Of all the genres of film, few get taken to the critical woodshed more than horror films. There are plenty of reasons given for why many horror films don’t work, but among the most prominent is an over-reliance on horror tropes. Thankfully, the last few years have shown an uptick in the quality of horror films from independent filmmakers. Films like You’re Next, The Guest and The Babadook have all worked by playing with various horror tropes and twisting them into unique takes. The latest addition to this list comes in the form of It Follows, a film where the horror comes from a particularly gruesome looming threat that’s basically the supernatural manifestation of a sexually transmitted infection.
Maika Monroe, who was excellent in last year’s The Guest, takes the lead as Jay, a girl who’s ready and eager for her last year in high school. She’s happy with her new boyfriend Hugh, who seems like a great guy. But after sleeping with her for the first time, he chloroforms her and takes her to an abandoned warehouse. There, he reveals that he’s passed along an STI of sorts. Thanks to Hugh, Jay will be followed by a creepy presence that will always walk towards her. If it reaches her, it will kill her. Her only way out is to sleep with someone else and pass it along. Otherwise, if it gets to Jay, it will go back to hunting Hugh.
It’s an excellent concept for a film, and it’s one that permeates the rest of It Follows. What’s the appropriate response to this news? Infect someone else, or let it kill you? Or run for the rest of your life? There’s no simple answer, and Jay gets to experience the potential ramifications of each option.
It helps that Jay has a strong network of friends who want to support her, even if they don’t quite believe her. The problem (well, one problem) is that only those who are infected can see the being that’s following, so there’s no way for them to know exactly what Jay’s facing.
Writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s work here is impressive. Rather than relying on a more modern approach to filming horror, Mitchell works to create a sense of dread with lengthy, open shots. Scenes are, fortunately, not sped up for the sake of momentum. It creates an atmosphere for the film that manages to enhance some of the more frightening scenes, including one memorable scene at a beach. The film also gets a boost from the score, which harkens back to the 70s and 80s in tone.
It Follows is the latest example of where good horror cinema is coming from these days – from outside the studio system, from people with unique takes on the genre. It’s a fantastic addition to the genre, and is a must-see for horror enthusiasts.