This past weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing the film It Follows in theaters. Okay, so maybe “pleasure” isn’t quite the right word there, as the film turned out to be one of the best horror films I’ve seen in recent years.
Maybe it’s always been true, but lately I’ve really been noticing that pre-film movie trailers are very targeted. Before a horror movie, you’ll get tons of trailers for horror movies, and It Follows was no exception. All of these trailers, though, felt very similar: everything is normal! Something new enters into the main characters’ lives. Suddenly strange things start happening. Jump scare. Movie title. Release date.
I think it’s indicative of a larger problem with the horror genre of recent years. All these movies follow the same basic premise, discarding set-up or logic for an hour-long slew of jump scares (regardless of whether they make sense or not) and a lame semi-conclusion. It Follows, though, doesn’t follow this pattern, and that’s part of what makes it so absolutely terrifying.
The premise goes like this, there’s a kind of STD going around, once you have sex with someone infected it passes from them to you. Once you catch it, you’ll notice a person, it could be a stranger or someone you know, but no one else can see him/her. This person will slowly walk toward you, unrelenting, until it eventually reaches you and kills you in a gruesome way.
It’s pretty simple, especially once you see it in action, but it’s incredibly effective. Part of what makes it so haunting is the subtlety of it. You never know if that person walking toward you is going to brutally murder you or if it’s just your mother coming to give you a hug. The movie doesn’t need to rely on jump scares – loud music cues and things popping onto screen – to scare you. And it’s better for it, because jump scares give you a shock, but fade quickly, while true horror sticks with you, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I had a little hesitation turning off the lights when I went to bed that night.
The film lays out the rules of its horror monster and sticks by those rules. A lesser film would’ve worried that the audience was getting bored and simply decided to give the monster wings or let it shoot lasers or something, but that’s not the case here. I was genuinely impressed with how fully realized the monster was, and it’s almost shocking that this is actually the first film to deal with this kind of creature, because it felt like there was a whole, well-established mythos that I was somehow already aware of.
Here’s the other brilliant thing about It Follows, though. The movie is really smart. Sure, there’s the primal, guttural fear of the thing that follows, but even if being scared isn’t your thing, there’s so much to be unpacked from the film. Everything feels so deliberate that you start asking questions. Why did they decide to have it transmitted sexually? Why does the movie take place in Detroit? Why were there so many shots of urban decay? The symbolism behind the film is just as much fun to discuss as the monster at it’s core.
That’s not to say that It Follows didn’t have its flaws, but for being one of the most inventive and freshest horror movies in years, I have to applaud it. I haven’t had so much fun being scared in a very long time.