It Follows: A haunting reflection on the power of relationships

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It Follows feels like a timeless film. While Unfriended could only exist here and now, It Follows could easily take place during almost any time in the past few decades. Director David Mitchell himself said he intentionally wanted us to be unsure about when the movie is set, often feeling like the 1970’s but with one of the characters using some sort of smartphone type device. It’s an ingeniously simple film, which uses its low budget and few resources to its advantage to produce a seriously chilling, claustrophobic nightmare. Mitchell delivers the scares and makes us think about the teenage angst associated with sex, the paranoia of life as a young adult, and the power of meaningful relationships in our lives.

You may have heard It Follows described as the movie about an STD ghost, and yeah, that’s kind of the plot. The monster is some sort of mysterious creature which latches on to one person at a time, following them very slowly but violently killing them if it gets close. There’s a catch, though: You can transfer the entity to someone else through sex.

This creates an interesting moral dilemma. Would you be willing to subject another person to these horrors in order to save yourself?  To do so, you’d naturally have to lie. Will you sink to that level? Will you go sleep with the first person you see in order to be rid of the curse? In the first act of the film, a character transfers the monster by having sex with a girl who is none the wiser. From her perspective, she’s engaging in a loving act with a man who she has opened herself up to, but from his perspective, he’s deceiving her with an ulterior motive.

The movie, then, speaks to the anxiety associated with sex, especially during our teenage years. Can I trust this person I’m about to become so intimate with? Are they using me for something? Does it really mean anything to them?

Taking this metaphor to its logical conclusion, It Follows allows us to see how people behave in the aftermath of that betrayal. In this case, that means having an entity thrust upon you and becoming its target, but we can also interpret that as a stand in for sexual betrayal in general, either from a partner lying to get you into bed, or even, God forbid, committing sexual assault. How can one possibly move on after that?

We never quite see the “it” in the film, as the entity always takes the form of other humans, often who the target knows. In a world where a romantic partner could lie, trick or assault at a moment’s notice, how are we to trust anyone ever again? Similarly, how can we have faith in anyone when they could be “it”? Our protagonists must look twice at anyone they see, analyzing their movements as possibly being a telling sign. Is this person “it”? Is this person going to mislead me? Can I trust them? Can I love them?

Without getting too heavily into spoilers, the film suggests that in a world full of creatures like these, we must work hard to find the one who really, truly cares about us and who will help share the load. Our pain may seem impossible to deal with, but split among two people, and with someone else looking out for us, it might not be so bad.

It Follows is truly scary, stylistic, and with one hell of a soundtrack. Having the entity take the form of a person might sound cheap at first, but it’s actually an incredibly resourceful idea, and there’s something so creepy and wrong about the image of an old woman following someone down a school hallway. Sometimes the most straightforward ideas, when put in the right hands, are the most effective.

Maika Monroe is pitch perfect as the lead, calling to mind Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween (the movie pays tribute to Halloween in a number of ways). The group of friends has a believable dynamic, though only Jay and Paul are particularly memorable. But this is a film that cares about its characters, and that can be surprisingly rare in horror.

Like The Babadook, It Follows doesn’t have that many overt scares, but its more about the impeding sense of doom that haunts every frame. We feel the paranoia the characters do, like something is constantly lurking around the corner. It’s tremendously scary, but even more than that, the themes have stayed with me for weeks since I saw it. Like many of the greatest horror movies, the whole thing serves as a brilliant metaphor, and one that you’ll want to discuss immediately afterwards. The film, as dark as it often gets, is also somewhat hopeful, reminding us of the power of meaningful relationships to help us through the terrors that follow.

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