Contemporary Horror films almost always emulate tropes from the height of the genre’s mainstream popularity of teen slasher flicks and supernatural ghost stories. In the late 70’s, and throughout the 80’s and 90’s, Horror films transcended past the monster flick towards the anxieties of suburban life and the journey into young adulthood. It’s a recognizable narrative; a group of teenagers fight against a common enemy-or entity- that stalks and kills the group one-by-one without hesitation or mercy. It Follows borrows this narrative ingrained within the genre’s culture with ease and provides something not only extremely familiar, but also enticingly fresh.
Set in the early 80’s, high school teen Jay lives in a quiet suburban neighborhood, but is forced into a situation that completely haunts her. After what is seemingly an innocent date with a new boy in town, a curse is placed on Jay after having sex with her new fling. This curse makes a supernatural entity that takes the form of anyone follow Jay at walking speed, and the only way to break the curse is to pass it through sex. She must band with her friends to avoid being killed while solving the issue of who is going to be next.
The very premise is a standard teen-stalker horror film, but the idea that there is someone always walking gradually closer to you really does strike a creepy note for the audience. With every panning camera movement, the film constantly keeps the attention of whether you can actually see someone walking within the frame. In a classroom, on the street, or even in the woods, you feel the anxiety of Jay as you try to seek out who’s following and who’s just someone casually strolling. There is something also much more sinister in a slow walk than a chase sequence, much like Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees proved in their seminal slasher films from times past. It Follows continually builds this tension and maintains it throughout the film, so it becomes very effective in actually involving yourself in the what can be seen on screen.
Another classic horror trope that the film relies on is the complete lack of adult interference. We are never introduced to any parents and they do not share any screen time or relevance to the terror. This is always effective in horror films because it really forces all of the decisions and action on the teenagers as they come to terms with how they are in this world. It Follows creates a story about consequences of sexual exploration and the harsh realities that may follow, and there is no one for advice. Instead, Jay and her friends must confront a killer entity that is brought on by their own promiscuity. This is again another formulaic narrative in horror: once you have sex, you’re getting an axe to the head. This film, however, plays on the idea that sex is the cause of horror, but also offers a solution. In order to rid of the curse and save yourself, you have to sacrifice someone else. This is problematic for Jay, as it proves to provide dramatic flair within her friends and potential love interests. Some say this is an allegorical tale for sexually transmitted diseases, but I think the film simply wants to provide a horror tale that plays with the conventions we are so familiar with. (It Follows film trailer)
It Follows exudes a retro vibe with its John Carpenter-esque electronic score. The minor tone electronic synths and vibrant colors together immediately remind us of late 70’s and 80’s films of suburban horror and teenage angst. This is a clear trend in films today, as the 80’s aesthetic is often used in a futuristic heightened reality, but It Follows properly gives this feel through the recognizable archetypal characters and setting. Jay’s childhood friends are loyal to her. There are the usual battling love relationships that make the film as much of a teenage drama as a horror film.
With all horror films, there is the inevitable and most important question: is is scary? While It Follows may be too familiar for some, and may not provide anything completely new to surfacing audience fears, there are still sequences of minimalist filmmaking that prove to be much more frightening than over-use of gore or jump scares. While Jay and her friends retreat to a beach far from town to buy time from the entity, a woman slowly walks into frame behind Jay as she sits with her friends. Only Jay can see the entity, so in the position where her friends sit, only the audience knows that the woman is walking to kill Jay. This is such a classic scene where you just want to yell at the screen to tell Jay to turn around, and the camera holds static for quite some time, building tension higher and higher.
It Follows is nothing revolutionary to the horror genre, but its a refreshing hark back to what made the early slasher flicks so enticing when they came out. It doesn’t take itself completely seriously, as it is self-referential and sometimes funny, but it always provides a creepy undertone that something terrible is going to happen. Simple, but effective in conception and execution, It Follows provides exactly what horror films need, especially when the the genre can turn out boring and uninspired films.
Alex Gougeon is a Toronto-Based freelance Writer, Musician and Videographer who loves everything Film and Music.