Finally, two weeks into Shocktober, we get a straight-up horror movie (pun intended in the blog post title, by the way). It Follows is a riff on classic horror films with a high concept twist, in this case that having sex with the wrong person can curse you. Said curse takes the form of someone – maybe someone you know, maybe a complete stranger – that only you can see walking directly towards you. If they touch you, you die. If you have sex with someone else, you pass the curse on . . . unless they die, and then it’s back to you. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell gets plenty of legit scares from this surprisingly creepy and effective gimmick, but It Follows simultaneously unpacks a bit too much to wrap up and yet repeats itself.
Technically it’s in keeping with the genre. Like Halloween, it features lots of long takes with deep focus. These shots work well with the concept, as the audience becomes a surrogate character on the lookout for “it” moving towards the camera (and thus the viewer as well). Mitchell mines this for two great fake outs which play with which characters are in frame at any given time. The largely unknown cast acquit themselves well, especially Maika Monroe as Jay, the victim “it” follows for most of the film.
By far the film’s biggest strength is its concept. It’s a riff on Scream in that classic tropes (couples who have sex are killed, for example) are re-imagined, on The Ring in that there’s something inexplicable yet certain about the victim’s fate, and on Halloween in that the safe places of suburbia become suddenly dangerous. At its best moments, it fuses these genre trappings into something profound: an examination of suburban ennui, the transition from teenager to adult, and the pressure to have sex and the consequences of that decision, especially for young women.
But over its 100 minutes, that great concept gets a little muddled. Little fudges, like how “it” covers ground basically as quickly or as slowly as the plot requires, can be ignored. However, Mitchell’s choice of “its” sometimes say more than he may intend. Most of them have a twisted sexuality to them, like a girl in a tight t-shirt and short shorts who wets herself, and the use of family members raises more questions than answers. What does it mean when “it” takes the form of Jay’s dad and what appears to be her naked grandfather? I don’t think Mitchell means to imply that somehow the curse is related to child molestation or teenagers exploited by predators, but the imagery begs the question.
The strangest thing about the film is how it loses steam. The first half is terrific and legitimately frightening. But then the characters try variations on the same plan multiple times – run far away, try to kill “it,” sleep with someone you know to fight “it” together – all with the same success rate. When the end finally comes, the fact that it’s a perfect ending is diminished by the fact it’s about 20 minutes late.
I feel that Shocktober is moving into more tradition horror film territory, and it’s fitting that we’ll move on to the classics next. Two of the three films It Follows references are on that list, and I wonder if 20 years from now my daughter will consider The Witch and It Follows classics like Halloween, or little-remembered films for die hard horror fans only.