. Jay and her friends take a few long car trips to give them a safe buffer, which allows for paranoia to seep in as they wait for the inevitable. Theoretically, you could escape it by constantly moving, but you’ll always know it’s out there.

The tension is also greatly aided by the soundtrack from Disasterpiece, which melds the synth of John Carpenter with the ethereal sound of Tangerine Dream. The music is omnipresent and fitting considering the melding of horror and coming of age. It Follows isn’t simply about watching who you sleep with in the present, it’s about how the decisions you make must be lived with forever. There’s no redemption or facing your fear because the fear has so many faces. It also changes and becomes more complicated as you go along.

The metaphor could also be extended to the generalities of growing into adulthood. These teens and early-20-somethings are all witty eccentrics, but also seemingly content to prolong adolescence as long as possible – hanging out, watching movies, floating in the pool all afternoon – as long as they get to have sex, too. Adults are mostly non-existent here, seen in photographs, blurry and out of frame, or as the “it” that follows. The parents are relevant only because they’re closer to death than their offspring.

Monroe is great as the lead, mostly drone-like by design, but catching the subtleties in her monotone delivery and pained expressions. The supporting cast captures the same disposition, resigned to inevitability. After a seminal personal moment, Jay and Paul (Kier Gilchrist), who’s had a longtime crush on her, ask each other if they feel different. Their answers are “no.”

It Follows taps into something primal and universal and makes it utterly creepy. The specter of maturity, decay, and death constantly hover. We can run as far as we want, but eventually it catches us all.

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