Film: It Follows

Horror for the sake of horror doesn’t do much for me, but horror with a mission can really float my boat. It Follows (2014) is a fortuitous find on that score, an understated chiller with a slickly deployed premise and a thoughtful point of view. The film’s imperiled hero is college-aged Jay (Maika Monroe), a relaxed young woman who still lives at home with a largely absent mother and her younger sister Kelly (Lili Sepe). Jay is seeing a young man named Hugh (Jake Weary), and finally, one night, she sleeps with him. She soon learns that Hugh has passed on to her a sexually transmitted stalker, a shapeshifting, zombie-like walker that only she, Hugh, and its other victims can see. Jay reports her concerns to her mother and the police, but as the stalker zeroes in on her, she is ultimately only able to convince the other kids in her neighborhood—Kelly, Kelly’s friends Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Yara (Olivia Luccardi), and an attractive neighbor down the street named Greg (Daniel Zovatto)—that her invisible stalker is real. According to Hugh, the only way to end the threat is to pass it on to someone else through sex, which awkwardly escalates the romantic and sexual tension amongst them as they work together to save Jay.

It Follows looks and sounds campier than it is; in fact, it approaches its high-concept premise with subdued intelligence, presenting a latchkey eighties scenario that effectively taps into the sexual psyche of an era characterized by absentee parenting, AIDS, and an information vacuum about sex that largely left young people to fend haplessly for themselves. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell captures the wistful confusion of that age and time with composed empathy, and infuses the slick horror premise—a paranormal stalker engendered by sexual activity—in a smartly metaphorical way. Jay’s sexual behavior is threateningly embodied, a supernatural representation of the shame, fear, and peer pressure that accompanies coming of age (especially in the eighties). It gives an uncommonly smart, thought-provoking shape to a simple horror-survival story, artfully crafted and nicely performed by its largely unfamiliar cast. A surprisingly satisfying watch.

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