Simple yet sophisticated, It Follows is a horror flick about suburban teens afflicted by a sexually transmitted curse. Writer-director David Robert Mitchell (The Myth of the American Sleepover) knows exactly what he’s doing with the genre, creating an effectively creepy Indie chiller that relies more on suspense and dread than it does on blood and gore.
This is not to say the film shies away from full frontal nudity and the odd dismembered corpse. The opening scene signposts that the zombie-like killer is inescapable, and it’s prepared to tear apart a teenaged girl as easily as a discarded Barbie doll. But the body count is surprisingly low, with the focus on finding an escape for the central protagonist, Jay (Maika Monroe). She’s a smart and likeable 19-year-old blonde who, in the grand American tradition, loses her virginity in the back seat of a car, and finds herself branded with guilt and struggling with dangerous consequences. Drugged and deflowered, she awakens, tied up in a deserted warehouse, wearing only her lolly-pink underwear. Her ‘date’ is apologetic, but fills her in quickly: now that they’ve had sex, the curse has been passed on to her. The killer will come after her, and if she dies, the curse reverts back to him. The only way to be rid of it is to transmit it by sleeping with somebody else. This ‘thing’ can change shape and form, looking liking a stranger or someone you know. It walks slowly, but inexorably, often naked, and it will get you, eventually. Maybe when you’re asleep in bed – as if you could sleep.
At this point the story could have fully embraced the sleazy and farcical possibilities of a bunch of American kids shagging their way out of danger. But instead, the plot stays with Jay and her close-knit bunch of siblings and friends (Lili Sepe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, and Daniel Zovatto) as they investigate the curse and try to outmaneuvre it. Jay’s geeky childhood buddy (Gilchrist) has a crush on her and is prepared to sacrifice himself, but she cares too much for him and in a cute romantic subplot needs to find another willing victim.
"The zombie-like killer is inescapable, and it’s prepared to tear apart a teenaged girl as easily as a discarded Barbie doll"
The characters are stock teen types, but they’re written and performed with a conviction and intensity that’s evident throughout the production, including in the film's refusal to offer cheap boo-scares or to over-explain the monster. The exact nature of the sinister virus– and the rules it follows – are perhaps a little murky and contradictory (it’s visibility comes and goes; bullets slow it but don’t stop it). Still, this lack of definition is no real problem to the film’s relentless logic.
The setting is contemporary crumbling Detroit, yet there’s a strong '70s and '80s vibe, with some dreamy visuals (above ground swimming pools, cherry red bitten-down fingernails) and a creepy electro synth score by Disasterpeace. There’s many a nod to John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic, Halloween, with an emphasis on the widescreen to keep us looking with dread to the background or the edge of the frame. Is there a dark, ambling figure slowly coming into focus? Probably.
Catch 'It Follows' on SBS Viceland, Thursday 26 September at 12:20am and then at SBS On Demand