Upon first hearing of It Follows, I optimistically expected that we were finally getting another horror movie like Eraserhead, in which the horror comes not from sudden loud noises, ugly monsters, or perverted serial killers, but from the nightmarish atmosphere and dream logic that surrounds the film’s universe. Amidst the barrage of clichéd horror stinkers and boring found-footage movies that only the faint of both heart and brain would admire, we’ve had some genuinely interesting takes on the horror genre such as Cabin In The Woods and The Babadook, but It Follows felt to me like it could be something new entirely.
Alas, the film is not quite up there with Eraserhead in its resemblance with a nightmare, which is what the director himself said he wanted to emulate, but it does achieve a similarly dark feeling at certain points. If anything by Lynch, I’d say it’s more akin to Twin Peaks.
Directed by David Robert Mitchell, it follows Jay (no pun intended), a teenager who goes on a promising couple of dates with a guy named Hugh, eventually having sex with him. This, however, is where things head south. Hugh kidnaps her and tells her that she is going to be followed by an entity that wants her dead, as he has now given her a “curse”. This curse, we learn, is passed on via sexual intercourse. How exactly the sex transfers the curse I don’t know, but this plot point has given me excuse to use the term STD – Sexually Transmitted Demon – from this point on in the review. If you’re gonna force me to talk about sex, at least let me be funny about it.
After this, Hugh ditches Jay in the suburb where she lives and flees. Traumatized and paranoid, Jay seeks the help of her sister Kelly, their two friends Paul and Yara, and later a local boy named Greg to keep her safe and somehow figure out what’s happening. Indeed, she does begin seeing the entity and just as Hugh described, it takes on many forms, visible only to those who are or have been affected by the curse, as it appears to Jay as either complete strangers or people she knows, always limping ominously towards her with an intent to destroy. Should the STD succeed in killing the current person it’s stalking, it will go back to the last person with the curse. Jay’s next, and even if she manages to rid herself of the curse by sleeping with another person, the entity will likely trace its way back to her eventually. Right off the bat I can say that I am insanely intrigued by the concept.
However, in keeping with my comparing this film to Twin Peaks, I’d like to think that it’s actually a bunch of different entities with similar motives who all come from The Black Lodge, and that every time a person sees the STD as someone they recognize that’s just the Shadow Self of that person. Although I suppose that makes even less sense than the story does already – not in a necessarily bad way, mind.
I loved the mystery surrounding the STD, and yet I almost wish it was even more ambiguous. After Jay’s encounter with Hugh, he tells her almost everything about the entity and how it operates. While I can understand that he wanted to assist her, I feel as though that bit of exposition could have been delivered later in the film in order to add to its uncertainty and surrealism. That’s just me, though. Probably.
To comment on some of the film’s downfalls I’ll start by pointing out that it falls short in terms of sufficiently developing some of its side characters. Many of them are just there to say lines and there are several points at which characters will exchange bits of dialogue that allude to some past history among them that we’re implicitly supposed to know already, even though not enough information has been provided previously in the movie.
Another slight problem is its pacing. Up until, I believe, Jay’s second confrontation with the STD, things have been relatively intense and dark, but towards the middle of the film, once Greg joins the party and takes them to see Hugh for more info on the alleged curse, things get slow and the thrills are few and far in between as well as brief when they happen. They also feel rushed compared to the moments where the characters just dick around and talk, as we get a scene where Jay sees the entity again, flees in Greg’s car, drives off the road, ends up in a hospital bed, sleeps with Greg to see if he gets the curse, and then suddenly she’s back in the suburbs again – where she didn’t want to go back a couple scenes ago, by the way – all within the span of five minutes. It’s an interesting segue from little actually happening to too much happening at once, I’ll give it that.
Also, in spite of mostly maintaining its dark and nightmarish tone, there are some points at which the movie gets silly. There is a scene where the characters are hanging out at a random beach and Jay suddenly gets attacked by the entity. The others, as you remember, can’t see it, but they can see that her hair is being pulled by something. So the Paul kid starts smacking at the air with a folding beach chair like an idiot and then I guess he makes the entity angry because suddenly he flies backwards like a CGI rag doll accompanied by a sound effect that I swear to Christ has been ripped from Happy Wheels. I enjoy little things in life like that.
There are also moments where the music sounds a tad weird, almost as if it was composed on an old synthesizer, but aside from all these problems, there are still things to like in It Follows. The performances are solid, its camera work is first-rate, its mythology is (like I said) intriguing, and the mostly consistent atmosphere adds to the paranoia-inducement of its plot. Oh, and just to make one final comparison to Twin Peaks: there is a pretty great scene where one of the characters gets killed by the entity whilst a bright blue light flashes on and off repeatedly. I was half expecting a dancing midget to appear as the entity’s next form.
I will, in the end, award the movie 3.5/5, and as chance would have it, I may not be too far off when I jokingly call the entity “STD”. It was allegedly not an intended symbolism on David Robert Mitchell’s part, but many interpretations of the movie state that the STD is a metaphor for, well, just that. I totally figured that out, guys; that’s why I made the joke. Such smart.