Sex and horror have always gone hand-in-hand. Whether it be gross cabin-sex by Crystal Lake or a quick romp in an upstairs bedroom in the suburbs of Haddonfield, IL, sex has always had a specific place in the horror genre. The sexual stereotypes and tropes in the horror genre usually dictate who dies, who lives and who is worth saving. But in It Follows, sex isn’t a set of highway cones the film must maneuver between, instead sex is the catalyst for horror. A back seat in the back of an abandoned warehouse becomes as frightening as a maniac clad in a hockey mask wielding a machete.
The It in It Follows could be anyone: a friend, acquaintance, stranger or ghoul, and once It has it’s sights set on someone, It follows–albeit slowly–until it catches and destroys them. The apple of It’s eye, is passed on by sexual intercourse; if It is following you, have sex with someone and It will follow them. When Jay (the terrific Maika Monroe), a teenager living in suburban Detroit, has sex with her older fling (Jake Weary, think Jesse Pinkman if Jesse Pinkman stopped selling meth and only listened to Morrissey), she finds herself haunted by the It, which stalks her and her affable group of friends. It’s a simple premise, but it’s one that writer/director David Robert Mitchell commits to and manages to wring scares out of in every inch of the frame.
For a film as simple as It Follows, there are a lot of moving parts that make its themes resonate more than its scares. The allegory about sexually transmitted diseases (HIV/AIDS, specifically) is readily apparent and is the film’s most accessible takeaway. But Mitchell and company seem to have a more invested interest in how horror movies are told; specifically how gender roles have come to define horror films. The “virginal whore” is an ugly stereotype that has persisted in horror movies for decades: women are allowed to look pretty and they’re allowed to be objects of desire, but the second they take agency over their own body they are killed. It Follows is a conscious deconstruction of this stereotype (though not the first, as notable films like Scream and, more recently, Cabin in the Woods have taken their time to dismantle these gender roles). Whereas Jay is targeted for having sex, her sexuality is also what empowers her.
Though the film is intellectually superior to most of its genre compatriots, Mitchell still knows how to layer on the scares. Perhaps the most frightening theater experience I’ve had since 2005’s The Descent, there is hardly a scare in It Follows that doesn’t land. Accompanied by an oppressive, synth-heavy score, It Follows operates in a persistent state of dread. The rules of the It are established early and Mitchell frames every shot in a way that keeps Jay (and the the audience) in constant peril.
It seems that the 2010s are signaling a resurgence of great horror films. With the likes of Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods), Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest), Ti West (The Innkeepers, The Sacrament) and Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead (the team behind Resolution and this year’s Spring), horror has a few minds who know how to innovate in the genre’s firmly established tropes. It Follows adds writer-director David Robert Mitchell to the list of 21st century auteurs whose films are as intelligent as they are horrifying.
Craig is a writer living in north Florida with his wife and ornery dog. He writes about film and TV. He creates and publishes comic books under the label Gentleman Baby Comics. He's currently wishing his bio sounded more engaging.