It Follows, written and directed by David Robert Mitchell (whose full name might as well be David Robert Mitchell Steven William Henry Albert for God's sake) is the most clever tweak on horror conventions since Cabin In The Woods. But unlike Cabin, which was sly and witty, this movie plays almost all of it straight. (I'm assuming that Carpenter-esque synthesizer score is meant to be a bit of a gag. If not, well, my chuckles were unintended.)
The hook is so simple you'll wonder how it's possible this movie's never been made before: a sexually transmitted curse. When someone with the curse schtups you, you're it. You are doomed unless you can schtup someone else, then the curse goes to them. If they get killed before they can pass it on, the curse comes back to you. Every teen horror movie has stated that sex will get you killed. In It Follows you have to screw to survive!
There are a lot of loose ends with this. I don't know if sex with a condom counts, because, yes, prostitutes enter into this. The movie only shows us heterosexual sex, and, as such, we get some wry commentary on gender and promiscuity. (“You're a girl! You can sleep with ANYONE!”) And we don't know how this originated, who put together the pieces or how to get rid of it. But all that doesn't matter. This is a movie where the subtext is far, far more interesting than what's happening on the surface. In fact, the only truly bad part of the movie is the big showdown – a screenwriting necessity where tension must be released. Funny that a movie where sex is evil should have problems with the climax.
It Follows takes place in a smoothed-out version of Lynch's America. It's mostly just an ordinary suburb, but there's plenty of weirdness floating around. Like Peanuts, adults are almost non-existent. Also like Peanuts there are no computers or flatscreens or cell phones. However one character (and she's something of a Peppermint Patty type, come to think of it, but I promise I'll stop with the goddman Peanuts talk now) has a Kindle-ish device on her makeup compact. She's reading (and quoting) Dostoyevsky and the tormented quotes about mortality are half deadpan half deadly.
She's part of our main character Jay's posse. Jay (Maika Monroe, a good enough actress to sell the forthcoming silliness) is a pretty blonde gal just out of high school still reeling at her new newfound freedom. She can ride in cars with boys, like handsome Hugh, whom she just met. They go to the local arts cinema to see Charade and make love in the back of his muscle car and then – whammo – she's informed she has the Curse.
Soon zombie-ish people will begin chasing her. They will take different forms. They may even look like someone she knows. No one but her will see them, tho others can feel them. And they will have one intention: to kill! Luckily, they are slow, so they are easily outrun. Still, they are an ever-present threat until she can dump the Curse in someone else's lap.
The chase scenes and jump scares are, at their best, okay. I'm an enormous yelping wuss who had heart attacks at movies like Insidious and Silent House and I barely moved a muscle during this one. What got me, though, were the hormone-rich conversations between Jay and her friends as they tried to figure out how to help her.
Naturally, there's the buff guy always ready for some action, and the nerdy kid who has been pining for her since the age of 8. How does attraction, respect and admiration fit into a relationship when sex is deadly? How do the pleasures of the flesh measure against a lifetime of constant threat? How many metaphors for lost innocence can fit into one movie?
David Robert Mitchell, whose previous work was the tender Myth of the American Sleepover, knows how to direct young people who are just at the precipice of adulthood. The dialogue is restrained and the relationship scenes are funny and touching. What he doesn't know how to do is direct action on a low budget. The special effects look pretty bad and, I dunno, hurling typewriters at someone in a pool just doesn't get my adrenaline running. (This is an actual big moment in the film, I'm not just clipping and pasting random words here.)
Still, let's be frank: when was the last time a VOD horror film made you think? Maybe Excision? I was lucky enough to see this with three other critics and we chewed into it over dinner, fleshing out the world, and talking out things that seemed inconsistent but actually made sense. I suspect that, like the post-coital boogeymen of the film itself, It Follows will eventually, inevitably find its audience.