It Follows

Believe the hype about It Follows. It’s the first horror film I’ve seen in a theater in years, so I’m not a fan of the genre, obviously. I find horror films too horrific. Too much attention on the shock, and not enough on developing whatever else is going on thematically.

Jay (Maika Monroe) had sex with the wrong guy!

Jay (Maika Monroe) had sex with the wrong guy!

That’s precisely where the very high concept but low-fi It Follows, written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, excels.

It’s about a group of teens who’ve gotten a sexually transmitted demon that kills people in a gruesome manner – but here’s the trick: If you sleep with someone else, then the demon will haunt them instead of you. As long as that partner manages to stay alive, you’re off the hook. Partway into the story, we learn that additional rules apply, but I never blinked about the premise at all.

One thing about the demon is that he/she appears to you in all kinds of forms, even as a friend or family member. Mitchell claims he dreamed about such a demon as a child, but fans of Kolchak: The Night Stalker will remember the Rakshasa. Kolchak was a series starring Darrin McGavin, who was kind of a poor man’s Jack Lemon, as a Chicago reporter who encountered every type of paranormal experience, including the shape-shifting Hindu demon, during one single season of network TV.

Fun stuff, and in It Follows Mitchell mines the conceit for all the obvious material. Sure, it’s normal for teen horror to objectify their young bodies, and to associate sex with danger – this time maybe more than in most – but I just loved how this set of suburban teens has practically no adults in its cosmos, unless of course they’re murderous demons posing as parents in sexually charged ways. Sheltered kids. Above-ground pools. Borrowed cars. Sneaking out at night. Waiting for the slow, certain march of adult consequences. It felt like a Jeffrey Eugenides horror film.

The dark underbelly of Middle America is so old and overdone a theme, I only want to see a film that dips into those waters if it’s there to stay on a more specific topic. It’s cheap Freudianism, which morphs into a meditation on the impossibility of finding safety in the suburbs, but it also spoke to me about sex, and the way we pass feelings back and forth to one another via sexual relationships. Among the many interpretations of this film you can read about online, rape and STDs among the cheaper ones, I’m yet to come across the writer who relates to it quite like this, but when you start a sexual relationship with someone, or even just sleep with him or her once, you’re inviting them to witness your madness. The net result is often that you send them away carrying your grief, or trying to heal some wound that originated in your heart, and this film is a fun and easy-to-look-at iteration of that.

Only once did I feel like it was over-directed, a dizzying 360-degree pan shot that made me say, “Alright, stop it.” And only one hunk of the plot was a misstep: why the kids, who were reasonable up to then, thought going to a pool was such a good idea.

It must have been a lot of fun to write this story, and I was cheering for Mitchell all the way. It’s given Andrew O’Hehir an excuse to call our attention to Mitchell’s previous film, the overlooked 2011 romantic comedy The Myth of the American Sleepover, and I’m all eyes and ears.

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