Many years ago I had a computer game. Maybe it was on one of my phones, I can’t remember. What I do remember is that it consisted of zombies or some form of evil being moving very slowly across a geographically-based board, and that as game player your role was to escape from these zombies, and quite possibly to destroy them too. At any rate, the novelty wore off very rapidly since, once you got past the initial surge of interest, there was very little to do and the options for game play were so restricted that boredom or other distractions took precedence. It was, to coin a phrase, pointless.
Watching It Follows reminded me very strongly of that game. Yes, I know it was well-reviewed and highly popular, and I’ll deal with the reasons why in due course. The essence is whether or not you attach any greater significance to a horror story than the mere fact it attempts to scare you, if only briefly.
Viewed as a film within its chosen genre it will at surface level probably remind you more of zombie subgenre than any other, by virtue of the fact that characters infected by sexual contact are followed at sedate walking pace by creatures bearing a passable resemblance to many varieties of the living dead – though to be fair others are closer to Stepford Wives, albeit in various states of undress.
We only know that this is what happens when you have sex with an infected person, and while you can pass it on by having sex with somebody else, you will be back at the top of the hit list in the event the next person is ravaged by their personal demon, which as a nice touch might come in the form of a friend, a relative or a corpse of your acquaintance.
Oh, and like zombies there is not a panacea to eradicate these slow-moving followers, and they are still following as the picture reverts to black screen and the closing titles roll. We have no idea where they came from, why they are passed by sexual contact, or where they go to.
Ah, you say, but the supernatural ghouls (only visible to victims and ex-victims) are not intended to be real, they are merely an allegory, probably for the HIV pandemic. This is what Wikipedia reports on this topic, referring to director David Robert Mitchell:
Writer and director David Robert Mitchell conceived the film based on recurring dreams he had in his youth about being followed: “I didn’t use those images for the film, but the basic idea and the feeling I used. From what I understand, it’s an anxiety dream. Whatever I was going through at that time, my parents divorced when I was around that age, so I imagine it was something to do with that.” The role that sexual transmission plays came later, from Mitchell’s desire for something that could transfer between people.
It Follows has sparked numerous interpretations from film critics in regard to the source of “it” and the film’s symbolism. Critics have interpreted the film as a parable about HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted infections, and the social perceptions thereof; the sexual revolution; and “primal anxieties” about intimacy.
Mitchell stated: “I’m not personally that interested in where ‘it’ comes from. To me, it’s dream logic in the sense that they’re in a nightmare, and when you’re in a nightmare there’s no solving the nightmare. Even if you try to solve it.” Mitchell said that while Jay “opens herself up to danger through sex, sex is the one way in which she can free herself from that danger … We’re all here for a limited amount of time, and we can’t escape our mortality … but love and sex are two ways in which we can – at least temporarily – push death away”.
So by that logic, the nature of the threat is irrelevant and the “it” might just as well be the evil clowns featured in Stephen King’s It. What matters is the fear factor and the human behaviours inspired by that fear, thus transporting us from zombies into the territory of psychological horror.
I’ll tell you this for nothing: whatever motives the director may have had, he certainly employs a fair old assortment of classic horror ploys to push a few buttons. Group of naive teenagers? Check. Creepy Houses and assorted locations? Check. Now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t teases? Check.
In short, It Follows a fair few horror clichés but to my mind fails the shock test. It did stretch my credulity beyond snapping point though: a swimming pool lined with electrical sockets? Yeah, right. I mean, everyone knows water and electricity get on like, well, like a house on fire – though strangely electricity fails to work its magic here, for the obvious reason that for safety reasons the devices thrown in the pool were not really plugged in. D’oh!
As for the cast they are mostly blameless. Heroine Jay Height is marginally under-played by Maika Monroe, thus avoiding some of the worst excesses of scream queen hamminess, while Keir Gilchrist‘s brooding presence as Paul seems appropriate.
Maybe I’m getting sentimental in my old age, but horror films just seem to traverse the same old ground with a few minor tweaks these days. Even the lauded ones don’t really do anything very original. Gone are the days when a Polanski or a Lynch or other masters could really take you out of your comfort zone and scare the living daylights out of you, which surely is the point of horror genre?