‘It Follows’ Review: How a Sexually Transmitted Ghost Helps Revive the Horror Genre
The last few years in horror have felt rather stale, but then comes It Follows, the sophomore effort from writer/director David Robert Mitchell. Similar to the lo-fi tone of his debut film, The Myth of the American Sleepover, the comparisons end there for Mitchell's follow-up, which smartly and horrifically explores the politics of young adult sexuality.
The central conceit of It Follows is a sexually transmitted poltergeist which stalks and terrorizes the last person to contract it. The only way to shake it is to have sex with and transmit the disease to someone else — such is the tragedy that befalls 19-year-old Jay, who hooks up with her new boyfriend only to discover he's merely trying to rid himself of his ghastly disease, using her body as a dumping ground.
It Follows is a surprisingly layered commentary on young adult sexuality, using its strikingly simple concept quite effectively to craft a clever metaphorical horror story that is evocative and eerie in its relatability, but never once damning or condescending. Like a good parent, It Follows knows its younger audience, like its characters, can't be warned or scared off of doing what they're going to do, but it presents the "facts" as they are and lets the kids make the right choices for themselves.
Like a real sexually transmitted disease, the ghost of the film can appear in a stranger or someone you know, and it may take a few days or even weeks to make itself first known. When you pass it on to someone else, you may still be able to see the symptoms in yourself, but it's the person you've passed it onto who's now coping with it the hardest. Of course, by the end, not even the imminent threat of death can keep these kids from having sex — they're going to do what they're going to do. These are, to be certain, some obvious parallels, but they're done smartly and done well, and they haven't really been done before — certainly not in a way that embraces and respects its young characters and its audience. Mitchell is definitely on the level, seeing eye to eye rather than looking down from above, and that helps to lend the narrative a more visceral tone.
It Follows also doesn't lecture its audience on safe sex — it's not a message film, and that particular message is common sense and doesn't need to be implied. This is an intelligent horror film made for an intelligent young audience, an audience that's dying of found-footage fatigue and gimmicks and ready for something that speaks to them. The best horror films aren't jump scares and demonic possessions and the combination of night vision and shaky cams. Like the best films, the best of the horror genre will reflect something personal back at us, hit on something emotional, and find something relatable to help tether us to thees characters instead of giving us the same tired archetypes and tropes.
It's absolutely wonderful to know that there are filmmakers out there who still have new and exciting ideas about genre films and horror, and that there are still directors out there with the ability to genuinely get under the skin. The last few years in horror have been bumpy, but things are definitely (finally) starting to look up again.