Director/Screenplay – David Robert Mitchell, Producers – Rebecca Green, David Kaplan, David Robert Mitchell, Erik Romeo & Laura D. Smith, Photography – Mike Gioulakis, Music – Disasterpeace, Visual Effects Supervisor – Alan Pao, Makeup Effects – Robert Kurtzman’s Creative Corps, Production Design – Michael T. Perry. Production Company – Animal Kingdom/Two Flints.
Maika Monroe (Jay), Keir Gilchrist (Paul), Daniel Zovatto (Greg), Lili Sepe (Kelly), Olivia Luccardi (Darah), Jake Weary (Hugh/Jeff Redmond), Bailey Spry (Annie)
Jay goes out on a date with Hugh and they have sex in the back of his car. Immediately after, he drugs her unconscious and ties her up. He tells her that an entity that takes the appearance of other people but is invisible to anybody else is now following her. As she watches, a nude girl comes towards her. They flee and he tells her that she must not let it touch her otherwise she will die. The only way to be rid of it is to have sex with someone else and pass it to them. If she is killed, it will come after him again. He drops her home where everybody’s immediate response is that she has been raped. Soon after, Jay begins to experience phantom figures that nobody else can see walking towards her and flees from them. As her friends come to believe in the reality of the walking phantom, they try to find a way to stop it.
Sex and horror have had an unhealthy mix on screen. Given that horror as a genre is something that tends to focus on the grotesque and the uncomfortable, it is no particular surprise the dearth of sex-positive horror films. From Psycho (1960) onwards through the slasher film, there has been the unhealthy mix of sex and psychopathology – that being desirable, engaging in premarital/adulterous sex, venturing into kink or stirring up male lusts will get you killed. There have been the explorations of perverse sexual space that occur in the films of David Cronenberg – see in particular Shivers/They Came from Within (1975), Rabid (1977), Dead Ringers (1988) and Crash (1996). We have even had films about a woman whose vagina has teeth in Teeth (2007) and the subsequent insanely over-the-top She Kills (2016).
The plot description of It Follows – a person becomes haunted by a deadly phantom after sexual contact – makes you think of something like a horror movie version of a Larry Clark film – see the likes of Kids (1995), Bully (2001) and Ken Park (2002). Contrary to expectation, It Follows is much more of a chaste show – scenes of teens copulating are surprisingly fewer than you might expect. There are a handful of nude bodies but none of them copulating teens. Even more surprisingly, though the film is rich in possibilities of metaphors about promiscuity and the dangers of unprotected sex – is that It Follows remains, if not exactly a sex positive film, then by no means a sex-negative film – the various acts are seen in just an everyday light and without any sense of moral disapprobation or for that matter presented for our titillation.
It Follows is the second film for 39 year-old David Robert Mitchell who hails from Detroit. His first film was the similar exploration of teen angst, albeit a non-genre film, with The Myth of the American Sleepover (2002). It Follows, which Mitchell says he based on a recurring childhood dream, played at major festivals after its debut at Cannes and burned up such good press it was given a wide multiplex screening. It has even been cited in several lists of modern 21st Century horror classics.
If nothing else, David Robert Mitchell attempts to give us a genuinely new and unusual movie monster. The concept seems somewhat wacky and arbitrary at face value. Nevertheless, having set up the rules, the film works on you in its strange way – sort of like Ring (1998) or The Ring (2002) reinterpreted in terms of modern teen audiences. Here you also have to compliment Mitchell and his cast on creating portraits of convincing teens – they never grate on one’s nerves with forced attempts to be hip or seem impossibly handsome and pretty as you often get in more commercial productions, rather they just seem to be aimlessly slacking about and/or frustrated in their wants. Especially good here is the intently serious lead actress Maika Monroe of whom one expects to hear more things sometime soon.
The film is not one that is constantly getting in your face insisting that you keep jumping at measured intervals. Rather, Mitchell concentrates on atmosphere and creating something unsettlingly uncanny. He sets up a great scene at the beach with a strange girl approaching and then the others abruptly seeing Maika Monroe’s hair being lifted up in the air, followed by the It pursuing them into a shed and attempting to batter in the door (as all while the others cannot see anything).
Mitchell builds the film to an undeniably effective climax with them trying to trap the It inside a swimming pool. This is a film, it could be said, that has the same effect Jaws (1975) did in making people think twice about going in the water in likewise making you think twice about the strangers approaching or following you in the street.
You do keep wanting to ask some logical questions about the premise – like what is required for sexual contact? Does oral sex and mutual masturbation count? Does protected and unprotected sex make a difference? Does it require mutual orgasm and so what happens if one party fails to reach orgasm (or is medically unable to)? What would happen if you were in a threesome or moresome? If non-orgasmic contact does it then would not the same effect be achieved by a heavy petting session or simply giving someone a clothed hug? This is a film that you feel a sequel that explored more of what was going on would prove undeniably interesting.
David Robert Mitchell next went on to make the very strange thriller Under the Silver Lake (2018).