Directed David Robert Mitchell.
2014. Rated R, 100 minutes.
If you’ve seen the trailer for It Follows, you’ve seen a healthy portion of its brilliant opening. A girl bursts out of the front door of a normal looking suburban house. She seems bewildered and afraid, yet runs back into the house from whence she came. What the trailer doesn’t show is that in the next couple of minutes she becomes exceptionally dead. We next meet Jay (Monroe). She is out with Hugh (Weary). Things go so well they wind up getting their freak on in the back of a car. Next thing she knows, he has her tied to a chair in an abandoned parking garage. He drops some mumbo-jumbo on her about something that’s now going to be following her and won’t stop until it kills her, or she has sex with someone else. The kicker is it could appear like any person at any time. Jay trying not to get murdered ensues.
The value of It Follows to each individual viewer lies heavily in how well that person understands and/or accepts it on a metaphoric level. It is a film constructed almost entirely of symbols. For me, it’s a brilliant dissertation on what it means to young and sexually active in the 2010s. By now, most of us fully expect our virtual world to intersect with our physical reality at various points. We understand that online dating, STDs, ill-advised and leaked selfies, revenge porn, faceless stalkers and predators, date rape, and other horrors are not necessarily mutually exclusive events. What we don’t always understand is our own vulnerability to many of these things. ‘It won’t happen to me’ is a common refrain of those who engage in reckless behavior both on an offline. This is powerfully recreated in the universe the film presents to us. The random, shape-shifting killer that relentlessly pursues our heroine is representative of any and all of it.
In keeping with both horror tradition and the themes put forth specific to this film, our protagonist is rightfully a young woman. Without attempting to decipher the ethics of it, or reasons behind it, the fact is fear is more easily transferrable from the screen to the viewer when it involves women. This is not only true of fiction, but of real life as well. The tragic news stories coming out of the sexual arena that draw the most ire, and most often reported in mass media, are ones where the victim is a female. Our lead actress, Maika Monroe, isn’t great, but is an effective enough scream queen to aid the process. A script almost entirely focused on her plight also makes it that much more palatable.
Where It Follows struggles is in the literal realm. Our killer does relentlessly pursue our heroine, however, this excludes everyone else. This means no one can be in harm’s way unless they purposely put themselves there. A few time, the movie handles this excellently, but toward the end it does so in a clunky manner, trying to manufacture tension instead of it naturally evolving from the situation. This is especially problematic as it concerns females other than Jay. They have nothing to do except console her. Because of this viewers not in tune with the film’s subtext might find it lacking in the thrills and chills department. In fact, they may find it all to be a tedious exercise. I watched this with my teenage daughter. She was far less impressed than I. About three-quarters of the way through she says to me, “I thought this was supposed to be scary.” She understood what was going on plot-wise, but she didn’t make all the implicit connections I did between what has happening on screen and the world she lives in every day. For her it was about the sex life of our protagonist. To me, it was about the sex lives of everyone in any way affected by the current dating climate. Viewers who don’t ascribe the same power to it are apt to see It Follows as a film that misses its mark despite an intriguing premise. I think it’s on target without beating us over the head with its commentary. It’s smart and what it says to and about us is frightening even if it never makes us jump.