WARNING: THE REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!
For weeks I have been obsessing over David Robert Mitchell’s IT FOLLOWS. I accidentally came across the film’s trailer late one night and it gave me chills. The concept of some relentless force, inexorably working it’s way towards you, was eerie, especially considering it can look like anyone.
And the music (created by Rich “Disasterpiece” Vreeland) was super creepy and haunting as well. Needless to say, I had to see the film, and nothing would stop me. Well, except for the fact that the distributor had only planned on a small theatrical release.
But then something happened: Critics sang praises of IT FOLLOWS (which is currently still at 96% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes), and people who had seen it began spreading the film’s gospel on the web. Suddenly, a movie that was only going to be in a dozen theaters for one weekend, blew up into a wide release, spreading to over 1,600 screens!
And eventually one of those screens was relatively close to where I live! Finally, I could see what all the hooplah was about! So was it worth the wait? Did the movie live up to it’s hype? Well, not entirely.
Set in the suburbs of Detroit, IT FOLLOWS begins with a young girl running up and down her street, fleeing from something we cannot see. She drives off to the middle of nowhere, and calls her father. From the way she talks, we get the the feeling that she is not long for this world. The scene then cuts to the following morning where we see her mangled corpse laying upon the ground. This was clearly no boating accident!
The film then shifts its focus to the lead character, Jay Height (Maika Monroe). She’s a pretty young gal that is eagerly awaiting a date with her new boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary). Though he proves to be a bit of an oddball, she ends up succumbing to her baser needs. She ends up having sex with Hugh in the back of his car, in the parking lot of an abandoned factory. Moments later, while she is basking in the afterglow of her sexual encounter, Jay gets a chloroformed rag to the face.
When she regains consciousness, Jay finds herself tethered to a wheelchair, and as she struggles with her bonds, Hugh (who’s real name is Jeff) apologizes. As he nervously walks the perimeter with a flashlight, he begins filling her in on some rules. If you’ve seen the trailer, you already know the setup here: Hugh has passed something on to Jay. He has no idea what it is. All that he knows is that it will relentlessly pursue her until she sexually transmits the curse to another person. Until that time, IT will slowly come for her, and nothing can stop it.
So what is IT exactly? Essentially it’s an invisible, shape-shifting, f*ck-monster. It can only be seen by those that have been “infected” through sexual intercourse. And even after you’ve passed it on to someone else, you can still see it. That’s why, for much of the film, everyone that hasn’t slept with Jay thinks she is going crazy.
The creature can also assume the form of anyone it wants, be it a creepy old woman, a close friend, a relative, etc. Some of these forms puzzle me though, as the endgame is that the monster will literally rape you to death. Shouldn’t it just shapeshift into pornstars and/or Chippendale dancers to entice its prey? Also, if IT manages to catch the latest victim of the curse, the creature will then work its way back through the previous carriers until every “infected” person has been killed.
The remainder of the film is Jay attempting to convince her friends that IT is real, and then having them help her stop IT. This results in a rather head-scratching climax where they attempt to lure the supernatural creature into a swimming pool and, in ’50s monster movie fashion, electrocute it. Do they succeed? Is the monster defeated? Is the curse lifted? Well see it for yourself to find out!
IT FOLLOWS is a very well-made movie with a talented cast of unknowns. I almost want to declare it as this generation’s HALLOWEEN, but the nameless horror that pursues the lead actress doesn’t have the staying power of Michael Myers, or other cinematic boogeymen. This is mainly because we never find out what IT is. Is it a demon? A monster? Some vengeful spirit? We’re never told.
All we know is that IT FOLLOWS! In fact…. IT WILL FOLLOW YOUUUU! FOL-LOW YOU WHEREVER YOU MAY GOOOOOO. THERE ISN’T AN OCEAN TOO DEEP! A MOUNTAIN SO HIGH THAT CAN KEEP, KEEP IT AWAAAY!
I hate to say it, but a research montage could have gone a long way here, especially since this movie takes place in some weird alternate 80s timeline. The cars, the TVs, and most of the technology are all dated, yet one character has a seashell-shaped e-reader. While I freely admit that it was refreshing to not see a quick Google-search montage, I still believe that there should have been some moment where Jay, or one of her friends, suggested that they hit some books.
I know it’s the most hackneyed thing to have in a horror film or creature feature, but I felt that it would have been justified here. If only so we have a name to go with the terror, or at least an origin. Maybe they can ascertain a weakness for their foe, then brainstorm on a plan. It’s certainly better than, “Let’s keep running away” or “Let’s electrocute it!” Plus a creepy game of cat-and-mouse in a library could have made for some additional thrills.
IT FOLLOWS is a film that is chock full of metaphors. (As pointed out by podcasting cohost “Silent” Steve, HERE.) The invisible antagonist is obviously a metaphor for sexually transmitted diseases, as IT is passed on to others through sexual intercourse. But there are more layers to IT than that.
Though Jay had consensual sex with “Hugh,” the aftermath is almost as if she were a rape victim. And in a way, she is. She did not consent to having an anonymous horror bestowed upon her, and has likely suffered lasting emotional damage because of it. Her innocence is gone, and her sanity is not too far behind. I should also note that all of the “kids” in this film come from single-parent homes. This gives way a running theme of using sex to fill the emotional void created by the absence of father figures.
The more I continue to think about IT FOLLOWS, the more I feel that this movie’s secondary goal is to drain all of the joy out of sex. It’s like a bizarre morality play, where sexual intercourse is depicted as a sometimes unappealing, and emotionless act, that is guaranteed to get you killed. It feels like a movie that some radical religious groups would embrace, or something that you’d show a sex-education class to promote abstinence.
In the end, IT FOLLOWS is a good film with an interesting premise, but it feels half-baked. Typically, I think filmmakers give too much away about their monsters, but here I was begging for more information. I believe there is a rich mythology lurking just under the surface, that the director failed to tap in to. So I am definitely hoping that there’s a sequel (or even a prequel) that provides more insight into the legend of the “rape-shifter.”
Though it could have used a little more work during the scriptwriting phase, IT FOLLOWS is one of the better horror offerings I’ve seen in quite a while. It boasts an amazing soundtrack (easily one of the film’s biggest strengths), a capable cast, and great performances. The film also successfully builds an atmosphere of dread at times, and may have you glancing over your shoulder long after you’ve watched it.
I’m sort of torn on how I feel about IT FOLLOWS; I definitely need to watch it again. But as it stands, I feel comfortable in giving Robert David Mitchell’s indie hit: