In the popular imagination, the association between sex and destruction in horror is commonly traced back to Bram Stoker’s Dracula where vampirism is interpreted as a stand-in for venereal disease. Without a doubt the modern horror film has drawn a clear link between sexual intercourse and mortal peril, with John Carpenter’s Halloween being one of the more obvious examples. With It Follows, director David Robert Mitchell continues in this tradition, explicitly linking doom with sex.
To be sure, there is nothing untoward about the act itself. It is not kinky or taboo or expressly illicit. It’s vanilla, All-american, back-seat sex -a staple of American cinema – and while the act itself is engaged in consensually by both parties, we are quick to learn the young man in question may not have been upfront with his lover. He has in fact passed something along. A kind of curse, transmitted simply through sexual intercourse, raising the question of informed consent, albeit, one the film does not look to answer directly.
Mitchell, who also wrote the script, seems content to have the audience decipher the ethical and moral quandaries on their own as the action plays out. Nor does Mitchell seem to indict any of the characters for their transgressions, past or present. There is no overt attempt to justify a character’s death as punishment for any particular sin or moral fault. Their peril being, ostensibly the result of arbitrary, possibly unavoidable, circumstances; this adds an additional layer of dread to an already cringe-worthy scenario.
Certainly, the creep-factor is the stand-out achievement of the film, which weaves together a hearty slice of Americana with classic horror tropes in what is one of the better attempts at an old-school horror film of the past twenty years. Mitchell shows a keen understanding of the genre, from which he never seems to deviate or attempt to transform in any radical way. It Follows is not design to challenge the viewer or the medium, it’s pure entertainment. Mitchell is in effect colouring within the established conventions of the genre and is largely successful in crafting a compelling tale of supernatural terror.
Using music, atmospheric cinematography, and a keen eye for production design – which gives the film a timeless, dreamlike quality – It Follows is both an homage to the classic horror films and a bold addition to it. No small feat for a genre overburdened with sub-par offerings that mistake cheap thrills and gore for suspense and dramatic tension. The film does feature some graphic imagery – in the opening scene for example – but not excessively and always in service of the narrative. It is the threat of physical harm that will freak you out, the promise of peril rather than those sharp, fleeting glimpses of violence.