Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto
Released in: 2014
Horror films have evolved into a different beast from what they were in the 1980s. More often than not, the horror aspect is largely a metaphor for the ills of society. This has been magnified in the last decade, with director Jordan Peele using the phrase “social thriller” to describe his horror film, Get Out. Although horror films have been using social metaphors for years, It Follows is one of the first films made in this particular “social thriller” vein. While it still leans on the 80s motifs of the “final girl” and really stupid teenagers, there’s also a fascinating social commentary on sex, STDs and post-traumatic stress.
A young student, Jay Height (Maika Monroe), has just started seeing a new guy, Hugh (Jake Weary). The date starts out playful enough, but then Hugh freaks out after he spots a girl who nobody else in the auditorium can see. Hugh’s freak-out didn’t put off Jay, and they go on another date. They have sex in his car, but afterwards, Hugh knocks her out with chloroform. As she wakes up, he goes on to explain that he’s passed something onto her – a haunting, lethal shapeshifting figure only known as It. It cannot run, but It will follow its victim ceaselessly – until they have sex with someone else and pass it on. If Jay does not have sex with someone, It will kill her, and It will go back down the line and kill everyone else who passed It on. Rattled with anxiety and fear, Jay can’t decide what to do, and she struggles to convince her friends that It actually exists.
It Follows has all the hallmarks of 80s teen horror movies. Like A Nightmare on Elm Street, It Follows plays with reality and horror. Jay and her friends switch locations like they’re in a waking dream. It turns up seemingly from nowhere, and as It stalks them, the teenagers realise they’re living a nightmare that they can’t wake up from. Jay’s friends are fantastically stupid as well, in a way that only seems realistic in a horror film. Instead of smartly following Hugh’s advice, Jay attempts to outrun and outwit It, a supernatural creature with a penchant for bloody destruction. Director David Robert Mitchell also pays homage to the Final Girl trope. The Final Girl is the last one standing – and she’s usually blonde, pretty and slightly sexually repressed. Naïve but wild Jay is an interesting inversion of this horror film staple. The excellent synth soundtrack grounds the film. The soundtrack is a great call back from those 80s horror films, but it also reinvigorates modern horror.
Although It Follows leans heavily on 80s horror stereotypes, it also feels very unique. It Follows is interested in people’s attitudes to sex, sexual health and PTSD. Although the characters seem dense, It Follows is not. Whip-smart, and of the moment, this movie isn’t afraid to ramp up the fear factor either. But this film doesn’t rely on horror gimmicks to achieve its moments of pure fear. The characters aren’t plunged into darkness; there isn’t an overuse of screeching strings and jump-cuts are nowhere to be seen. To craft a horror film that takes place on well-lit streets amid white suburbia is an art form in itself. To use slow-mo shots to build up tension and fear should be applauded.
The success of It Follows probably allowed the 2010s to become so dominated by new voices in horror, from Jordan Peele, Ari Aster to Robert Eggers. But It Follows isn’t just a trendsetter or only pays homage lazily. It winks at 80s horror while shaping contemporary cinema at the same time. This film is original and scary enough to loom in your imagination long after you’ve finished watching.