The Ring meets… uh, Nymphomaniac…? in It Follows, the latest highly-praised horror film to work better as an all-too-obvious metaphor than a scary movie (in that regard, it follows last year’s The Babadook). This one didn’t do it for me, but don’t take my word for it: at 95% on the Tomatometer, it ranks higher than The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or Halloween (original versions, of course).
The metaphor this time around is purportedly AIDS, or really any kind of sexually transmitted disease, as teens spread around a slow-moving ghost like chlamydia by sleeping around (hey, I thought sex was the kiss of death in a slasher film, anyway).
Only here, the only way out is promiscuity: to escape the walking Death, you need to pass on the curse through sexual intercourse. It’s a nifty premise that neatly subverts horror movie conventions, but also seems to contradict the metaphor that critics are going ga-ga for; if only all AIDS patients could cure themselves by just passing on the disease.
The setup in It Follows is cleanly set up early in the film: teen heroine Jay Height (Maika Monroe) makes it with boyfriend (?) Hugh (Jake Weary), and later wakes up tied to a wheelchair as Hugh explains the plot of the movie.
By sleeping with Jay, he has passed on the curse: now, strange apparitions that only Jay can see will now come after her. Slo-o-o-o-w-ly. These apparitions are random strangers who only take baby steps, and outside of a naked old man or a really tall guy, they just aren’t terribly frightening – even if they’ll apparently mangle Jay if they catch up with her, as detailed in the film’s opening scene.
Now, Hugh is safe as long as Jay stays alive – if the ghosts get her, they’ll come after him next – but even though it’s in his best interest to stick around and protect her, he wishes her good luck and high-tails it outta there. Now, I’m relaying the rules of this premise as best as I can, but they aren’t crystal clear, and later on the film seems to contradict itself.
Jay, of course, doesn’t believe a word of it, but when things start to get spooky she quickly buys in. Now, she needs to team up with sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), friends Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Yara (Olivia Luccardi), and neighbor Greg (Daniel Zovatto) to come up with a plan to combat this evil menace. A plan that doesn’t involve taking the easiest (and most fun) way out of this situation.
It Follows is incredibly well put together by director David Robert Mitchell, tense and well-executed, making terrific use of stark (and spooky!) abandoned Detroit locations, gorgeous widescreen cinematography, and an excellent retro soundtrack.
But here’s the thing: it ain’t scary in the least. The film’s two big scenes where the group attempts to physically combat the ghost completely fall flat: awful CGI tosses the characters around the screen like a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and the script seems to abandon both external and internal logic. We shout at these characters to quit being so stupid, but after a while, we stop caring about them.
I caught It Follows way back at the Midnight Movies section of last year’s Karlovy Vary festival, and it was one of the fest’s biggest disappointments as a packed house erupted into waves of laughter at all the wrong moments.
Catching up with the film more recently (with a more receptive crowd), It Follows played a little better. Still, it didn’t win me over; there are a lot of great elements here – the direction, the music, the retro feel of it all – but in the end, for me, it’s a missed opportunity: a horror movie for people who don’t like horror movies.
The excellent score was composed by video game musician Disasterpiece; it can sometimes overwhelm the barely-there proceedings, but accurately captures that 1970s John Carpenter vibe that the director was going for.