CAST: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Olivia Luccardi, Jake Weary
DIRECTED BY: David Robert Mitchell
WRITTEN BY: David Robert Mitchell
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
SEX EQUALS DEATH: A REVIEW OF IT FOLLOWS (2014) SANS SPOILERS
by Jim Wallace
John Carpenter’s classic horror film Halloween (1978) wasn’t the first slasher movie: that honor goes to Mario Bava’s A Bay of Blood (1971). And it wasn’t the first “dead teenager” movie, either: that honor goes to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). But it did begin the “Golden Age” of slasher/“dead teenager” movies (1978-1984) and provide it with a virtual Campbellian monomyth: a homicidal maniac with a severe grievance stalks a group of rowdy, horny suburban teenagers and is able to bloodily murder all but the sensible, virginal “last girl.”
It Follows (2014) both adheres to and reconfigures this template by exposing its thematic core of “sex equals death” in making the murderer the agent of a sexually transmitted curse. This homicidal supernatural entity can take the form of any person and can be seen only by those who’ve been cursed. It shambles like a zombie but is relentless in its pursuit. The curse cannot be lifted, only passed on like a chain letter to another person via sexual relations. But if the entity succeeds in killing the person currently carrying the curse it will then resume targeting the previous holder.
The story’s protagonist, a 19-year-old college girl, is apprised of all this by the 21-year-old boy who passes the curse on to her and—in a brutal burlesque of a “pump ’n’ dump”—leaves her in her underwear on the street in front of her house like a piece of trash. But the curse isn’t a metaphor just for STDs but also for death itself. And the story isn’t about just the burgeoning sexuality and mortality salience of teens but also the loss of innocence, realization of consequences, and acceptance of responsibility and mortality required to become a true adult.
The movie handles these themes mostly sophisticatedly but sometimes sophomorically. (The most egregious example is having a character actually read aloud quotes from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.) And although its teen dramatis personæ aren’t unsympathetic or unlikeable, they don’t elicit too much emotional investment from the audience. (This is probably because the five teen friends never seem to really connect with one another emotionally.) But It Follows does do extremely well building and maintaining a truly harrowing atmosphere.
And in doing so, it reveals how much it was inspired by Carpenter’s seminal Halloween. (The protagonist of the movie is even named Jaime, which is an homage to Halloween’s lead actress Jamie Lee Curtis made oblique by giving her the nickname “Jay.”) It minimizes the presence of modern technology to create a “Golden Age” (1978-1984) feel. It keeps the adults in the margins to effectively isolate the teens. And it unsettles its audience with a simple, dissonant, and eerie synthesizer score and virtuoso camerawork perfectly suited to the nature of the threat.
Long shots and slow, wide pans have the audience scanning the surroundings for the entity. Creeping zooms, dollies, and tilts create a sense of encroaching menace. And low-angle shots create a sense of being small and grounded. But writer/director David Robert Mitchell didn’t limit himself to the bag of tricks Carpenter used for Halloween. He utilized others such as saturating the film’s colors and giving them a cool, darkish tint to enhance the movie’s morbid, nightmare-like quality and leaving the supernatural entity unnamed and unexplained.
But unfortunately, the flimsy story doesn’t live up to the superb storytelling and the middling payoffs don’t live up to the hook, setup, and buildups. The movie has a few too many fallacies even for its dream logic, it’s often as slow and plodding as its monster (even though it maintains the dread of its specter), and its scares are somewhat lacking in both quantity and quality. So the movie is excellent in its atmosphere and allegory but deficient in its drama. It Follows is a fairly good movie that, despite its “urban legend”-esque premise, could’ve been quite a bit better.