Note: This review had been previously published on my old blog. It’s been out of theaters, but recently came out on DVD, so I figured now would be a relevant time to re-post. Also, I love this movie. It is amazingly crafted, and it’s important. It Follows also fits into this summer’s hit or miss season of feminist commentary (as a definite hit).
It Follows is a strange and dense horror film. While I wouldn’t necessarily call it scary I would say that it’s terrifying. The plot is this: Jay and Hugh are dating and end up sleeping together. Jay is then knocked out by Hugh and when she comes to is tied to a chair where she’s told the concept of the movie. That is there is a creature. It knows where you are at all times and can look like anyone. It is always walking toward you and when it gets to you it will kill you. You can make it target someone else by sleeping with them but if it kills them before they pass it on it will go back to the previous target. Oh, and it’s invisible (but corporeal) to anyone who has not been a target. So on the surface you get a sexually transmitted slasher film. But there’s so much more to it.
Right away there is a reason given for a very common horror trope: that a killer is coming after teenagers and the virgin will be the one to survive. That alone is nice but there’s a lot more genre deconstruction happening in this film. On a surface level the production is a spot on homage to 70s and 80s slasher movies. The soundtrack is a nearly painful orchestration of simple synth music. The killer is often seen slowly plodding through the suburbs en route to its current victim. If you’re getting a strong Halloween vibe you would not be wrong. But I hate Halloween and really respect this movie.
That is because I find early slasher films exercises in form with nothing to offer in terms of content. They’re more explorations on how to make movies in a different way than good films unto themselves. What It Follows does is picks up the construction of Halloween and the like and spends its creativity on deconstruction and metaphor. Like Babadook and depression, It Follows is an exploration of the emotional impact of rape. While Jay does consent to sex with Hugh (and tells the police and therefore the audience this explicitly in an interview) the metaphor still holds. While she consented to sex she didn’t consent to the entire situation that Hugh was forcing on her. She never agreed to be stalked by a killer, have her privacy taken away, and be constantly paranoid about how people she recognizes may hurt her at any moment. The sexual act that Hugh does to her is clearly something done to turn her into a victim.
As the movie goes on the It of the title appears in a number of guises and is often nude. It’s strange how infrequently nudity is used as non-titillating in horror films. Even in another horror deconstruction, Cabin in the Woods, the nudity is sexy and done as a nod to the juxtaposition of sex and gore. In It Follows the nudity itself is disquieting. The creature is not often a teen so the naked body is usually that of someone in their 40s. It’s also not the main victim. Jay isn’t topless during her sex scene so the sex act and the nudity are actually separated. Often times the nudity is used to make It seem more out of place and surreal. Sex is also used for similar purposes to make the viewer uncomfortable. We are aware that whomever she sleeps with will most likely die and therefore sex becomes a bargaining chip for time to think rather than an expression of affection or even pleasure. There’s a particularly disturbing scene in which Jay is on the run and desperate for time and distance from the creature. She comes out of some woods to a beach and sees three men on a boat just off shore. She strips down to her underwear and begins to swim out. The next shot is of her driving home, soaking wet. It was at that moment I felt what the movie had accomplished. It made me cringe at the thought of sex. What would normally be the sexist scene in a film, a bunch of attractive teenagers or 20-somethings having sex at the beach, became the point of anxiety and disgust. Instead of seeing sex and then being made to cringe at the slaughter ensuing after. It Follows made me cringe at the sex itself. Suddenly I realized how much in the head of Jay I was.
And that was incredible. At no point in Halloween have I ever felt like Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis). I doubt people feel like the main girl at most horror movies. People roll their eyes as the characters ignore red flags, people shout at the screen for the characters not to do things and how dumb they are. But in It Follows I was cringing and trying to look away during sex. I felt anxiety over how Jay was going to cope with the aftermath of her night with Hugh. I felt pissed off when Jay’s friend Paul keeps mooning over her even as she’s trying to put herself back together each day after not being able to sleep or trust people. That’s the amazing thing that It Follows did to me and why I love it as a movie. It takes a throwback slasher film, breaks it down into its constituent pieces, and puts it together with enough logic to make the pieces fit. But then it keeps going. It slows the killer and makes the threat long lasting to give the emotions more impact on the characters. It’s not about finally believing towards the end and then running for your life. It’s knowing the truth early on and dealing with convincing your friends why you’re different and why you can’t just go back to the way things were. It’s having the titular It always escapable but always there. Death is avoidable but inescapable. It looms by taking its time.
And it’s cruel. When first showing Jay the creature, now her creature, he says that it’s slow but not dumb. At first it seems to be dumb. It approaches in broad daylight from in front. It doesn’t hide and it doesn’t sneak. But it doesn’t have to. Over the course of the movie other behaviors emerge. Rather than always appearing as family members in order to walk right up it reserves these visages for moments when it seems sure that this will be a final kill. It scares the victim with strangers but in an act that I can only interpret as cruelty it aims to hurt you the most while wearing the face of people you trust. And its method of murder makes this all the more horrific when it’s finally revealed. So not only is the killing blow as awful as possible but in the interim it makes the victim wary of even the most well-meaning of friends and family.
The movie ends with Jay and Paul sharing the burden of the creature. Both can now see it and both can watch out for the other. But both also know that it is always coming, right behind them and in no rush to end their torment. They just have to find ways to deal with life while evading it.
On a scale of -5 to 5 I rate It Follows a 4.5