Sex has long gone hand in hand with horror films. The promiscuous girl among a handful of teens in a cabin in the woods is always the first to go, and the virgin always lives to tell her tale. As that cliché grows more prevalent, more and more horror films have attempted to subvert it.
The genius of “It Follows”, by far the best horror movie in recent memory, indie or otherwise, is that sex is no allegory. Director David Robert Mitchell uses horror to directly implicate the person committing the dirty deed, and the consequences “It Follows” suggests feel that much more real and disturbing.
Jay (Maika Monroe) is a young teen living a peaceful life in the suburbs with several friends and admirers. While swimming in her backyard pool, some young neighbors spy on her from the bushes, and it’s easy to see why. Her friends label her stupidly pretty, her room is lighted with misty, dreamy shades, and her friends feel her childhood friend Paul (Keir Gilchrist) is obsessed and won’t be able to keep it in his pants.
Jay ends up sleeping with a boy named Hugh (Jake Weary), and as soon as they finish, he drugs her and ties her to a wheelchair in an abandoned parking garage. “You won’t believe me, but you have to listen,” Hugh explains, claiming its for Jay’s own good. Something will follow you wherever you go, and it will try and kill you. It may look like someone you know or someone you’ve never seen before, and it will be invisible to everyone else. But he explains if she sleeps with someone else, she’ll pass it along, just as he did to her.
This is a real fear. It could be an STD. It could be the stigma of being labeled a slut. Then there’s the moral concern of knowingly passing that shame along. Whatever the circumstance, for some, sex changes you, and the lingering feeling doesn’t go away.
Mitchell doesn’t make a point of it though; the reality is that these people following Jay are as plain as day, and we’re given all the time in the world to process this cold, disturbing figure that does little more than lurk. Jay’s followers are typically nude or partially clothed. They can be young or old, but more often beaten and bruised as though they died that way, and their scantily clad appearance only strengthens the case for abstinence.
More so than just sex, “It Follows” is about the fear of being watched. The opening shot places the camera square in the center of the road and finds a partially clothed girl fleeing from her home. The camera rotates to some other neighbors, never breaking, and the perspective is that of an onlooker; the only danger we see is the one that feels obvious to her. In other moments the camera is fixed on Jay (if not tethered in the gripping wheelchair sequence) but receptive to her peripheral surroundings. The fear that any figure on the horizon might be “It” is a palpable one. And because Mitchell plays with our sense of perspective, it’s unsure when it’s safe to not look over our shoulder.
For a movie concerned with sex, there is no sexuality to be found in “It Follows”. Jay sleeps with her hunky friend Greg (Daniel Zovatto) in the hopes he might be able to see “It” and protect her. Later Jay sleeps with strangers on a boat in an attempt to pass “It” off. And she hopes to save her meeker, nicer friend Paul from the same fate.
Though “It Follows” might scare some teens from sex, Mitchell’s film isn’t puritanical. Paul’s male perspective is one handled a lot on screen, horror movies aside. Why does the cute girl always overlook the nice guy and go for the hunky jerk? But “It Follows” is Jay’s story, not Paul’s. The reality is that there’s more to a woman’s choices than meets the eye. It’s a powerful feminist statement packaged in a creepy thriller, and the real horror is that in the film’s ambiguous ending, the act of sex may be rendered completely sexless. That’s scary.
3 ½ stars