I’m struggling with my feelings about It Follows, the new art film that is wallowing in the teenage-horror genre. David Robert Mitchell, who previously deconstructed the teenage party film with The Myth of the American Sleepover, does the same thing here with horror–uses the tropes, but turns them on their head and makes them far more interesting than just a disposable spook fest.
But, I felt a bit of the old Peggy Lee thing here–“Is that all there is?” Mitchell is exploring the mythos of the genre, but while doing so he kind of took the fun out of it. This film may be too smart for its good.
Our heroine is Jay, played by Maika Monroe. She is seeing this guy who gets spooked one night when he sees someone whom Monroe doesn’t see. Later, they will have sex, and he chloroforms her and ties her to a wheelchair in an abandoned building. When she wakes he tells her that now she will be stalked by an entity that can take the form of anyone. It can be outrun, as it walks at a normal pace, but it will never stop following her, unless she has sex with someone else and passes it on. However, if the thing kills her, it will go back after him.
This is intriguing and mystifying. How does the guy know this? Why did he have to tie her up in a wheelchair in her underwear to tell her? Couldn’t he have told her without drugging and binding her? Anyway, she’s immediately convinced because moments later a naked woman starts following her.
Monroe has a circle of friends that eventually believe her. And, as proof that a beautiful girl can get away with anything, not one but two guys offer to have sex with her to take the curse away. One is kind of a sleazy guy from across the street, and another is a guy who has had a crush on her since they were kids. If I were in a similar situation, and this was the only way a girl like this would sleep with me, would I take a chance? I’ll stop there, because to reveal more would be a spoiler.
It Follows has stirred up a lot of talk. It does seem like a parable about sexually transmitted diseases, but I think it goes deeper than that. The idea that the thing we are afraid of is being followed–not necessarily being caught (although a prologue shows that if you do get caught it’s not pretty). This could be a comment on the social media age we live on–none of us can truly be alone, we are always under scrutiny. Early in the film Monroe is spied on by two younger boys as she swims in her pool. We have become a nation of voyeurs.
But, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, I miss some of the stupidity of the genre. There are gaps in information. Perhaps someone can help me out, but at one point Monroe spots a boat out on a lake with a few guys in it. She strips down to her underwear (Monroe never gets naked in the film, but boys will still be pleased) and heads into the water. We don’t know what happens. Did she offer herself sexually to them? The end of the film is also very ambiguous. My friend and I turned to each other at the end and said to each other, “Is that it?”
Also, there’s a big set piece at a swimming pool, when the friends hope to lure the thing into the water and electrocute it. Why in god’s name do they think that will work, when bullets won’t stop it?
But Mitchell does know how to be scary. I liked that at times the entity is not focused on. The audience just sees a figure in the distance walking, while the unsuspecting victims are just hanging out.
I also liked that the film was shot in Detroit, a city that is a ghost of itself. This seems to be a trend, as Only Lovers Left Alive was shot there as well. Detroit may be the new capital of existential horror films.
It Follows is getting great reviews, but perhaps I was expecting too much. I found it frequently confusing and too arty for its subject matter.
My grade for It Follows: B-.