You’re being chased by a silent killer who makes up for a slow-pace with persistence. This is the heart of what a slasher movie is, and while they are often maligned for basing their terror in bloodshed and a multitude of kills, as well as the sexism that plagues many films in the genre, they are conceptually effective when viewed through this lens.
It Follows, the second feature from writer-director David Robert Mitchell (who previously made 2010’s The Myth of the American Sleepover), takes this idea and does inventive–sometimes ingenious–things with it. Gone is much of the sexism. Gone is the overuse of gore—the body count is much lower than the average slasher flick. The film’s monster is essentially a giant horror trope, but it’s also conceived in a way that allows these clichés to be subverted, transforming everything we’ve been taught to think of as safe havens—open spaces, daylight, loved ones—into being more dangerous and terrifying than any of the tropes themselves.
The film follows Jay (Maika Monroe), a college student, who, after sleeping with a guy she’s dating, is informed by him that the encounter has passed on a curse. An entity will follow her, always walking slowly but never stopping until it either kills her or she has sex again, passing along the curse to someone else—until that person is killed and the curse returns to her.
The entity isn’t explained much. We don’t know where it came from or how far back the curse goes, but overanalyzing it would be missing the point. The creature exists so that they can compile traits of every horror villain imaginable. It walks slowly and targets people who have sex, much like slasher villains, and it’s also a shape-shifter and incapable of being seen by those unaffected by the curse, like more supernatural monsters.
The sense of dread this story fashions makes It Follows creepier than a typical meta horror movie. It’s also exhausting. Mitchell uses space and perspective to create unease and, at times, it feels like you’re the one being followed. You can easily place yourself in Jay’s position, which is odd, because she’s the character who is least like a blank slate. Since she’s the only one truly at risk (at least until she sleeps with someone), too much of the focus is put on her, with the other characters remaining underdeveloped for much of the running time. In fact, treating the characters as expendable is one of the few clichés of the genre that It Follows doesn’t give its own spin on. Instead, it serves it straight.
Unlike last year’s fantastic The Babadook, It Follows isn’t likely to be enjoyed by people who don’t like horror. That film utilized many dramatic and character-based elements that are rarely on display here, and this isn’t quite as good a film overall. But if you’re a fan of horror movies when they’re done well, then this is one of the best you’re going to see this year.
It also gets one thing right that The Babadook got wrong: the ending. No jump scares, no tonal shifts, no gore. Just a relentless doom tailing you that will never stop.