It Follows

Having written a dissertation surrounding sexuality and horror, It Follows flung me straight into a reminiscence of my uni days where my head was constantly filled with horror and sexuality theory and trying to string together some sort of context for those things to link together to form some kind of relevance for my latest essay. Having spent pretty much the entirety of January soaking up the glamorous side of Academy Award nominated cinema, it was nice to finally kick back with something a little more awkward and gritty and weird (coincidently, three traits that could easily be applied to many of my favourite films).

It Follows immediately sets us up in the ever familiar Horrorsphere; a half naked girl in ridiculous footwear stumbles and looks frantically over her shoulder as she tries to get away from….whatever malevolent presence appears to be taunting her. Cut scene to a gloriously mangled victim to set up the basic premise that the thing that is chasing us…well, it’s bad, and if it happens to get its hands on your you’re going to end up looking like some kind of human origami. That glimpse of contorted flesh and bone is all we need to set up the paranoid tone that stalks us as the rest of this wicked little movie plays out, because truth be told we don’t actually see much more of that initial hideousness, which says a lot about the slow yet determined sense of dread creeping up on us with every moment.

Director David Robert Mitchell is clearly a horror movie fanatic as there are nods to the genre pretty much the entire way through the film, from the synthy-John Carpenteresque soundtrack to the Cronenbergian linking of sexuality and disease/death to dramatically timed thunder and lightning to the excellently staged ‘climax’ in the swimming pool (Let The Right One In anyone?), there’s a horror in-joke for everyone here and yet the movie remains strikingly original in not only its concept but also its style and execution. 

Bringing the genre into the 21st century, Mitchell ensures that his characters are not punished for their sexuality as the Slasher films of old certainly would have. This is horror for a modern audience, and whilst the premise of one’s ‘haunting’ (if you are haunted, find someone to bang, pass the haunting on to them) is clearly a metaphor for sexually transmitted disease, Mitchell is sure not to punish his characters for daring to explore and enjoy their sexuality and instead is kind of an elaborate sexual health campaign for the artistically and academically minded. In fact, this universe dictates that if you DON’T have sex with another person and ‘pass on’ your demons, you will either die or spend your whole life running from them whilst looking frantically over your shoulder, not focussing on the road whilst you’re driving which will eventually lead to you crashing your car into a field of corn (another of the delightful horror movie tropes found in this movie). So best get at it kids!

I think ultimately It Follows is so enjoyable because it’s not ridiculous. Yes, of course, the premise of being haunted by a group of sexually deviant doppelgängers that only you can see does contain some elements of Phantasy but ultimately the characters act and react to situations in a pretty realistic way. Their situation is punctuated with flickers of dry humour (“Oh my god, you guys see that girl?!” “…yes…”) and whilst there is some hysteria when things get slightly too much (give them a break they’re being stalked by fetish ghouls!) it never gets annoying, they never go up the stairs when they should be going out of the door and do their damnedest to actually get away from the thing, and hatch a pretty logical plan to try and stop it. Maika Monroe (who recently starred in the awesome The Guest) is a great ‘Last Girl’ for the modern horror; savvy, in command of her own sexuality and she never resorts to delirious screaming in moments of pure terror, instead choosing to make actual concerted efforts to get the fuck away. And thus we care about and sympathise with these characters because they’re not mindless morons but actually intelligent human beings just trying to take control of their own fate.

Amongst all the mindless horror remakes and sequels-of-films-that-were-good-once-but-now-are-kind-of-shit of late there appears to be a kind of renaissance happening for my most favourite of genres, with directors identifying this current trend for a love of all things nostalgic. The modern horror is littered with subtle nods to its genre predecessors but simultaneously playfully turns the conventions on their head. In the case of It Follows, and in the wake of recent feminist movements and an increasingly liberal sexual public sphere, Mitchell has invented a whole new way for sexuality to be horrifying.