Friday, April 10, 2015
IT FOLLOWS (David Robert Mitchell, 2014)
In IT FOLLOWS Jay (Maika Monroe) is enjoying her time as a teenager in a Detroit suburb until the night she chooses to sleep with her 21-year-old boyfriend. After their coupling, he reveals to her that a previous sexual partner passed along a ghost or monster to him that he has now given to her. It can change its appearance but isn’t visible to those not infected. It approaches at a slow, steady pace, so there can be time to escape it, but whatever it is remains unrelenting in its pursuit it catches you or is passed along to someone else. If that person doesn't give it to someone else or is killed, it returns down the chain to the previous person.
IT FOLLOWS achieves great success as a horror film with an antagonist that can be anyone and anywhere. Is that just a stranger shuffling along in the distance, or is it a mortal threat slowly creeping up? The need to remain vigilant scanning the background for any person coming near Jay and her friends is part of the fun writer-director David Robert Mitchell works into the film’s fabric. In this instance a slow approach is a virtue in developing a sense of perpetual unease. The unnamed menace in IT FOLLOWS scares because its presence does not attract attention and can be escaped for an indefinite period of time but not forever. The camera hunts the characters with frequent slow push-ins.
The thematic richness points toward this thing representing the fear of death itself. Before Jay’s boyfriend infects her, they play a game in which they try to guess what person around them each would like to trade places with. He doesn’t choose the guy with the hot date or the dad with a seemingly happy family but the kid. He says that the boy has his whole life ahead of him, also suggesting that he has not yet lost the innocence of youth. Other conversations revolve around recalled incidents when they lost some of their naiveté. IT FOLLOWS appears to be set during the summer, that seemingly endless time of joy for kids. The vintage quality of its unspecified era, like a slightly futuristic past, gives it a dreamy atmosphere out of time that accretes with reminiscing.
To draw out the metaphor, worrying about mortality is something that can be defended against and delayed, especially through sex according to the Freudian view, but short of a religious perspective, a finite end is in store for everyone. Mitchell presents a good mix of primal anxiety and intellectual deliberation, making IT FOLLOWS terrifying whether looking to be jolted while in one’s seat in the theater or much later when thinking about it all.