It Follows: A Modern and Smart Update of the Teen Slasher

You can find good horror films from any era. But it would be hard to argue that the last several years have not witnessed the release of some remarkable genre films. Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, It Follows was a 2015 breakthrough indie hit that generated considerable buzz. Like several recent horror films, It Follows embraced a 1980’s VHS vibe. Yet Mitchell’s concept and execution distinguished it from those other horror films. This is the rare horror film that almost instantly cemented its status as a classic.

Synopsis

College student Jay immediately hits it off with her date Hugh. After going out a few times, Jay has sex with Hugh in his car. But things take an unexpected turn when Hugh knocks Jay out with a rag of chloroform. When Jay wakes up, she finds herself tied to chair. Hugh explains that he has ‘passed’ something on to Jay, and that ‘It’ will follow her. She must now have sex with someone to ‘pass’ on this curse before ‘It’ finds and kills her. If she dies, then ‘It’ will find Hugh, kill him, and work its way down the line. Now an entity that can look like anyone silently endlessly stalks Jay.

It Follows Shows That Original Ideas Can Work in Horror

Studios are desperate for the kind of horror franchises that ruled the 1980’s. Remakes of Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, however, failed. Hellraiser and Puppet Master have been pumping out dollar-store bin sequels for three decades. Meanwhile The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has tried remakes, prequels to remakes, sequels that ignore other sequels, and a prequel to the original. And poor Don Mancini. The Child’s Play creator is still making good sequels. But that hasn’t stopped MGM studios from ordering their own remake without Mancini’s involvement.

Yet It Follows proves that original ideas still have a place in the genre.

Yet It Follows proves that original ideas still have a place in the genre. Mitchell’s story offers the perfect combination of originality and mystery. The ‘It’ of It Follows is a wholly unique movie monster that brings the same freshness to the genre that Freddy Krueger did 30 years earlier. There’s an intricate mythology that creates a simple but effectively frightening narrative. The idea of being endlessly stalked by a malevolent entity that can look like anyone makes for a fantastic horror premise. Notably, Mitchell ensures that his mythology is seeped in mystery. Forget lazy expository dialogue. It Follows leaves the origins of its entity to your imagination.

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It Follows Adopts a ‘Less is More Approach’ To Its Scares

Aside from its strong premise, It Follows is a genuinely disturbing and frightening film. The opening prologue may be the best pre-credits horror scene since Wes Craven’s Scream or The Ring. Not only does the scene introduce some aspects of the movie’s mythology, but it sets the table for the movie’s stripped down tone and approach to scares.

Mitchell is masterful at subverting seemingly benign moments and places.

Mitchell is masterful at subverting seemingly benign moments and places. He sets the audience at ease seconds before unleashing the film’s ‘Tall Man’ scare. It’s a jump scare that doesn’t rely on loud sound or dizzying editing. Rather it’s a scare earned from meticulously built tension. Jay later looking up and seeing ‘It’ in the image of her deceased father, standing naked on a house rooftop, is quietly unnerving.

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A Horror Film Brimming with Subtext

In the right creative hands, horror films can offer more than momentary popcorn entertainment. Its Follows’ story of a teen curse passed along through sex lends itself to a few interpretations. Is the movie a warning about sexually transmitted diseases? Or is It Follows a modern conservative incarnation of the ’80’s slasher film warning against teen promiscuity and permissiveness? The film’s characterization of its male characters may offer another interesting critical lens. From callous ‘cool guy’ Greg to ‘friend-zoned’ Paul, Jay is surrounded by young men more than willing to oblige her need to remove the ‘curse’. Whether Mitchell is exploring teen promiscuity or toxic masculinity, It Follows is a rare, thought-provoking film that is likely to leave you with more questions than answers.

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It Follows Proves Horror Is More Than Sequels and Remakes

Over the last decade, original horror films like Get Out and Hereditary have pushed back on the idea that horror needs franchises. It Follows is another reminder that there are still plenty of fresh concepts waiting to be turned into fantastic horror movies. As we near the release of the next Halloween sequel, we don’t need reminders that horror will always love its horror heavyweights. But filmmakers like David Robert Mitchell help ensure the genre persists and attracts new audiences.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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