HORROR GENRE GETS AN INGENIOUS MORAL KINK IN NEW RELEASE
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
Rating: R, Grade: A-
Following (pun intended) on the heels of writer-director Jennifer Kent’s mesmerizing horror re-invention “The Babadook,” comes another relative multi-hyphenate newbie David Robert Mitchell with his sly take on the unrelenting things that hound unsuspecting teens on the big screen. So the story goes – as reported on various sites including the film’s listing in the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), the concept for “It Follows” is rooted in a particular nightmare that Mitchell simply couldn’t shake. In a recurring dream, he found himself being stalked by a figure that slowly crept up on him, never speeding up, but also never relenting. It is such a simple idea, but fraught with an undeniable fear factor, right?
When it came to translating this idea into a feature film, Mitchell jazzed “It Follows” up by subverting the typical teen slasher riffs that might have naturally evolved from the premise, twisting the powerful allure of sexuality and the morality of abstinence. The narrative’s young heroine Jay (Maika Monroe) is a proto-teen girl, on the verge of an awakening of her powerful nature as a sexual being. In some ways, she is – to borrow a motif from the currently in vogue world of comic book adaptations – a mutant whose abilities are about to burst forth, and Jay, far from fearing this change, is ready to embrace and test the limits of her power. She appreciates how boys look at her, how they follow her with their eyes, how their brains dis-engage around her, how this all seems to light her up from within.
So when she finally submits to the act, what should have been a languid blossoming of freedom and self-awareness takes on a dark and unrelenting oppressiveness. Abruptly coming to, Jay realizes that she has been tied up, and is then addressed all too cryptically by her would-be lover in what feels like a nightmarish fever-dream of unbelievable commands accompanied by demands to focus on a figure in the distance, coming closer. She’s told that it is coming for them; her first, but then him, and that this was why he had sex with her, to form a buffer between himself and this “thing” that has been following him.
And soon, Jay gets dumped in front of her home and must come to terms with what has happened to her, as well as what she sees – visions of people following her, people that no one else is aware of, although her friends, especially a close friend of her younger sister named Paul (Keir Gilchrist), display an amazing degree of faith in Jay’s fears.
Mitchell breathes such life into his fear, creating a monster not so much out of the idea of being stalked, but the implications this all has on Jay and the nature and expression of sexuality in the horror genre. The very prudishness of horror filmmakers has been analyzed under the harsh spotlight for years. What audience member hasn’t considered the clichéd reality of what happens to oversexed teens in slasher films? For a smart and definitely fun re-examination of the trope, check out “Cabin in the Woods.”
But, it is worth paying attention to how here, Mitchell wants us to question whether it might be better for Jay to have sex with others to create a human barrier between herself and the slow but steady unseen (to everyone else) force that will not stop until it claims her life. So much for virginity being the scream queen’s saving grace. We watch her come to this understanding and struggle with the morality of her choice, which is far more impactful than even the sly genre skewering that we get in “Cabin in the Woods.”
In addition, “It Follows” contains numerous throwback elements – simplistic setups tracking victims for long stretches and rudimentary electronic blips and ominous chord progressions – and a low-fi aesthetic that screams late 1970s-early 1980s John Carpenter-George Romero at their best, but the sensibility belongs to a here and now that is finally ready to move past the found footage trend that has hijacked our minds. “It Follows” is a living nightmare, an intellectual and moral exercise that doesn’t forget to tease the sensory impulses that keep us awake and fully alert, even when our eyes are firmly shut.