It Follows (2014)
Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell
Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrest, and Olivia Luccardi
A title like It Follows begs questions. Primarily, “what follows?”, “why does it follow?”, and “how can it be stopped?” Since the unknown is one major source of horror, movies often hold a little back, leaving some mysteries while resolving enough to grant the audience a sense of resolution. In this case there are arguably no answers given at all, which is a bit of a risky approach. If for only that reason I’d be kindly disposed toward it, but fortunately the film has a lot to offer.
Here’s what the audience does get (and it’s not much more than what’s in the trailers): it follows, it kills, and it may be passed to another victim through sex. Whatever it may actually be, it’s a sexually transmitted killer. Presumably, one could follow its victims back to Patient Zero and find out what caused all of this, but who has time for that while they’re being followed?
This movie centers on the horror cliché that sexuality leads to death. What makes it work is that, rather than use this as an excuse to see naked “teenagers” get slaughtered, the story explores the difference between sex and a relationship. For one thing, there is nothing quite so casual about the sex that transmits this curse. It establishes a link that can only be severed by death. Although the “giver” achieves temporary relief from constant fear and watchfulness, the wellbeing of the “receiver” is never going to be far from mind. Unlike spreaders of real venereal diseases, those who pass on the Follower are highly motivated to reveal the transmission and explain how to live with the consequences. Otherwise, the Follower will return all the quicker.
It’s a terrific set up, and the film uses it to create some genuinely tense scenes and frightening thoughts. I hold on to that, because there are distracting imperfections. The Follower is always in motion, constantly pursuing — except when it stands on a rooftop for no better reason than a cool shot. It shifts form, but to what purpose? Sometimes it seems to want to blend into a crowd, other times it’s visually alarming, and once in a great while it’s somebody the target knows. That’s kind of neat, and it’s fine if the reasoning behind each visage is unexplained to the characters or the audience, but there should be a reason; but I’m inclined to assume that Mitchell doesn’t know, given all the other things that don’t add up.
From the general wardrobe, hair, and accessories the movie appears to be set in 19-whatever. Early 80s, maybe. Maybe. Presumably, this is so that the script doesn’t have to handle pesky things like the internet and police databases filled with reports about mutilated sex pretzels. Setting horror in the past is a time-honored tradition, and filmmakers have rarely shown much interest in attempting to portray the periods with any sort of realism (Ti West being a notable and welcome exception). A few slip-ups would pretty much go unnoticed, but you can’t insert a pocket e-reader into the last century without treating suspended disbelief like a piñata. There’s no reason for it, either. There’s nothing done with it that couldn’t be served by a beat-up paperback.
I had more — expounding on the awfulness of the romantic subplot and the unequally examined parallels of invoking Oedipus and Electra during attacks — but I’ve said less against honestly worse films. The reason I get more worked up about the problems in this film is because it is good. It’s very good, and I wish it were better. Give it a watch, and see for yourself. I’ll be over here picking nits.