Best to start with the concrete, because after that we untether our boat from the dock of reality and sail off across a sea of pure dread.
So: It Follows – what is it?
It’s the buzzy indie horror movie, now in theaters, that’s quickly establishing itself as some kind of classic. It’s a freak-out, or at the very least a creep-out.
It Follows is perfect if you’re a teenager who enjoyed Final Destination, in which death is as systematically mean as someone picking teammates in high-school gym class. It’s also a must-see if you’re a solemn old person who knows death can seem a lot dumber than that and be just as effective.
It Follows is, as well, the best little horror movie since last year’s acclaimed hit The Babadook.
Better, in fact. The Australian Badabook worked because of a believable psychological premise – a mother losing her mind, and her young son starting to appreciate the awfulness of that – while It Follows operates on no recognizable principle whatsoever.
It gets in your head and it stays there, both because it’s so scary and because it’s so hard to resolve.
Here’s why you need to see It Follows:
1. There’s a monster – but there isn’t.
It Follows starts with a curse that, passed on through sexual intercourse, takes the form of odd-looking, clumsy people who follow you, always singly. You won’t be sure, at first, that they’re even coming in your direction. But they ultimately zero in on you. If they get to you and if they get hold of you, they destroy you.
At the moment, they are in pursuit of Jay (Maika Monroe), who shrieks and panics until she’s blank-eyed and exhausted from trying to evade these tagalongs from hell. She might fight the curse with more grit, like Alison Lohman in Drag Me to Hell, if she could depend on horror clichés to define her situation.
Some of the ghouls look like corpses. One seems to be an infirm old lady. Another is a middle-aged man standing naked on a roof, scowling like someone who just missed out on the Rapture. Are they one creature? Are they minions? Of whom? And what if, instead of always walking, they took public transportation?
Their vagueness, combined with their relentlessness, makes them very, very unnerving.
2. It Follows makes no sense – but also makes total sense.
It Follows comes closer than just about any other film to feeling like an actual nightmare – it isn’t so much about mindless terror as it is about mindlessly trying to escape terror. (Director David Robert Mitchell has said he was inspired by a recurring nightmare of his own.)
Jay and her friends flee to the beach, to a swimming pool, here then there, in a way that seems pointless and random.
But it seems right, too, even predestined: There’s no “Don’t open that door!” reaction, even when Mitchell presents us with “Don’t open that door!” moments.
3. It Follows isn’t out to do anything more than give you a good scare – but you could write a term paper about its deeper significance, and you would get at least a B+.
What, in the end, does the curse mean? Is this an allegory about sexually transmitted disease?
Or is It Follows about death itself? The movie ends with one of Jay’s friends reading aloud a grim Dostoevsky quote about the moment of extinction. And aren’t the creatures like our sense of death – always approaching, often stealthy, occasionally obvious, always sure to come again?
That was an “A” paragraph, by the way.