It Follows

It Follows is a new horror movie that's being met with an unusual amount of critical interest. It's about a young woman named Jay who has sex with a cute boy that she barely knows and then immediately discovers that "Hugh" has now cursed her to be followed by demonic sex-ghosts. That premise might sound a bit silly, but It Follows is actually doing something interesting: like Cabin in the Woods, it's playing around with the 80's slasher movie formula where "sex=death". It both indulges in this premise - after all, Jay's in danger because she had intercourse - but it also undermines this premise, since Jay's problems didn't begin when she lost her virginity (which happened before the movie opened) and since sex is also her only route to salvation (the only way to get rid of the ghosts is to have sex with someone else, at which point the ghosts will then switch to following that person.)

However, the movie that I kept thinking about during It Follows was not Cabin in the Woods, but rather the Blair Witch Project, because both It Follows and the Blair Witch Project don't show horror as much as they suggest it. The Blair Witch Project didn't feature a lot of monster attacks or other obviously horrific visuals - it mostly depicted three people being frightened by themselves in the woods with the idea being that if you locked into those characters then you would also feel their fear. Similarly, It Follows has a minimum number of scenes that are overtly menacing, and it mostly tries to scare you by getting you into Jay's head and asking you to empathize with her terror. The monsters that are stalking Jay aren't your typical horror villains because most of them look like normal people and they rarely do anything overtly violent. Their basic threat is that they are methodical - that they will not stop coming no matter what, and that they will follow Jay wherever she goes. If you understand why that terrifies Jay, then you will get a jolt every time she sees one of them; if you think they just look like regular people you aren't going to get why so many people were creeped out by this movie.

It's a gambit that works for the most part, but maybe not always in the way that the movie wanted it to work. For the most part I didn't find the old ladies and naked men who were chasing Jay to be scary, but I did find her outsize reaction to such normal sights to be pretty funny. I'm not trying to condescend to It Follows; it's certainly self-aware enough to know that it's semi-cheesy and I really enjoyed the moments where it winked at itself. And I don't want to imply that the movie is completely scare-free - it's beautifully shot in the ruins of what looked like Detroit, and so it does do a good job of evoking an ambient feeling of dread. I am, however, saying that while I would say that It Follows is a consistently entertaining movie, I wouldn't say think it's a consistently frightening one.

However, the most compelling part of It Follows is not the movie itself, but the what-if scenarios that it will plant in your head after you leave the theater. The film goes into some depth about how these specters work - they are sexually transmitted, they are exclusively focused on the person who was infected the most recently, and after they've killed the most recent victim they then double back onto the second most recently infected person and so on until they get all the way back to the person who started the whole mess. It does not, however, answer all of the questions that the audience might have about these ghosts, which makes it a fascinating movie to think about. What do these ghosts count as sex - do handjobs count? Would they be confused by an orgy? If a man was infected and then he donated his sperm to a sperm bank would the ghosts kill him immediately, or would they wait until his sperm was implanted in a would-be mother and then haunt her? If they accidentally kill the wrong person do they have a way of saying "oops, my bad" or are they just like "enh, we already knew we were evil"?

It's also fun to think about the various strategies for getting rid of these sex-ghosts. Jay has a few ideas, some of them better than others - (you're going to try to murder a ghost by throwing an electric radio into a public pool? What? Why? I don't... But... You know what, let's just move on) - And it's hard not to think of how you would dispose of these nuisances if you had been infected.

Prostitutes are one obvious idea - after all, people that would have sex with one hooker might be having sex with a lot of random people so you could probably put a lot of distance between yourself and the ghost pretty quickly if you went that route. My friend Vanessa proposed having anonymous sex with a stranger at an international airport - that would probably buy you some time because it's going to take these slow moving demons forever to walk to Stockholm and back. (I don't know why I picture the stranger in this scenario as being Swedish; it's not like they are very well known for their promiscuity. But for some reason in my head this stranger lives in Stockholm.)

Personally, I would first try to establish if handjobs counted, and if they did then I would schedule a bunch of Craigslist dates, and then I would try to get these women to the movies with me... And once we were sitting down in the theater I would try to pull the old popcorn trick. That's foolproof, right? (For the record, until such time as I am infected with a bad dose of sex-ghost-itis it would be safe to see a movie with me and share my popcorn. That's strictly one of those "in case of emergency bust this out" sort of tricks.)

Anyway, It Follows is an enjoyable, solid movie. I don't think it's as great as it's proponents are making it out to be - it's ratio of intentional to unintentional comedy is off a little too much for me to buy it as the scariest movie of the year, but I'm also not going to complain about any movie that sparks a debate where the correct answer is "clearly you defeat the monster by dicking up your popcorn."

Winner: Me

It Follows on IMDB