“It Follows” is a 2014 horror film that stars new ‘scream queen’ Maika Monroe as college student Jay. After she and her new boyfriend Hugh first have sex, he informs her of the unusual consequences of their romp and the fatal cycle to follow. This independent film is part horror and part metaphor, and treats both fairly evenly.
The film implements the typical elements of a horror film in intelligent ways. The 8-bit soundtrack channels themes of past classics while staying original enough to mount tension. Sex and nudity are frequent throughout, but aren’t meant to inspire excitement from the audience.
Most of the youth do have sex on the mind, but their thoughts feel much more real and consequential to all involved than they would in a lot of dead-teenager movies. The movie also practices a healthy avoidance of hollow jump-scares. Instead of trying to startle an unexpecting audience, the movie sometimes builds suspense to an unbearable amount.
The evil of the film is simple in nature yet instinctually frightening. After Jay has sex with Hugh, she wakes up tied to a wheelchair while he explains that he passed a curse to her, kind of like a paranormal STI.
The curse will follow her around and change it’s appearance to match that of strangers or close friends. If the curse ever catches her, she’ll die and it will start pursuing the previous person who had it.
Director David Robert Mitchell explains that it was a recurring nightmare he had as a child, and a fear a lot of us share. There isn’t a scene in which the evil can’t appear, and so the film carries a sense of dread throughout. Mitchell claims it’s the sense that “you can try to run away, but at some point it will overwhelm you. You have to sleep, you have to rest. These things are always there. And that’s terrible.”
It’s a timeless fear, which would explain why Mitchell went out of his way to make sure set pieces didn’t easily display in what decade the movie takes place. The suburban setting could easily be from an 80’s slasher film, but a girl’s fictional phone along with more modern technology blurs the time. To make things more unsettling, the days seem to become grayer and grayer as paranoia grips the characters.
The characters are not each stereotypical, as we might expect from a horror or even a meta-horror film, but act realistically and consistently. During their introduction, the dialogue aims for realism at the risk of dullness. However, the actors push their characters emotionally when the plot picks up the pace, and the realism of the characters pays off. Maika Monroe plays a girl trapped in the center of a nightmare exceptionally well, denying the exhausted Jay a moment of relief.
Finally, with the sexual metaphor of the film comes pros and cons. The movie can be analyzed as an analogy for sexual anxiety, but deeper analysis can already be made from the terror in the movie. Whenever the evil appears, it is scary, but heavy-handed imagery could be argued to be closer to eliciting shock rather than screams.
As a horror movie this film could have benefitted greatly from a larger focus on its terrifying aspects at the cost of its sexuality. Overall, “It Follows” is teeming with originality and subtle twists of a stereotypical genre. At a short runtime of an hour and a half, it’s worth seeing, especially for those with a sweet tooth for horror.