Director David Robert Mitchell sets everything up in his opening sequence. A leafy suburban street that’s both still and eerie in the morning light. A teenage girl bursts out of her house and wanders into the street, wearing underwear and heels. She seems to see something we can’t, mumbles something incoherent. She meanders back and forth before returning to her house, pushing past her confused father. She returns outside again (Mitchell shooting all this continuously), car keys in hands, jumps in the family car and peels out. She’s now at the beach, making some heartfelt confession, asking for forgiveness. Cut to: her grotesquely contorted remains strewn on the bloodied sand. Hmm.
In under two minutes the director has established that this is a teen horror with a mystery and a slow-burning John Carpenter atmosphere. While the remainder never truly follows through on that wonderful opening, it does showcase Mitchell has a promising talent.
Jay (The Guest’s Maika Monroe) is an easy-going girl looking forward to her hot date with Hugh (Jake Weary). He’s acting weird and seems to see something no one else can. Uneasy, he takes her to an abandoned warehouse. They have sex. He renders her unconscious and she wakes up tied to a wheelchair. He’s apologetic but warns her that the only way to survive ‘it’ is to have sex again, to pass it on. Survive what, she asks. He tells her ‘it’ can take any form, can look like people she knows. Look: here ‘it’ comes now. A naked woman emerges from the trees and approaches. Hugh, ensuring that ‘it’ sees Jay, drives her home, dumps her on the street, repeats his warning.
Mitchell wrong-foots the audience at every turn. The Final Girl in this teen horror isn’t saved by her innocence. In having ‘it’ resembling only women, there seems to be a take on the classic ‘dangers of female sexuality’ theme but then when men start stalking Jay, that is flipped on its head.
Questions, questions. Is it just about the dangers of promiscuous sex and STDs? Is it about a yearning to return to innocence? There is plenty of talk between Jay’s friends about remembering what it was like when they were younger, about first kisses and whatnot, but then everyone is trying to get off with each other. Lovelorn Paul (Gilchrist) harbours a secret love for Jay, willing to take this curse from her by sleeping with her. Then the rules of the haunting change. It’s hard to get a handle on what the movie is saying. It’s as if Mitchell hasn’t entirely figured everything out.
The director gives his film a slow-burning power. He teases out the situations, squeezing every ounce of tension from them by having ‘it’ unable do nothing but single-mindedly walk towards its victim. It’s only in his confrontational scenes that It Follows doesn’t have the oomph the build-up prepared you for.
Plenty to discuss here.