Directed by David Robert Mitchell, “It Follows” (2015) is a refreshing art-house/stalker horror film that has already achieved a cult status with its fans. Instead of recycling the old standard clichés, “It Follows” manages to dig deeper and create a monster that is absolutely terrifying. It has no back story, no name, no identity. In fact, it can look like anyone at any time, just so that it can get close to you and kill you. A relentless, nameless, undaunted enemy that does nothing but slowly walk towards you. It can’t walk through walls; physical barriers will stop it until it manages to bash its way through it. It doesn’t speak, nor does it blink. It just stares straight at its victim as it walks slowly forward. Talk about lurking dread, this movie has it in spades!
For 19-year-old Jay Height, life is good. She has a close-knit circle of friends, lives in a placid suburb of Detroit and has an active dating life. After sleeping with her new boyfriend Hugh on the second date, she is suddenly drugged and tied to a wheelchair. Hugh explains that he picked up a particularly freaky sexually transmitted disease and the only way to get rid of it is to infect another person.
This STD isn’t a humiliating rash or even HIV — it involves being followed by a nameless creature I call the Follower. It is invisible to everyone but the infected, it never runs or takes public transportation, it always knows where you are and it is eternally walking towards you. If it reaches you and you can’t put some distance between you and it, very bad things happen.
After a few close encounters with the Follower, Jay sets out with her sister and friends to find Hugh and drill him for information so that they can find a way to kill it.
“It Follows” has been heralded as one of the most original horror films in recent memory, and I think that’s fair praise. It’s a unique melding of the dangerous boredom of youth explored with realism in films like Larry Clark’s controversial 1995 film “Kids”. “It Follows” star Maika Monroe actually reminds me of Chloe Sevigny and both films are virtually free of adult characters.
It’s difficult not to spot the Carpenter homages in “It Follows” such as when Jay sits in class listening to an unseen teacher drone on, she is distracted by an old woman in a nightgown walking across the campus outside the window. It reminded me of another young woman in 1978, who forgot all about the class lecture when she noticed a man in a blue jumpsuit and white mask staring directly at her from across the street.
Because the polymorphic Follower sometimes takes the shape of characters we know, there’s the tense paranoia of Carpenter’s 1982 remake “The Thing,” in which an alien being took on the form of its human victims. Even some of the camerawork reminded me of Dean Cundey’s camera gliding through the idyllic small town of Haddonfield in “Halloween.”
“It Follows” is rife with subtext. The consequences of sexual intercourse, which can follow you forever, are typically deadly in horror films. Countless camp counselors have ignited the puritanical ire of a masked boogeymen by making love in the woods. Sex before marriage in scary movies draws killers like blood in the water draws sharks. Here, it draws the attention of a dead-eyed specter who frequently appears as rather odd individuals; a toothless half-naked woman urinating on herself, a nude old man who looks like Kris Kristofferson and an extremely tall and super creepy dude with bloody pits for eyes.
Jay is whisked away to a beach house in hopes of putting maximum distance between the Follower and the followed, which results in a suspenseful confrontation with the creature and illuminates its properties. Though no one but Jay and Hugh can see it, the monster must open doors and break windows. It can’t teleport or pass through walls, so evidence of its passage is apparent even to the uninfected. Also, it’s totally strong.
All of this chasing and running leads to a tense final battle inside a massive gymnasium swimming pool, where a blanket is thrown over the monster to reveal its form.
A true friend is someone who will throw a blanket over an invisible monster for you.
“It Follows” is a difficult film to categorize because it doesn’t lazily trot out the typical jump scare stereotypes of horror flicks. Even the characterizations are unusual; there are no cheerleaders or dumb jocks. And that’s great. Originality in this genre is to be celebrated!
And yes, I looked in my rear-view mirror in the movie theater parking lot.