Imagine sleeping with your significant other for the first time, only to learn he's passed on the most terrifying STD imaginable: stalker zombies who can only be expelled by handing off the curse via intercourse. The new horror movie "It Follows" will show you what happens, and the results are terrifying.
The indie film premiered to raves at the Cannes Film Festival last May. It was picked up for distribution the following month and screened at a bevy of other festivals in the lead-up to this weekend's limited theatrical release. Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, who made the 2010 coming-of-age drama "The Myth of the American Sleepover," "It Follows" was worth the wait -- it's a rare must-see for all horror fans.
The idea sprung from a recurring nightmare Mitchell had when he was about 9 and 10 years old. It didn't involve sex, of course, but it contained the film's other trappings, namely a monster that took on other identities -- sometimes people he knew, sometimes not -- and lethargically followed Mitchell wherever he went. He could always evade it, but the fact that no one else could see the shapeshifting creature fostered perpetual dread. When Mitchell thought he might like to make a horror film, he recalled the nightmares. All he needed was a source for such hauntings.
Some have read "It Follows" as an allegory for STDs. Mitchell and the movie's lead, 21-year-old Maika Monroe ("The Guest"), acknowledge that as a possible interpretation but don't submit to it as the film's ultimate metaphor.
"I wanted it to be something that could be shared between people and something that could come back to you," Mitchell told The Huffington Post. "If we use sex to do that, it’s a way of connecting people -- not just physically, but also emotionally -- which sort of tied into some of the other themes in the movie. I had several themes in the back of my head when writing this. Any interpretation is valid. Especially for a horror film, I think that’s part of the fun of it."
Also part of the fun is the cast of 20-somethings who took to sleepy neighborhoods in and near Detroit to film the movie across five weeks. Jay (Monroe) is joined by a small group of friends (including one played by "United States of Tara" alum Keir Gilchrist) determined to help extinguish the haunting that only she can see. Together, they devise escapes and attempts to vanquish the monsters.
"You realize once you're on set that it’s actually very difficult to make a horror movie, which is something you don’t really think of prior to doing it," Maika said. "One day we’re shooting some of the beginning scenes where everything is fine and great at the house, and then we’re into where I’m running for my life."
The finished product makes it look simple. The suburban setting and Disasterpeace's pulsating synth score recall the work of John Carpenter, particularly "Halloween," which is among many films Mitchell cites as lifelong influences. (Others include "Creature from the Black Lagoon," "Night of the Living Dead," "The Thing," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "The Shining" and those of David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Brian de Palma and Alfred Hitchcock.) Employing 360-degree pans and sinister perspective shots that direct viewers toward the characters' peril, "It Follows" inverts the 1970s' and 80s' virgin-dies-last horror trope with chilling results.
"Sex is also the thing that temporarily frees you," Mitchell said. "I think sex is simply representative of life itself. It’s literally simply the act of living -- it is in contrast with our mortality, on some level. That’s one of the ways I like to look at it. So, again, I think it’s fair to look at it in terms of the STD comparison. I’m not putting that down, but I also think it’s maybe more complicated than that."
Whatever symbolism you find, "It Follows" is an anomaly within today's horror landscape. The lo-fi production values underscore its terror, and the idea that there's more than torture, gore or unexplained mysticism at hand aligns the thriller with 2014 darling "The Babadook" and Sundance breakout "The Witch" -- both of which relied on atmosphere rather than cheap scares to create suspense. Carrying their torch, "It Follows" is the right way to do horror.
"It Follows," released via RADiUS-TWC, opens in limited release on March 13.