It Follows grabbed me with its opening shot, a sinister, 360-degree single take of odd activity on an average Midwestern block. Stationed in the middle of the street, the camera pans to a well-kept brick home, out of which a young woman flees while looking in terror behind her. The camera follows as she runs across the street, ignoring the questions of a neighbor, and then around in a wide circle until she returns to her front door, where she also ignores her baffled father. After a beat, she bursts out again, jumps in her car and is gone.
It isn’t until later in the film that we learn what she was trying to escape. Following this prologue, we meet another young woman named Jay (Maika Monroe). After she has sex with her new boyfriend (Jake Weary), he tells her that he has passed a curse of sorts on to her. She’s warned to look out for a slowly approaching figure – which changes in appearance and will sometimes look like someone she knows – because if it catches her, it will kill her. The only way for her to escape the curse is to have sex with someone else.
And so It Follows, written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, is something like the world’s creepiest PSA about sexually transmitted diseases. Yet the movie has more resonance than that. With its slowly advancing camera, attention to the inner lives of its characters, and overall sense of trepidation, the film rises above a simplistic and puritanical sex-as-death touchstone like Friday the 13th, to offer something far more compelling. In It Follows, sexual activity has metaphysical implications.
Often the characters are in the center of the screen, allowing us to fearfully scan for movement in the background.
As such, John Carpenter’s Halloween is the clearer influence, especially given the movie’s suburban setting and synthesizer score, both of which seem plucked directly from the 1980s. Mitchell proves to be as skilled as Carpenter at evoking dread. Making the killer a methodical, unstoppable presence – an old school zombie, in a sense – allows for an unsettling use of wide-screen imagery and deep-focus cinematography. Often Mitchell’s characters are in the center of the screen, allowing us to fearfully scan for movement in the background.
While Monroe is effective in the lead role of Jay, especially when she begins to take charge of her predicament in a way that’s reminiscent of the horror comedy Teeth, the best performance comes from Keir Gilchrist as Paul, the platonic friend of Jay’s younger sister. Clearly nursing a lifelong crush on Jay, Paul sees her situation as a chance to play the capable protector. When an older neighbor (Daniel Zovatto) starts hanging around with similar intentions, an already complicated sexual dynamic becomes even more cleverly convoluted.
What’s impressive about It Follows is the way it allows this everyday, adolescent tension to play out against a fright-flick background. The movie may be too much of a slow burn for hardcore horror fans, but it left me subtly jarred. Case in point: when I stepped outside of the theater after watching it, I instinctively surveyed the parking lot to see if anyone was following me.