Film Review: ‘It Follows’ (R)

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“It’s slow, but it’s not dumb.”

Finally in wide release, “It Follows” is a rare breed of intellectual and innovative horror in a film genre too often mired in formulaic and uninspired exploitation. The premise is novel, but simple. After having sex with her boyfriend, budding scream queen Maika Monroe (who stared in the equally impressive “The Guest”) is stalked by a predator that only she can see. The rest of the film is pure sustained tension as the titular “It” ceaselessly “follows” Monroe.

Like “The Guest,” “It Follows” takes advantage of nostalgia, styling itself after vintage slasher flicks like “Halloween” and employing an 80s synth pop score. In a stroke of genius, writer/director David Robert Mitchell makes the sexually transmitted stalker able to manifest as anyone it chooses. This makes every extra in the background a potential threat. “It” habitually pops up in the most unexpected and unsettling of forms, adding a lot of extra mileage to the concept.

Up front, the concept behind “It Follows” sounds like another slasher-based safe sex morality play, and it could have easily settled for such low hanging fruit. Instead Mitchell takes the “virginal survivor girl” cliché and flips it upside down, creating a scenario in which the heroine must have anonymous sex with multiple partners in order to survive. And that may sound like it is equally as demeaning and exploitative as the virgin survivor cliché, but Mitchell is making a statement with the film that is far deeper than “watch out for STDs!”

The film dwells in the dread of being imprisoned by your circumstances. Gradually transitioning from idyllic, pastoral suburbs to a squalid and decaying “bad part of town,” the film meditates on the psychological horror and desperation of having no way out and the degrading things some people are forced to do to survive. This is handled very cleverly in the beginning, but becomes a little too “on-the-nose” in the third act. But preachy underpinnings aside, “It Follows” is far better than any of the lazy remakes or schlocky franchises that typically flood the multiplexes. This is an invigorating thriller that will keep you squirming in your seat.