Horror movies…well, they’ve never really been my thing.
After a Lord of the Rings debacle in 2002 rendered my 7-year-old self incapable of going downstairs alone, I swore off anything scary. My parents actively supported this decision after a few dozen nights of waking to find me shivering sadly next to their bed. A few years ago, however, after easing myself back into the game with The Sixth Sense, I found myself on a bit of a horror movie kick. Pretty soon, I, a girl who panicked at the mere thought of Gollum, could sit unflinching in the face of some truly ghoulish creatures. Thriller or horror, ax murder or vengeful spirit – I was game. So when I went to watch David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows this summer, I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary. Much to my surprise, I found myself on the edge of my seat pretty much from the moment the movie started.
For the first time in ages, I was freaked out.
But why? Besides the fact that there’s, you know, a relentless demonic presence, I found myself wondering what exactly it is about It Follows that is so deeply unsettling. As far as horror movies go, it’s relatively light on the jump scares and doesn’t depend too heavily on gore. I sat down to watch it again, determined to figure it out.
An hour and a half and two horrified roommates later, I came to the conclusion that the reason It Follows is so unnerving is because it seems like it shouldn’t be. It induces an unshakable feeling of paranoia where, even when everything looks entirely normal and safe, your gut says that it’s not.
The precedent of paranoia is something that is established from the moment the film starts. The title screen cuts to an average, nicely manicured neighborhood, when all of a sudden there’s a girl booking it down the street in high heels, desperately running from… nothing? It’s a disturbing, even genius, way to begin a movie. As an uninformed voyeur you are discombobulated. You’re given no context, and guess what? You better get used to that instability, because that context you’re waiting for? You’re not going to get it.
Aside from a set of rules we can only assume were gathered by the preceding victims, there is no information given regarding the origins of this horrendous creature or why it follows – it just does. The creature seemingly has no motive for dedicating its entire existence to terminating of yours and, consequently, you are unable to sort it into any of your pre-existing schemas for why the heck would anyone want to kill me? If its relentless nature isn’t enough, there’s the fact that this presence can look like anyone. This ability to almost-but-not-quite blend into the scene is what leaves a perpetual tingling traveling up and down your spine.
The paranoia-inducing ambiguity is reflected in the setting as well. The time period doesn’t adhere to traditional standards and is a jumble of retro and futuristic technology and fashion. For instance, you’ll see an old-fashioned rabbit-eared television in the same room as a futuristic seashell tablet or seventies lingerie hidden beneath a modern dress. In a way, the setting of the movie is reflective of the monster itself – it appears familiar, even comfortable – but somehow wrong.
The demon in It Follows spends the majority of its time doing one of the most decidedly unfrightening things in the world – walking slowly in a straight line. And about half that time you’re not even sure if it’s the real creature because all you can make out is a humanoid blob trudging along in the background. For this reason, some of the most disturbing moments in the film aren’t when the monster is present, but when it’s not. Rather than take traditional horror tropes and turn them on their head, It Follows capitalizes on the aspects of life that we take for granted and adds the possibility of danger. As the viewer, you’re thrown off-kilter, never knowing if imminent death is about to appear.
Many critics have referred to It Follows as a coming-of-age film, primarily because the monster is basically a demonic STD. While the film certainly makes some strong assertions regarding sex, I find the most powerful aspect of the film is its ability to trap you in an adolescent mindset that’s somewhere between child and adult. Waking from a nightmare, you open your eyes to a quiet, familiar room. Though your blanket now clings to your body with sweat, the room is no different nor any less safe than it was when you first closed your eyes – but now there’s the unshakable feeling that something is going to emerge from behind the door. It Follows transports you to that mental limbo in which you’re old enough to know that there’s nothing to be scared of, yet young enough to be certain that there is. As the director himself says, “There's no logic to it—you can't really explain a nightmare." And that’s exactly what It Follows is so good at - creating the sensation of a waking nightmare
When it comes down to it, It Follows speaks to the value of a simple concept done well. The movie will have you counting exits and edging away from anyone who happens to be walking in a straight line. But don’t worry – it’s just a movie. You’ll be utterly and completely safe in your room tonight.