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Movie review 'It Follows': A sense of dread permeates the story

Published Apr 13, 2015, 10:21 pm IST
Updated Mar 29, 2019, 11:25 am IST
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto
Rating: *** (three stars)

In the opening scene of It Follows, a young woman in sexy lingerie and high heels runs out of her house and onto the street. She’s clearly seen something that terrifies her. Brushing aside her father’s questions, she gets into the family car and drives off. As it grows dark, you see her on a beach, sitting by the edge of the water in the headlights of her car. She makes a last phone call to her dad to tell him she loves him, then she sees a dark shape, standing just at the line of trees fronting the beach. Her breath catches, she hangs up the phone. The next morning, her mangled body is found on the beach; her legs, encased in the high-heeled shoes bent at an unnatural angle, chunks of them missing

It is from that somewhat predictable beginning (do women really wear high heels shoes when they have serious running to do? And what’s the connection between horror films and the titillating underwear actresses in them have to sport?) that the spooky, unsettling It Follows takes off.


The setting seems to be the suburbs adjoining Detroit, and there’s a sense of decay and deterioration here — in the houses and in the neighbourhoods and even in the homes of the characters themselves — that suggests that this is where life comes to die. There is a stillness, a stagnation that fits right in with the somewhat disaffected lead characters — teenagers, who seem to operate with little or no parental supervision.

There is pretty, popular, blonde Jay (Maika Monroe) who has just started dating the new guy in town; her sister Kelly, their friends Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Yara, and later, their neighbour Greg (Daniel Zovatto). Jay’s new boyfriend is a little strange: On one movie date, he sees a girl in the theatre that no one else can, but Jay shrugs off the incident. Then, one night, they have sex and after a frightening series of events, Jay realises that she’s been left with a strange after-effect: A creature is now following her (yes, the movie title is quite literal).

“Did she catch something?” a concerned neighbour asks Jay’s mom, to which she replies in the negative. Of course, she doesn’t know that her daughter has “caught” something, a curse, and one that shows no sign of ending.

The creature can take the form of anyone, often the people that its victim knows and loves; no matter where the victim is, the creature is always walking right toward it. The only way to shake off the curse is to “pass it on to someone else” by sleeping with them. But even that is a temporary reprieve: If the person you passed it on to is caught and killed, then the curse reverts to you and on your death, back to the one who passed it to you and so on. There’s an inevitability to the curse, and the hopelessness of it and the eeriness of it permeates every frame as Jay’s gang tries to help her stay safe. She runs, fights, even tries to pass on the curse on to others when she gets truly desperate, but like a boomerang it returns, this creature, always walking, walking towards her.

Discussions about the movie have focused on whether or not the “it” that follows is an allusion to an STD of some kind, or to AIDs. Some have wondered if the film is a cautionary tale against casual sex; others, if the narrative is in fact, promoting promiscuity. Director David Robert Mitchell has said none of those explanations are the right ones, but has left the nature of the “curse” unexplained himself. He was not so much interested in the origins of this “it”, he compares it to being in a nightmare, and in the film, it’s easy to see that he has chosen to focus on the more intriguing aspect. The very nebulousness of the horror makes it so absolute, and inescapable. When you don’t know what something is, how can you fight it off?

Another explanation has been put forward by those who’ve watched the film: What follows they say, is what you’re most afraid of — your deepest fears, those you can’t outrun. No matter where you go, they dog your footstep, cutting you down until nothing of you or the person you wanted to be remains. Indeed, one scene in It Follows might suggest that this is a far truer interpretation: After she’s made love with her boyfriend in his car, Jay dreamily snuggles into the seat, thinking out loud about how as a little child, the one thing she wanted was to grow up so she could get into a car with her friends and they would just drive around. Well, she’s grown up now, but she’s still stuck in the same place, and getting into a car doesn’t have the magical power to transport her out of her life in that decaying town where it seems like life goes to die.

The soundtrack by Disasterpiece and the cinematography (shots of eerie American suburbia and the woods that surround it; the endless panning of the camera that might reveal, suddenly, a ‘person’ walking towards you, intent on your destruction) by Mike Gioulakis contribute to the ennui you feel emanating from Jay’s life, and then the endless dread that envelops it. And because the actors are all unknown faces, their predicament seems more real somehow, because you don’t see a star pretending to be a scared teenager.

Does It Follows have any pitfalls? Yes, many. The pace tends to drag at times until you’re wishing that something would happen already. At other times, the big “scares” don’t give you enough of a jolt. And the film while unusual, isn’t entirely devoid of the clichés we’ve come to expect from horror films (the opening scene being a case in point). Jay will run/cycle/drive right into the dense woods when pursued, stopping inexplicably in the spookiest of locations. She will head towards the danger than away from it. And even if all the friends are together, she’ll inevitably be alone at just the moment when she should be surrounded by them (scant protection though it might be).

But you’ll find yourself willing to overlook those irritants. And then, the next time you’re climbing up a deserted flight of stairs or an empty corridor, you’ll look over your shoulder, just to check once: Is anything or anyone following you? And heave a sigh of relief when you see there’s nothing there.