Tuesday, June 07, 2016

It Follows (2014) ****

After a couple of dates, Jay (Maika Monroe) has a back-seat hookup with a new acquaintance. She figures the date is going pretty well, until Hugh tells her the bad news. Their tryst has passed on to her the curse of a demon that will follow her until either she passes it on by having sex with someone else, or it gets its hands on her. The opening sequence of the film shows us what can happen when this thing catches up to someone, and believe me, it means business. The worst part is that you can never really be rid of this thing, because if it kills someone, then it just goes back after the person who passed it to that person, working its way back down the line. Relentless is the word that comes to mind.

I don't really watch many horror movies anymore. It's a generally accepted rule that horror films are made for teenagers, who are fascinated by exploring the possibility of their own mortality, partly because they don't fully believe in their own mortality yet. A grown person has plenty of genuinely scary things to worry about, with no need to stare into the celluloid abyss. “It Follows,” however, is not just a good horror movie, it is a good movie, period. The acting is excellent, and the characters' actions are believable, even if they don't always do the smartest thing at a given time. The writing is good enough that their actions make sense in terms of who they are and the nightmare in which they are trapped. The camera work in this film is beautifully framed as well, with some absolutely stunning shots. The film also creates a sense of timelessness by having the characters dress in vintage clothing and using cars from various eras. Even the seasons seem unstable, creating a nightmarish sense of disorientation. This movie is going to age well, and I suspect it will show up in some film school lectures.

When done properly, horror movies can teach us a lot about ourselves by making us examine what we fear. Is it fear of the “other”, or fear that the people we love aren't who we think they are. Maybe it's the fear that our sins will catch up to us. The demon in “It Follows” represents an unavoidable doom that is always coming for us, basically a stand-in for death. The characters can delay that doom by having sex with someone, but they know that it is still out there, potentially working its way back to them. Besides being a metaphor for mortality, “It” is, of course, a pretty obvious stand-in for sexually-transmitted disease, particularly the AIDS epidemic, which is interesting, because people who are today the age of these characters don't know much about the AIDS epidemic. Those who lived through that epidemic will recognize the sense of fear surrounding sex, and the necessary paranoia about one's sexual partner and their past partners created in this film.

It's a standard horror film trope to equate sex with death, but “It Follows” makes the connection much more explicit. In doing so, writer/director David Robert Mitchell has created a delightfully original tale that belongs in the cannon of great films like John Carpenter's “The Thing.” From the horrifying opening sequence, the movie creates an overpowering sense of dread with its thrumming score and the sense that “it” may appear at any moment, moving slowly but malevolently. “It Follows” is definitely one to check out, as long as you can handle a few nightmares.

4 stars out of 5

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