Review: It Follows
PLOT: A sinister presence enters a teenagers life after she has sex with a man infected by a supernatural disease.
REVIEW: I really dig it when horror movies set up their own mythology and say, Either accept this or dont. It can be an idea so abstract or ridiculous it cannot bear intense scrutiny, but if the filmmaker in question has effectively made it his own, follows his own rules and gets us to buy it and fear it, no one will complain. An example that comes to mind is THE RING, a movie with very specific (and very random) rules that fully commits to its outlandish premise, which in turn allows us to invest in the weird parameters of the plot. Naturally, it doesnt hurt if the job is executed atmospherically and chillingly. IT FOLLOWS is a number like that, a movie with a patently bizarre central hook that nonetheless is so well done I never once felt compelled to dismiss any of what it dished out. Its a solid and scary thriller, a creeper that should cause plenty of sleepless nights for a new generation of horror fans. (Second thoughts about casual sex might also be provoked; hey, a horror movie your parents would approve of!)
The main idea involves haunting-by-sex. That is to say, instead of a curse or grudge passed on to you by a sinister house or object, youll be visited by demonic visions after having sex with the wrong person. Teenaged Jay (Maika Monroe) finds this out the hard way (pun not intended) after she sleeps with the hot guy shes liked for a while. During the afterglow of their intercourse (in an abandoned lot; romantic), the guy drugs her and ties her up. He doesnt mean to hurt her - at least, not in a traditional way. He informs the sobbing girl hes just infected her with a disease they dont make antibiotics for: shes now to be shadowed by a ceaselessly walking phantom, one that can look like anybody it wants to. It just walks and walks, coming ever closer, and if it finally gets to you, well, you dont want to find out what happens.
But there are one or two bright sides! This thing, whatever it is, can easily be outpaced. It doesnt magically reappear in front of you like a standard apparition; its always casually strolling. (And not unlike a zombie, theres something especially scary when it moves so slowly.) Secondly, you can theoretically get rid of it by having sex with someone else; find someone you dont really mind cursing, hit the sack, and next thing you know theyll be the one tormented by this nightmarish spirit. At least, thats how it supposedly works.
IT FOLLOWS establishes these simple but far-out rules in a very matter-of-fact way, without resorting to tiresome exposition. Once we know whats up, the movie just rolls with it; director David Robert Mitchell doesnt need to over-explain his concept. (This wont work for everyone, but I often enjoy ambiguity in movies.) The surreal atmosphere Mitchell creates allows us to witness these events as if in a fever dream. Imagine the terror of looking into a crowd and seeing just one person coming for you - a person no one else can see, mind you - and no matter how far you run, you know itll catch up eventually. When it does, it may look like someone else, someone you even know, but theres no mistaking its evil intentions.
Like any solid horror movie, IT FOLLOWS taps into unshakable fears, and as our protagonists are in that awkward transitional stage - going from children to adults - the dread takes several forms: Fear of STDs, of death, of not knowing who your friends are, of not feeling safe in your own home, of the boogeyman in the dark. Queasy childhood anxieties melded with grown-up paranoia, the worst of both worlds.
Grounding these horror twists and turns is a story about average teenagers in small town America. (It looks like the 80s but I dont believe an era is ever fully established, lending the film a timeless feeling). Mitchell crafts believably casual friendships and love interests among a small group of friends; Jay is close with her younger sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and her sisters nerdy best friend Yara (Olivia Luccardi). A natural girl-next-door type, Jay also has a few guys interested, like her longtime best friend Paul (Keir Gilchrist) who of course is madly in love with her. Theres also the local bad boy Greg (Daniel Zovatto) who turns out to be surprisingly compassionate to Jays unusual plight. All of the young actors are quite good, believable. They could be in a dramedy about growing up in suburbia if it werent for the lurking ghosts. Monroe is especially good, inherently likable and genuinely sympathetic, and when those big eyes go wide with fright you better believe youre feeling just as freaked out as she is. Might be too early to to call her a Scream Queen, but considering her magnetic performances in both IT FOLLOWS and THE GUEST it would appear shes well on her way to becoming a very reliable horror heroine.
One other notable touch sharpens IT FOLLOWS unnerving edge. The score by Disasterpeace is superb, and yet another addition to the growing number of synth soundtracks that have been cropping up recently (THE GUEST, COLD IN JULY, MANIAC). Not quite sure when this trend started catching on again, but Im all for it.
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