A young woman pays for having some car-sex fun in a very, very big way in It Follows, a creepy, ghoulish, unrelenting horror film from writer-director David Robert Mitchell.
Taking more than a few cues from John Carpenter’s Halloween and the zombie works of George Romero, Mitchell is very much tuned into the sort of stuff that makes film goers squirm and sweat. The movie, based on one of his own nightmares, combines voyeuristic camera work, eerie soundtrack vibes and some fine acting for one of the better, old-school cinematic scares of the past decade.
Jay (Maika Monroe), a relatively shy high school girl, cools off in her backyard pool while the neighborhood kids spy. She’s got a big date with the dreamy Hugh (Jake Weary of Zombeavers), anxiously anticipating it like a typical teen. The new, fresh-faced couple take in a Cary Grant movie, indulge in some people-watching games, and then Jay loses her virginity to Hugh in the backseat of his car. She barely has time to take in the aftermath of this life-altering experience before she’s sucking on a chloroform rag.
Turns out Hugh had an agenda beyond sex. He’s carrying some sort of curse, and the only way to pass it on is through intercourse. The curse involves an unstoppable force that can take the shape of any human, be it an old naked man on the roof or one of your parents. That force is not only out to kill the cursed individual; it’s out to kill the cursed individual in very violent ways.
The nightmare kicks in fast for Jay as a neverending chain of expressionless people pursues her. The sight of humans simply walking forward hasn’t been this scary in a long time. The aforementioned Carpenter did it well in the original Halloween with Michael Myers and his white mask walking like a menacing robot towards his prey. Mitchell uses people of all ages, shapes and sizes as his monsters, and the more normal they look, the more frightening they are to watch.
The shape-shifting “monster” proves a highly effective device, because you will find yourself constantly scanning every frame of this movie, evaluating every human being that appears. Crowd shots are especially unnerving. There are times when the “monster” is fairly apparent, and others where it is something vaguely visible in the back of the shot. In short, you don’t ever feel safe watching It Follows.
Of course, there is also a “loss of innocence leads to danger” element at play. Not only does Jay lose her sense of safety and well-being after her first sexual encounter, but she is forced into a form of promiscuity as she frantically tries to “pass the curse along.” Characters in this film who would otherwise be generous, caring types wind up hurting and cursing others out of fear and dread. Once they are faced with terror, they act in selfish and psychopathic ways.
It’s mind-bending material, and it marks Mitchell as a filmmaker who knows how to go deep in a genre that is often quite shallow. The finale actually feels a little big for his lean indie, but it’s still an effective conclusion. I’ll also note that Jay’s friends cannot see the monsters pursuing her, which leads to some good sequences of people tossed about by invisible forces.
Cinema hasn’t been void of good horror lately, but it has had few true standouts. Last year’s The Babadook is a modern classic, and Afflicted was a fun spin on the vampire genre. I would place It Follows at around the same level of The Babadook.
So, go see the film, and be prepared to have a love/hate relationship with Mitchell. He’s going to give you a nice, scary time at the movies, but It Follows will also fuel your nightmares in the days after.