The antecedent to which the "it" refers in the new horror film It Follows is never quite explained.
All we know, as a captive, knee-clutching audience, is that teens are being horrifically mauled by people only they can see, by a thing, a shape-shifting juggernaut force which treads slowly in human form in their direction until they (the targeted teens) manage to fend it off. The "it" can't be killed, only delayed. And the only way to redirect the menace is by having sex. It Follows opens Friday, March 27, at the Cedar Lee.
If this sounds like something you've seen before (teens getting their grisly comeuppance after fooling around), you can't be blamed. And it's true that up-and-coming director David Robert Mitchell embraces a throwback John-Carpenter vibe—natural effects, synth-heavy score, etc.—but this one feels fresh. There are no thirtysomething Hollywood regulars playing country teens. These kids look like babies. And they live in dreary suburban Detroit, where horrors both natural and supernatural, we sense, have been striking for years.
When 19-year-old Jay Height (Maika Monroe) sleeps with her edgy new boyfriend, disaster strikes. He drugs her, ties her to a wheelchair in a vacant parking garage and informs her that "a thing" will begin to follow her. Indeed, as he speaks, a naked woman ascends a nearby hill, deaf and zombie-esque. The only way to get rid of it, he says, is by sleeping with someone else. The thing is slow, he tells Jay, and can be out-runned with relative ease, but the horror is that it never stops coming. Every time you sleep, for instance, it's gaining ground. The film's sense of dread is constant and total.
Jay's younger sister and childhood friends are no match for the follower, which, not unlike the Matrix's agent Smith, can assume the form of anyone. The fact that the roster of bodies is comprised of both deformed and unsullied hosts dramatize the paranoia: it could be anyone. But only Jay can see it, and the tactics her faithful gang deploys—driving to a lake house to evade pursuit, electrocution—are always pitiful and misguided attempts at escape.
The lack of a fully realized origin story make this one feel a little parable-ish at times, but its abiding terror hints at something larger. And not just STDs.
The entire experience of sex, for teens, can be really really scary. And It Follows captures the traumas and the stigmas, and certainly the dread, that accompanies sex and its aftermath among this demographic. A seemingly deliberate clash of time periods—'80s underwear, millennial tech—is either a nod to motley Detroit or a gesture toward the themes' cross-generational impact.
It Follows, however, is much more than just metaphor. It is foremost a scary movie—a good one, a tense one—with a cool, retro glaze. Just be apprised that your next handful of orgasms will be ruined.