May 11, 2015 Film & TV
David Robert Mitchell’s stylish, disturbing new indie horror film takes this old trope to its literal conclusion: the “it” of the title is passed on through intercourse. Once you have been rooted, you are rooted; the only way to stop it from killing you is to have sex with someone else.
Mitchell’s heroine Jay — played with fine naturalness by Maika Monroe — finds herself in peril after a typical night out at the movies with a nice enough chap named Jake. Turns out, Jake just wanted to pass the ghost-STD along. He sticks around long enough to give Jay tips on how to spot “it”, how to outrun it and, if she’s up for it, how to pass it on.
It Follows is the kind of film that cinematographers go back three times to watch. Because there’s no Jason or Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger, and because the “it” in question takes on the form of the people around the “infected” and approaches slowly, on foot, the camera takes its time too. Mike Giolakis’ drawn-out, perfectly choreographed shots neatly ratchet up the tension, and games composer Rich Vreeland (aka Disasterpeace, best known for his soundtrack to the hit puzzle platform game FEZ) applies more pressure with his droning, unpleasantly weird synthetic soundtrack.
If the film’s premise seems unusually cruel for a teen horror flick, the surprise is in its nuanced and textured approach to sexuality. You don’t get “it” because you’re promiscuous; this isn’t some hammy slut-shaming device. It Follows layers up fascinating meditations on consent and the male gaze and, to an extent, rape culture. To get the help she needs from her sister and friends, Jay must first make them believe what’s happened to her, even though she has no proof.
The story also touches on poverty and absent parents and the way suburban kids create their own support networks (and come up with incredibly dumb yet well-intentioned solutions for their problems). Though set in Detroit, It Follows could have been made in Glenfield, or Papakura or Henderson; it has the air of a longer, scarier Lorde music video.
One of the best scenes is also one of the most mundane. On the lawn out the back of Jake’s house, Jay and her friends — all equally well cast — sit in a circle with him and pick at the grass, mooching, figuring out what to do next. It’s hauntingly accurate in its depiction of that dull, delicious, confusing, take-me-back-there-now bit between childhood and IR330 slavedom. Mitchell has a strange, retro-cool hit on his hands.