It Follows (2015)

The much buzzed about indie festival hit, “It Follows,” relies on themes of fear and dread instead of cheap jump scares to create an experience that just might follow you home.

“Like one that on a lonesome road, doth walk in fear and dread, and having once turned round walks on, and turns no more his head. Because he knows a fearful fiend doth close behind him tread.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

It Follows” is operating on a completely different level than the standard Hollywood multiplex scare film. While a simple explanation of the plot might remind anyone of the “Final Destination” or “The Ring” series, the reality is something much weirder, more ambiguous and much more uncomfortable.

It’s a film where the teenage characters look, act and respond like real 18 year olds, not a group of 20something actors from central casting dressed up like teenagers. These are real kids that live in real neighborhoods like the ones most of us grew up in, not kids from Beverly Hills or upscale gated communities like the ones you often see in movies like “Scream.”

The kids in the movie seem so uncharacteristically authentic that a really uncomfortable (maybe parental) feeling overcame me when the film quickly dove head first into the themes of sex and loss of innocence. Sort of like a teenage version of “The Peanuts,” the film is nearly devoid of adults, whose faces are almost always off screen and are never really fully in the frame.

The main character, Jay, played by Maika Monroe, who is following up another horror star turn in “The Guest” (2014), lives in a typical Midwestern suburb with her sister and mother. On a date with her new 21 year old boyfriend, she ends up having sex in the back of his car before he drugs her, ties her up and proceeds to explain to her that he has passed along a sexually transmitted curse. From this day forward, a supernatural entity will stalk and follow her, ultimately killing her if it reaches her, unless she in turn transmits the curse to someone else.

It’s slow, but it’s not stupid,” he warns her. Only the infected can see the monster, who can transform itself to look like anyone and it will never stop until it kills every infected person down the line. It’s all about paranoia and dread, as the monster walks at a slow and steady pace but never stops. You can drive for hours to escape it, but it will eventually reach you. You can never truly rest.

As simple as the concept sounds, “It Follows” isn’t an easy egg to crack. The world the characters live in is evocative of some sort of dream world in that it’s impossible tell when it’s supposed to be taking place. Everyone has little TVs with rabbit ears and much of the furniture and clothing styles seem to be from the 1970’s, but the cars they drive seem to be mostly from the 1950’s and at least one character seems to be carrying a modern type of Kindle shaped like a seashell birth control compact case (not a coincidence, I’m guessing!).

The first time Jay sees the monster, it appears as an elderly woman in a nightgown that only she can see walking towards her in high school. Next it arrives at her house, forcing her to flee to the neighborhood park where she sits on the swing waiting for its return. The playground and the swings clearly represent a place where Jay tries to escape both the monster the inevitable frightening world of adulthood that she has already crossed into and can never return.

The director really turns the screws of dread and suspense as the film moves, like its titular monster, slowly and inevitably towards its climax. The resolution is somewhat ambiguous and open to interpretation. This certainly won’t please the segment of the popcorn munching crowd that’s wants a direct answer to “What’s it all about?” and “What’s it all mean?” but it will leave you thinking about those answers long after the credits have rolled.

You may not be able quickly shake the feeling of dread the movie generates. It nags at you. Haunts you. It follows you home.

The Phantom of The Ville

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