On a lazy weekend night, I curled up in my bed to watch “It Follows” with one of my best friends. I was definitely hoping for the best but expecting the worse, as I am a total wimp when it comes to scary movies. When I saw the trailer for “It Follows,” I was definitely spooked, but I wasn’t especially excited by the premise and decided that it might just be campy enough for me to get through it without any flinching or lingering nightmares. After watching the film, however, I was completely taken by the supernatural subconscious horror of the film. Scary movie 1, Kaitlin 0.
Very early on, “It Follows” establishes protagonist Jay’s (Maika Monroe) idyllic suburban life—it takes a short while to figure out that it specifically takes place in Detroit, MI, which is one of the few definite bits of information we get about Jay’s life. Almost as quickly as it’s set up, this image is completely disrupted by the knowledge that what started as an average sexual encounter devolved into a brutality that thrust a senselessly malevolent demon into Jay’s life. A seedy supporting character informs our protagonist and the audience that “It could look like someone you know or it could be a stranger in a crowd. Whatever helps it get close to you,” That is almost the entirety of what our characters understand about this daunting, plodding creature. That coupled with the fact that it only ever moves at a walking speed directly towards you, and that if it catches you, it kills you and moves on to whoever was being followed before. I was immediately frustrated by how unhelpful and spooky all of that information was.
When I wasn’t overwhelmed by my fear for Jay and her friends, I was busy taking in some truly beautiful shots throughout “It Follows.” In so many scenes there was an almost overwhelming richness of color and precision of staging—it was almost enough in some scenes to completely pull me out of the horror in a defamiliarizing manner, only to plunge me back into Jay’s reality a second later. In one scene, for example, arguably important expositive dialogue nearly took a back seat to Jay carefully placing blades of grass on her own leg. When I type it out that way it sounds ridiculous, but I’m telling you, if you watch the movie you’ll understand. The precise pulling of equally-sized blades of deep green grass, paired with Jay’s particular placement of them (lined up in equidistant intervals on her thigh), contrasts with the total loss of control that is being alluded to at that point in the film. “It Follows” is full of these kinds of unsettling scenes.
The elements that struck me regarding the stunning cinematography did not always have to do with the overall horror of the film, but nevertheless spotlighted a visceral sense of unease. For instance, writer and director David Robert Mitchell impressively allowed for no perceptible timeline in “It Follows.” In part, Mitchell accomplishes this with a deliberate omission of any cultural references or any technology that the audience could recognize as modern throughout the film. In this world there are analog telephones existing alongside small television sets with antennae and devices that look something like if an iPhone and a flip phone had a seashell-shaped child. All of these elements are treated as familiar by the characters but would be consistently questioned by an audience.
On top of this, Jay’s fashion sense and room decorations oscillated between ’90s chic and self-aware 2015 hipster, but there were also many deliberate and specific choices outside of props and wardrobe that made this movie feel so uncomfortably transient. While the movie clearly follows the summer vacation of Jay and her four friends, it is unclear how old they are. There’s also a complete absence of adults—while watching the plot unfold around Jay, I kept wondering, “Where the heck is your mom?!” Even though there are reference’s to Jay’s parents sparingly throughout the movie and the appearances by unimportant adult figures, it’s just another way for us to observe how alone Jay is in this world.
Aside from a timeless story of fear, it would appear that the formal components of the plot are only focused on the consequences of contracting a sexually transmitted demon, but the movie itself is concerned with much more. Mitchell and his team created a dream-like atmosphere with this film, and while it can be quite the nightmare, the dreaminess of it all prevails. A cool choice regarding the vague rules of the creature was the cyclical nature of the curse itself; this both serves to minimize the stakes for our protagonist but also compounds them for the world of “It Follows.”
I don’t think a deeper meaning in this movie was about simply starting a dialogue about safer sex. Instead, I think “It Follows” hoped to speak to our instinctive anxieties surrounding intimacy, especially as it concerns the way young people are conditioned to treat virginity and sex. Ultimately, I think it succeeded. The film demonstrated that whether those around you can see that there is a monster following you or not—whether that monster is literally a demon or is a less tangible but just as horrifying sense of shame and uncertainty-para-noia and self-doubt will follow a person, and it can be violently terrifying.
I stand by my “I don’t like scary movies” mantra, but “It Follows” was freaking weird and totally thought provoking. Even though I fell for several jump scares, I liked it a lot. It even has a 96 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so if that means anything to you, go watch it on Netflix so we can have a long talk about survival and pretty colors.