Overview: A group of teenagers are followed by a deadly entity that is passed on through the act of sex. 2014; RADiUS-TWC; Rated R; 100 minutes.
Let’s Talk About Sex: The marriage of sex and violence is nothing new within the horror genre. The sublime exploration of pleasure and pain lends itself quite easily to tales of things that go bump in the night. Many ‘80s horror films, which It Follows clearly takes inspiration from, were built on this relationship. But where director/screenwriter David Robert Mitchell’s film differs is that it never feels exploitative. Nudity and gore are used sparingly, not for the pleasure of the viewers and their fantasies, but rather in service of the narrative. As a result, the film creates an honest portrayal of the sex lives, awkward flirtations, and relationships of fully-realized American teenagers, instead of creating a porno whose characters’ only purpose is to get fucked and die. Central protagonist Jay, played by the delightful Maika Monroe, is sexually free but the film never takes the low road of slut-shaming her. She isn’t a character built to sexually perform for an audience (in fact, she never appears nude) but a character the audience can identify with. Remarkably, Mitchell has made a film that uses sex as a central plot device, but doesn’t actually focus on the sex acts, rather the unease that can result from it.
It Builds: It Follows is a slow-burn exercise in horror, far more reminiscent of the pacing found in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, than break-neck speed we see in most recent horror releases. Mitchell is invested in the overall horror of the narrative and creating a constant sense of unease, rather than the minute by minute jump scares. You’ll likely find yourself sitting there with sweaty palms and a knot in your stomach and not know exactly why. While there are a few jump scares and a few instances where teenagers make stupid decisions, as is par for the course, the film successfully breaks down clichés. The majority of the film takes place in daylight, or overcast skies, proving that horror isn’t only effective in the dark. The film is gorgeously shot by cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, who conveys a sense of familiarity with the Michigan setting. This setting, coupled with the young cast’s fantastic performances, feel like places and people you’ve known, especially if you grew up in the eastern or mid-west parts of the U.S.
The true standout of the film is the soundtrack composed by Rich Vreeland (Disasterpeace) who, like a mix of Vangelis and John Carpenter, creates a score both appropriately haunting and at times, inappropriately jarring. It’s a soundtrack with a tempo that doesn’t always gel with the scene’s action, allowing the horror to be suggested even when the images evoke serenity. It’s truly a genius work of art, and well worth owning on vinyl.
It Climaxes: The heart-racing third act is evidence that horror movies don’t need 3D to make their audiences duck and cower. The climax’s success is largely because Mitchell avoids inviting fatigue by using the most frightening moments too early. Smarter still, It Follows resists providing a third act explanation for the entity. While most horror films can’t resist a deflating backstory, Mitchell knows that the most successful aspect of horror are the things that can’t be explained. But that doesn’t mean the film is without answers or meaning. While it’s easy to state the film is an allegory for STDs, it’s also something far more complex than that. It Follows aims to capture sexual anxiety, in the form of the willingness to engage in the act, and the questions of what comes next. When Jay and another character ask each other if they feel different post-intercourse, they both reply no. Yet we know they’re lying. The whole film is built on that adolescent notion of feeling different afterward, of being haunted by something younger and older than oneself. It Follows is a beautiful, intimate, and transformative experience that will leave you shaken.