It Follows Plot Summary:
After Jay (Maika Malkin) sleeps with Hugh (Jake Weary), he warns her that she must sleep with someone else or she will be killed by an evil being that only she can see. While she doesn’t believe him at first, the monster–which can look like any human–begins to pursue her and she and her friends try to find a way to make it stop.
It Follows is the ultimate STD horror metaphor. A girl sleeps with a boy and is forever cursed to live in fear of an unstoppable being whose only desire is to kill her. Even if she passes the curse on, it could return at any time. It’s a simple concept, but writer/director David Robert Mitchell manages to exploit it for all its primal fright.
There’s an incredible sense of paranoia that builds throughout the film. Every person–even Jay’s friends and family–become potential threats and every moment of calm feels like the preamble to an attack. Mitchell favors wide, often unbroken shots that force the audience to constantly look for danger, wondering which seemingly normal person will turn out to be evil. Sometimes he’ll film Jay straight on as she scans the landscape behind the camera, leaving the audience to worry she won’t turn around in time to notice the person behind her. They’re effective techniques, but they wouldn’t work half so well without Malkin in the lead.
With this and last year’s great The Guest, the actress has proven herself to be quite the scream queen. Malkin makes Jay’s fear feel so real that the audience can’t help feeling it too—much in the same way Jamie Lee Curtis did in Halloween. In fact, the film is a lot like that classic. While the story seems to take place slightly in the future (Jay’s friend carries around an e-reader that looks like a compact mirror), the look is slightly retro. The cars, the clothes, even much of the furniture and electronics are from the ’70s or older. Rather than just being an affectation, though, the choice feels like clever commentary. Like the Detroit setting, the aesthetic implies aa more contemporary sense of decay and even poverty. Our heroine is similarly without polish. Jay isn’t virginal or prudish as Curtis’s character was. She has to have sex in order to survive and she doesn’t hesitate to do so.
Strong as the Halloween connection is, Mitchell draws from other sources too. Jay’s TV only plays old sci-fi horror movies—in case anybody somehow missed that the film is about fear of an unknown Other. The simplicity of the set-up (the tagline reads: “It doesn’t think. It doesn’t feel. It doesn’t stop”) recalls Nightmare on Elm Street. Those characters didn’t have a change either. They had to sleep sometime. Likewise, even if Jay does pass on the curse, there’s always a chance it could come back if the monster kills everyone who caught it after her. The best references, however, are to Cat People, both the original 1942 version and the one with David Bowie on the soundtrack. The original invented the jump scare and It Follows isn’t above using the technique frequently and effectively. It’s best steal, though, is putting its heroine in a pool in its climactic sequence. There’s nothing quite so vulnerable as a beautiful young woman alone in a swimming pool waiting for an unseen monster to attack.
Mitchell knows his horror history and the film is well-constructed, but that’s kind of the problem. It’s all so affected. None of the dialogue sounds like something an actual human being would say and the side characters are little more than young people caricatures played by subpar actors. Jay’s bespectacled friend, for instance, reads from The Idiot throughout to remind us how smart the film is. When the film reaches its climax, it’s hard to care about whether she or the others survive even as they become more fleshed out. It Follows is still good for a few scares, but it’s ultimately a little boring because there’s nothing interesting between them.
By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over every detail of America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture and celebrity obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to. You can find her risking her life by reading comic books while walking down the crowded streets of New York City, having inappropriate emotional reactions at her iPad screen while riding the subway or occasionally letting her love of a band convince her to stand for hours on end in one of the city’s many purgatorial concert spaces. You can follow her on Twitter to read her insightful social commentary or more likely complain about how cold it is at @MarisaCarpico.