Between The Babadook and It Follows, it seems that the horror genre may be making a bit of a resurgence after decades of being artistically destitute. The Babadook functioned well as a horror film because it took great care to show as little of its monster as possible so that the moments when the monster did appear were all the more terrifying. It Follows is equally great for the polar opposite reason; its absurdly simple premise turns every scene into one of extreme paranoia, as the film’s monster could be anyone at any time.
The story of It Follows is the stuff that urban legends are made of. A monster will slowly walk toward you, intent on murdering you, but always at a walking pace. You are the only one who can see this monster, and it can look like anyone, even someone you know. The only way to become its victim is to have sex with the person the monster is currently chasing, and the only way to make the monster stop following you is to have sex with someone else. However, if the person you had sex with dies, the monster will start pursuing you again.
This ingenious set-up allows for some of the scariest moments of recent horror cinema, whether it is noticing a speck on the horizon moving toward the camera, a familiar face moving in an unsettling way, or a panning camera moving over complete strangers, emphasizing how every single person is a potential danger until they do something uncharacteristic of the monster’s behavior. The film terrifies by overexposing its audience to stimuli, but never in a way that feels cheap or hackneyed. In other words, it instills a state of mind in the audience and then conditions us to scare ourselves rather than make the actual monster ever present. And yet, when you finally do notice “it” amongst the crowd, the desire to flee its ominous advance justifies that perpetual suspicion.
And even though the film functions perfectly well as a straight monster story, it also serves as an equally effective coming of age piece. The film’s teenage cast talk and act like real teenagers, often without affect and with a closeness that has yet to be broken up by the responsibilities of adulthood. Their flight from the pursuing monster forces them out of the cloistered environment of their idyllic suburb community and makes them confront the harsh reality of the real world, symbolized by the poor, run-down portions of Detroit. They struggle to find adulthood because they must, and the transition may well prove to be fatal as their sexual awakening may lead to their very demise.
This may sound like a heavy-handed STD metaphor, but I assure you that the film has no intention of turning its audience away from sex. If anything, the film only wants to assure us that growing up is scary and dangerous, but also not impossible or unmanageable. And somehow, embedded in that tale of burgeoning adulthood is a horrifying monster story that will leave you scanning the faces and gaits of everyone you see long after you leave the theater. Go see It Follows. You won’t regret it.
I was pulled to the theater to see this film, and my skepticism towards the horror genre is somewhat mollified. Have any recent horror recommendations? Let me know in the comments below.