“This thing. It’s going to follow you. Somebody gave it to me and I passed it to you […] All you can do is pass it along to someone else.”
And so Jay (Maika Monroe) suddenly finds herself sharing her life with a tireless, invisible hell-creature bent on brutally murdering her.
The idea of a sexually transmitted demon (STD!) seems comical on paper, but It Follows is actually both effective and clever for a film riffing on 80s teen horror flicks.
A large part of that must go to the design of the titular ‘It’; as an entry into the canon of horror monsters it’s an absolute humdinger. The fact that it can mimic anyone’s appearance and is visible only to the victim lends a credible air of paranoia and claustrophobia to proceedings. Looming suddenly from the darkness or gradually resolving from an incidental background character in the corner of the audiences’ eye, there’s this sense of utter implacability to its glacial advance that harks back to what made the Terminator so effective as a bogeyman.
Tension, not gore is the film’s principal weapon, something helped by some superb cinematography and a fantastic score. An early scene in an abandoned carpark is hauntingly beautiful – practically urban decay pornography – accompanied by a series of stark Moog chords, I was so entranced by its eerie grace I honestly forgot to be scared for a second. The score itself nearly deserves a separate review. Disasterpiece has created a seminal work that plays out like the synthesized love child of John Carpenter and Vangellis. Perfectly encapsulating and updating the traditional horror chords of the 80s for the modern audience, it’s particularly effective when it slowly insinuates itself into the film’s scenes of (apparent) suburban tranquillity. I haven’t heard something this good or appropriate since the use of Kavinsky in Drive.
Aside from the chills, what makes It Follows effective is the horror of moral choices made in life-or-death situations. The curse can be mitigated (at least temporarily) by passing it along sexually, as while all victims are promised death the demon is forced to pursue them in descending order. As Jay becomes more and more desperate in the face of the creatures tireless pursuit, the prospect of ‘passing the buck’ weighs heavily on her. This is a great set up, particularly against the back drop of the various rivalries and love triangles present in Jay’s friendship circle.* Unfortunately, while initially strong, the plot rather falls apart in the middle, meandering between locations without strong purpose and ultimately shying from exploring the tensions it outlines. Leading to a denouement that feels like it would have been more at home in The Faculty.
Horror films have long punished female characters for displaying even hints of sexual desire, it’s perhaps their oldest and most tired cliché. It Follows skirts the edge of this trap, but isn’t quite clever enough (willing enough?) to escape it entirely. Aside from the obvious STD metaphor, there’s a massive sense of voyeurism surrounding Jay and her friends’ bodies, which is made very apparent to the viewer. They are constantly and obviously portrayed as items of consumption; from the creepy young Peeping Toms by Jay’s poolside fence, to the admiring glancesGreg’s (Daniel Zovatto) gives the unsuspecting Yara’s legs. Yet this is never explicitly acknowledged. There’s another obvious metaphor in Hugh’s (Jake Weary) having sex with Jay, dumping his problem on her and then utterly washing his hands of any responsibility, which is again left unresolved. The idea that Jay can invert this, use her body against this ala Teeth, is an idea tiptoed around, but never adequately explored. So while It Follows acknowledges these tropes, it never really engages with them, leaving it not quite as clever as it thinks it is. You can’t have your cake and eat it, not even if you claim to be eating it ironically.
It Follows is ultimately a very frightening film with some fresh ideas that ultimately falls short of its own promise and the weighty yardstick laid down by 2014’s reigning champion The Babadook.
*That said, special shout must go to Yara (Olivia Luccardi) who snores, farts and munches her way into your heart, proving far more earthy and real than any other character in the film despite being completely removed from their sexual escapades.