This is a repost of our review from the 2014 Toronto Film Festival [TIFF 2014].
Thank you, David Robert Mitchell, because I now have a way of avoiding that awkward “Birds and the Bees” chat when the time comes for my bewildered offspring, as I’ll just pop on It Follows and let your sinisterly sexual horror flick work its magic!
We’ve all seen our fair share of high school slashers where hormone-ravaged teens can’t keep it in their pants long enough to evade the clutches of Jason, Freddy, Michael, or any of the usual suspects, but Mitchell’s hanky-panky fueled genre-bender creates a new game that turns premarital sex into an orgasmic death sentence. Being a slow-burn cat-and-mouse thriller in the simplest sense, It Follows trounces the vilest of STDs by creating a post-sex monster who hunts down the unluckiest of fornicators. There are rules to Mitchell’s scenario, rules that keep this X-rated game of tag constantly moving, and all the fleeing actually becomes quite fun since no one has capitalized on such a simple yet unnerving method of haunting. Man, who would have thought sex could have so many dire consequences!
As an idea, It Follows is bloody brilliant. We’re introduced to Jay (Maika Monroe), your All-American girl next door, wasting away her days swimming and dating without a care in the world. Finally feeling comfortable enough to “go all the way” with her excited boyfriend, Jay doesn’t find nirvana awaiting afterwards, but instead a horrid curse passed on from her conniving partner. Spilling everything he knows, Hugh (Jake Weary) explains that Jay will now be followed by an entity able to take whatever human form it wants, walking slowly in her direction until it becomes possible to kill its target. As long as Jay stays away, she’s safe, and the only way to rid herself of the stalking monster is to have sex with another boy, in which case the “thing” would focus its attention on the next victim. Once it kills, it goes back down the line though, so life would essentially become a weird version of “Hot Potato Sex” where the constant fear of becoming a target once more always looms. Stay away, stay alive. Get caught, you’re dead. Simple.
The utter simplicity of It Follows is hauntingly mesmerizing, moving at a zombie-like pace yet still managing to strike true, invasive fear that pierces the thickest of skin. It sounds silly, avoiding a killer who only has one low-gear speed, but unconfirmed mysteries surrounding such a beast make its constantly advancing nature surprisingly horrific, almost like a nuisance you’ll never be rid of. In essence, you’re watching a symbol that represents your life’s end walk effortlessly at you – an eventuality – while you can either constantly run away only for your demons to finally catch up yet again, or accept a gruesome fate after being worn down by a never-ending curse brought upon by something thought to be pure elation. The constant repetition is pure torture, playing off our own fears of inevitability – like watching an axe-fitted pendulum slowly descend upon your exposed stomach, inching closer and closer with every daunting swing. Mitchell finds fear not in death, but in constant, unrelenting paranoia, a mental assault that questions death’s sweet release.
As for the beast, such a mundane appearance actually makes its presence infinitely more unnerving. The only facts we learn reveal that the creature’s gaze is passed via intercourse, its form can only be seen by those who are or have been in danger, it can appear in any human form it likes (loved ones/friends/strangers), and if it catches you, well, game over. No motivations, no backstory, no evil race of alien virgins who find human mating revolting – just emotionless walking. Never breaking, never stopping, never showing the slightest signs of mercy, just forward marching. No rhyme, no reason, no psyche to evaluate, no deeper meaning present – the true meaning of sensory horror. Logic always finds a way to explain the unknown, rationalizing away the fear, but Mitchell doesn’t present a chance for such relief, engaging primal terror on an incomprehensibly demented level.
It Follows features a bright young cast, including Maika Monroe as the cursed Jay, Lili Sepe as her sister Kelly, Jake Weary as the thing-passer, and Keir Gilchrist as the knight-in-shining-armor-wannabe. Sepe provides a solid rock for Jay to rely on, Weary plays catalyst and informant to all events, and Gilchrist embodies the “nice guy” who harbors an obvious crush, but Monroe steals the show as she should. Her character depicts a stripping of innocence that comes in waves, hypnotized by a rugged boy who promises the world, yet only ends up dooming her existence.
There are so many different layers to what It Follows says about blossoming maturation, especially at a time when we’re most vulnerable, and the dangers that lurk like a wolf in sheep’s wool – a strong theme Monroe captures herself. Each emotion washes over her character, and Monroe delivers jarring responses each and every time. First comes disbelief, then confused fear, and from here there’s a gradual transition to acceptance and the subsequent unraveling of her fragile, unstable core. Monroe embodies the strength of a Scream Queen with the bewilderment of a doe-eyed adolescent still without a proper grasp on reality, effortlessly impressing throughout one of the stronger genre roles of 2014.
It Follows doesn’t come without a warning, as adrenaline-junkies may find the slow nature of Jay’s escape overly daunting – those people who complain that zombies aren’t scary because of their sluggish nature. Early on we learn what happens if “It” does indeed finally catch you, so danger is undoubtedly established, but yes, much of the film follows Jay as she runs away from her problem. It Follows features lots, and lots, and lots of running, and even though Mitchell manages to craft an ominous atmosphere of crushing, asphyxiating horror, let the walk-a-thon pacing be a warning to those who need constant slashings and outlandishness. Jay most certainly plays the waiting game more than a handful of times, but I personally think these breaks help establish a grander sense of dread because while Jay’s friends are giggling and talking, her eyes nervously dart between windows, exits, and walking grannies. What? Everyone is a target!
It Follows is a unique treat for horror fans looking for something new, fresh and terrifying. While getting stuck in minimalism at times, there’s something to be said about turning geriatric walking into pure, unflinching terror – of the mind, that is. I’m not saying you’ll be jumping out of seats, but I am saying that Mitchell’s glorious mindf#ck spins a surrealist take on sexually transmitted diseases while challenging what we perceive to be horror. Adolescence is utilized to exploit the most easily exploited, almost as a warning about the devilishness of life, and the true horror of Jay’s nightmare lingers long after that of a cheesy slasher movie. Challenge yourself, let the horror consume you, and you’ll truly appreciate It Follows for every moment of slow-burning fear that eats away from the inside out.
Mitchell's idea might be the definition of "slow burn", but besides a few insignificant pacing issues, It Follows is a horrific work of art with a fresh, rewarding concept.