Whoops, I thought I’d written something about this movie already. Then I realized that I was probably thinking about the extensive discussion I had with Shaun Duke and David Annandale on the Totally Pretentious podcast. If listening to podcasts is a thing you do and you don’t mind spoilers, I definitely recommend that discussion to you. I don’t really want to rehash too much of it here, so I’m just going to hit the highlights.
A thing you should realize up front is that I don’t generally watch horror movies. I’m a wimp. I lose sleep when things are creepy and I really don’t like excessive gore. So I took one look at the trailer for this movie, and
Then Shaun hit on my only weakness and asked me if I’d like to be on the podcast episode about it. CURSE YOU, DUKE.
In all seriousness, I owe him a thank you for it. I might have lost a night of sleep over how damn creepy some of the movie was, but I’d also put this one in my top five films of this year.
It Follows is about nineteen-year-old Jay, who gets infected with a sort of sexually transmitted curse after deciding to sleep with her boyfriend. The curse is eerie: an invisible (but tangible) monster constantly walks in a straight line toward whoever has been most recently infected. It kills whoever it catches, and then starts pursuing the next person up on the chain.
The monster is incredibly well done, by the way. It can look like anyone or anything at a given time, an ability it always uses for maximum terror and emotional trauma. And its slow, implacable march brings to mind what made walking zombies terrifying in their own special way when Romero put them on film—though this monster is far scarier in that it’s obviously capable of thought. The go-to assumption is that the monster’s a metaphor for STDs, though I think it’s more specifically a metaphor for HIV. There’s some pointed pill popping by the infected boyfriend at certain points in the film, and the idea that if you keep running, you can stay ahead of the monster even if it will inevitably catch you some day. This runs in line with the new reality of HIV positive in modern America; it’s no longer an instant death sentence if you can afford or get the medication, but a long-term condition.
And of course, the way Jay gets the curse also points me toward reading it as the HIV metaphor. Her boyfriend knows full well that he’s infected, and deliberately gets in her good graces and has sex with her so he can pass it along. After they’ve had sex, he chloroforms her and she wakes up tied to a wheelchair in her underwear (one of the movies first multilevel incredibly creepy scenes) so that he can show her the monster and tell her how to survive it.
Something that really struck me about this movie and still stays with me is that, while you can’t necessarily call something with this concept sex positive, at no point did anyone ever shame Jay for deciding to have sex with her boyfriend. There’s no victim blaming that occurs; the censure is always squarely pointed at the lying shitbag boyfriend, where it belongs.
This movie was filmed in Detroit and brings up some strange juxtaposition between urban decay and the suburbs that Jay lives in, which seem caught in a weird sort of 1980s stasis. Also, the film’s score was very synth-heavy, which made it feel more like an 80s horror film. I was half-convinced that it was a story set in the 80s, except no one had scary enough hair, and all of the kids had modern cell phones, e-readers, and the like.
Maika Monroe does an amazing job as Jay, terrified and desperate and just trying to find a way to survive—with the help of her friends. And the scares in the movie? It’s mostly that slow, creeping dread of watching the monster take its damn time. It’s an implacable sort of fear, punctuated occasionally by jump scares that had me huddling in my hoodie.
Excellent movie. Watch it. You can get it on streaming from a lot of different places for $4.99. Watch it even if you’re a horror wimp like me.