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It Follows


When I first heard the plot of It Follows, the new horror film written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, featured a sexually-transmitted curse, I thought it sounded cheap and exploitative. When I saw the first still from the film, which showed a young woman in her underwear tied to a chair (above), I thought, Yeah, I know pretty much everything I need to know about this movie. Not for me. But then the reviews started coming out and friends whose taste I trust started talking about the film, and they were all calling it a thoughtful and sensitive horror movie. Suddenly I was interested.

Having seen It Follows last night, I can tell you those reviews were right. I liked this movie a lot. The concept was handled a lot more creatively, originally, and sensitively than I thought it would be. The script was smart. There were lots of creepy and disturbing scenes that will stay with me for a long time. But most of all, the cast was amazing. Maika Monroe as Jay Height, the young woman who contracts the curse from her new boyfriend, is as much a revelation here as Jess Weixler was in 2007’s Teeth. Her performance is unforgettable. In fact, all of the cast is pretty damn good, which is not something one can often say when the actors are mostly teenagers or in their early twenties.

One of the things I really liked about It Follows is that the young adults weren’t your usual horror-movie young adults. There was no “mean girl” or “bully” or “jock” or “the sassy one.” Jay and her sister Kelly, and their friends Paul, Yara, and Greg, are all very supportive of each other and kind to each other. They aren’t types, and there’s no forced conflict between them. They aren’t hyper-verbal in that Joss Whedon/Diablo Cody mode. They’re just people, and it works wonders. The film feels much more realistic because of it, and makes the audience care about them a lot more than if they were just the usual cannon fodder.

The curse itself is terrifying and relentless. It literally just wants to find you and kill you. There’s no explanation, which in this case is a good choice. Any explanation wouldn’t be good enough and would only service to defuse the fear. The curse is slow — it walks everywhere — but it doesn’t give up. As one character says, “Wherever you are, it’s out there walking right for you.” It takes the form of people you know in order to trick you, but it also takes other forms, the forms of strangers, some of which are remarkably creepy. It was only much later that it occurred to me these other forms might be those of people who previously contracted the curse. (Perhaps not always through consensual means, either. The “woman” in Jay’s kitchen definitely looks like she had the curse forced upon her.) The only way to rid yourself of the curse is to pass it on to someone else, but even then you may not be safe. If that person gets killed by the curse, it circles back to you.

The sex scenes are presented intimately and realistically. These aren’t the acrobatic sex scenes of 1990s erotic thrillers. In fact, there’s nothing erotic about the film, despite sex being both the curse’s catalyst and its possible remedy. I tend to prefer my stories to be sex-positive, and It Follows is pretty firmly in the sex-negative camp, at least in terms of unintended consequences. (It’s actually quite positive about the emotions involved.) I joked with the friend I saw it with that It Follows is the first horror movie about herpes, but ultimately that’s a little too reductive. Yes, the curse is a stand-in for sexually transmitted disease (although one could also make a case for hints of unwanted pregnancy as part of the metaphor, and sexual regret, and sexual trauma, and and and..), but the movie goes beyond such easy symbolism into true creeping, otherworldly dread. There’s often a nightmare logic to it: parents are mostly absent, the city around them is mostly deserted, no one seems to know or care where these young adults go or what they do. It all adds up to a truly creepy atmosphere, enriched significantly by Disasterpeace’s fantastic electronic score.

It’s not a perfect movie, of course. No movie is. For one thing, It Follows goes on too long past what should obviously be the climax (although I did love that somewhat ambiguous final shot). Said climax involves a plan that could backfire so easily that I’m surprised the characters didn’t take that into account. The curse definitely seems to take longer to walk to some places than others, even though the distances don’t seem all that different. There isn’t much moral debate about consigning strangers to death to try to save yourself.

But I definitely feel the movie’s strengths are greater than its weaknesses, thanks mainly to the script, the direction, and the astonishingly strong cast. It Follows is one of the best and most interesting horror films I’ve seen in a while. Highly recommended.

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