From Vampyr to Halloween and Friday the 13th, horror films have trafficked in the disgust of the sexuality of young women, as if the filmmakers wanted to punish them for taking boyfriends to lovers lanes. Mediating this disgust are shots of jiggling breasts and asses; male filmmakers like a little lust with their contempt. It Follows, a well shot and better than average horror film by David Robert Mitchell, omits the contempt and keeps audiences at a football field’s distance from the sex and the characters. As a “post-modern” take on horror tropes, It Follows is better than the inexplicably beloved Scream — and scarier.
The premise is neat: men and women carrying a mysterious curse pass it sexually; the recipient will see a force that can shape shift into anybody and walk towards them; if caught, the recipient dies. That’s the way Hugh (Jake Weary) explains it to Jay (Maika Monroe) after a movie date ends with his anestheticizing her with chloroform and tying her to a wheelchair. He had sex with her, thus passing the curse (I think of Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet proudly murmuring, “He put his disease in me!”). Now moments we’ve seen make sense. Hugh had earlier suggested they leave the theater after he says he sees a man who’s invisible to all but he. The opening scene, shot in a scarily beautiful suburb, shows a terrified woman fleeing a pursuer; it ends with her broken body on a lakefront beach. Literally broken — her right leg, cracked at the knee, faces her head. Keeping his camera at a distance, Mike Gioulakis films the body as if it were an art installation.
Watch It Follows for its camera work. Mitchell’s favorite device is the one-point perspective, perfected by Stanley Kubrick in The Shining . In this shot the cinematographer freezes the subject and moves the camera at varying speed towards it, as if to entrap the subject and remind the audience that options for this character are limited. As impressive are the 360-degree pans, providing the expansiveness of vision that he denies his harried heroine. A hospital scene, dull on paper, Mitchell and Gioulakis imbue with anticipatory dread when, like the apartment building across from James Stewart’s in Rear Window, each room hosts its own banal domestic moment, reenforcing Jay’s helplessness. She can’t have a normal convalescence; she’s the one who has to keep awake in case the mysterious stranger appears in who knows what form. A couple of those forms are terrifying enough to cause night sweats: an old nude man on a roof; a boy staring through a hole in a door.
Mitchell’s lucky his eye doesn’t fail him. Set in an unidentified past or present in which kids still use land lines with curly cords, It Follows doesn’t have jokes and makes no effort to explain the teens’ relationships or situate them in a recognizable milieu. As Jay, Maika Monroe projects anomie and lust as well as Chloe Sevigny did in her nineties pictures, but the other actors are pretty blurs (Mitchell’s 2010 film The Myth of the American Sleepover was better at this). When Jay’s friends finally believe her there’s no sense that they share a thrilling and dangerous secret; they could be planning a kegger. Mitchell’s ear has no relation to his eye; he overdoes the arena-synth pretensions of the soundtrack, at times as loud as a Loverboy concert held in a fishbowl in 1983.
Still, It Follows doesn’t outstay its welcome, and the last third has a grueling inevitabiblity. The gang sets up lamps, fans, blow dryer, TVs, and other electrical appliances around an indoor swimming pool to electrocute the ghost as it lunges for Jay. This leads to a denouement I haven’t seen before in a movie: a sick-suspenseful take on the last-man-standing trope of westerns. If the ending is to be believed — I want to — teens in love won’t let a ghost get between them and the sheets.