To set up most horror films, you’ll usually have some normal family that lives in a normal house and they have a normal dog and they’re in the middle of their normal lives and it’s a sunny day and all the colors are extra bright and everything’s normal. Too normal.
That’s the path that takes us to the edge of the dark woods, right? We allow ourselves to be hypnotized by the normalcy of everything, to buy into the idea of it, so when the time comes for the freaky shit to jump out at us, we’ll be more horrified. But that’s not exactly the way It Followsoperates. Nothing is normal. Everyone’s a little tragic and wasted and driving around in dilapidated classic cars. Everyone’s watching black-and-white space horror flicks on old vacuum-tube television sets while seated on plush bunt orange couches.
Our girl lives in a ruined suburb of a ruined city with strange mechanical clankings all around, where squirrels chase birds from phone wires and it seems, somehow, talismanic. She lives in a place of memory and dream and we’re inside it from the first scene, sans normal.
Our girl is getting ready for a date. The boy seems nice. After she sleeps with him, in the backseat of his 1970-something mustard colored Lincoln, she’s lying across the seat, paying close attention to a weed growing out of the ruined parking lot outside the abandoned factory or office park saying how, when she was a kid, she always dreamed about…something. I can’t remember what. That’s when the boy, who has been rattling around in the trunk while we and the girl have been paying such close attention to the weed, attacks her from behind, stuffs a dirty rag in her face and holds it there until she’s unconscious. When she wakes up, she’s tied to a wheelchair which is parked underneath a post-apocalyptic parking ramp somewhere and the boy is explaining to us all the premise of the film. He has passed on a sexually transmitted disease to her. The symptoms are as follows: an evil spirit will now follow her until it kills her unless she passes the disease on to someone else, in which case the evil spirit will follow the person she passed it to until it kills him. And then it’ll be after her again. And then, to prove his point, he points her in the direction of a nude woman who is advancing upon them through the ruined wilderness. “It takes different shapes,” he says. “So it can get near enough to kill you.” And then he says something like, “It’s slow, but it’s not stupid.”
Now he is dumping the girl off in front of her ruined home in her ruined suburb and her tragic friends are surrounding her. Now the cops are making their reports. Now the girl is sitting in English class listening to TS Eliot.
Was it all a dream within a dream? Can this nude, creeping advance of death be real?
I love horror films. I wait for years to see a good one. I love this one if only for the beautiful scenes – in this case, one scene in particular involving glimmering pool water reflecting off the ceiling of an abandoned aquatic center – and for the excruciating portrayal of teen love and sexuality, and for the desperate car rides through the burned out, tagged, mangled corpse of Detroit, and for the unyielding, undeniable, undefeatable villain. For the certainty of it. The invincibility of it.
And so, with this very real villain ghosting our every step, slowly following us, attended by loud clanging sounds, what can we do but pay our money and sit in a dark theater, and watch the flickering lights on the screen, and give ourselves up to it?
I don’t know if It Follows is a great film. Or even a very good one. But I liked it a lot. I think it’s smart. It never allows us to pigeonhole it. It’s elusive that way. It slips away from us and lives just when we think we’ve caught it and killed it.