Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 40 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 5; Language 2; Sex 2/Nudity 6.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; truly, I would flee far away; I would lodge in the wilderness
American writer-director David Robert Mitchell’s new film will keep your heart pumping fast in this chilling horror film. In one way it is similar to the slasher horror films of the 70s and 80s in which it was the sexually promiscuous teenagers who died first. This too is also a bizarre morality tale, but far superior to most of its antecedents. Instead of STD, we have a STC, sexually transmitted curse. The teens are not nearly as dumb, nor are they nasty to each other as in most horror flicks—indeed, they are likeable not only in their personalities, but they gather around our victimized heroine to form an admirable support group, and the ending is ambiguous enough to suggest that—well, let’s look into a few details before exploring that.
The setting, as usual, is a suburb at an unspecified time—the latter is recent enough for one of the girls to be reading a novel on a device that looks like a woman’s round compact, and yet at a time when the landphone is still used a good deal. The film’s credits state that Detroit was the location for shooting, though we never see its skyline. Except for the suburban neighborhoods of the teenagers, what we do see are littered lawns, boarded up houses, vacant lots, decaying, unused factories, and multi-level parking garages ready for the wrecking ball if propserity was ever to return to the area. All of this decay, along with adds greatly to the creepy atmosphere of the film, as does the electronic music by Rich Vreeland (a.k.a. Disasterpeace).
The film opens in the evening with a long camera shot rotating 360 degress, focused on a teenaged girl running in terror from her two-story house. As she runs by a woman unloading groceries from the back of her van, she shakes her head “No” when the woman asks if she needs help. Turning, the girl runs the opposite way, rushing back into her house, and emrging with her car keys. Her father calls out to her, but she drives away, arriving at a beach (presumably one of the Great Lakes—several later scenes also unfold on its shore) where she calls her parents for what she believes will be her last conversation. She is right, for the camera cuts to her body, one leg bent grotesquely back, lying on the beach.
With this gruesome prologue, the story begins with our heroine 19 year-old Jay Height (Maika Monroe) ready for a movie date with the somewhat older Hugh (Jake Weary), whom she has just recently met. At the theater Hugh suddenly says that they must leave after Jay is unable to see the girl in a yellow dress that he had spotted at the back of the theater. They dine out, afterward engaging in sex in the back of his car. While she lies blissfully satisfied on her stomach Hugh is getting something out of the car’s trunk. Suddenly he appears atop her, holding a rag soaked in chloroform over her mouth. She awakens tied in a wheelchair, Hugh having driven them to an abandoned parking garage. But just when you think this will be another torture porn flick, so abundant on the free movie portion of cable channels, the plot unfolds in a different direction. This bizarre kidnapping is an act of kindness, Hugh claims, because she would not have stayed still to listen to the truth, let alone believed him. She sees a scantily clad woman slowly walking toward them. Hugh tells her that he has been under a curse with a supernatural shape shifting being following him everywhere in order to kill him. The only way the curse can be broken is to pass it on to someone else through sex. If he had not, he claims, the being would eventually caught up with and killed him. She must do the same before it kills her. The follower can take the form of someone familiar, or it might be a stranger, clothed, or naked. He places her in the car and speeds out of the garage, stopping finally outside her home where he dumps her on the road before roaring away.
The police interview Jay, but because she admitted that her encounter had been consentual, they drop the investigation. She had not revealed the supernatural details to them, but does share them with her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and their friends Yara (Olivia Luccardi) and Paul (Keir Gilchrist), a nerdish guy who as carried an unreciprocated love for Jay dating back to their childhood. Later in the story the good looking, somehwat older guy across the street, Greg (Daniel Zovatto), also joins the group in attempting to help by forming a plan to fight back. By this time enough has happened to convince the circle that Jay is not just suffering from delusions.
The plan includes discovering the real identity of Hugh so they can talk with him further. The on line screener, available for critics, does not make it clear how the group came to discover Hugh’s former house where they find a photo that leads them in a round about way to his present dwelling. Also, later on there is a singular shot of Jay swimming out to a speedboat containing three dudes, followed by a cut to a scene unconnected to it, which adds to the confusion. I have since learned from a reviewer who saw the film at a film festival t hat there is a longer version of this film, so presumably the cut scenes would have cleared up the confusion. I hope it will be the longer form of the film that is released to theaters. If not, here is a link to critic Fr. Dennis’s review where you can read more details http://frdennismoviereviews.blogspot.com/2014/10/it-follows-2014.html.
The film is a bit like the Peanuts cartoon script in that adults are almost never seen. These are a bunch of kids left almost completely on their own, able to stay out all night, even for several days when they take off to spend several days at the lake-side cabin owned by Greg’s mother. The friendship (and sisterhood) is admirable in the way in which everyone pitches in to keep Jay safe. The creature, assuming all kinds of guises, following Jay, turns up at all places, even far away at the lakeside cabin. Like a zombie it is never in a hurry, but implaccable in its relentless advancement. It seems to have a quasi bodily form in that when Jay shoots it, blood spurts from its head, and it falls to the ground. But it quickly rises up again. In the lakeside scene Paul can feel the connection when he hits it with a lawnchair, but this stops it only for a moment, long enough for Jay to flee its clutches. Later they concoct an elaborate plan to lure it into a municipal swimming pool and to electrocute it by throwing a bunch of electrical devices into the water.
The moral dilemma concerning passing on the curse to another is only slightly dealt with—and this in the case of Hugh, by his refusal to leave Jay before going to the trouble of trussing her up so that he has time to explain the situation to her. Later, however, one of the characters rises to the point of possibly sacrificing himself on Jay’s behalf. The ambiguous ending leaves the audience pondering about the possibility of two infected friends being able to survive together—or will the cycle just keep repeating itself, each cursed person trying to save her/himself regardless of the fate of the partner?
The review with a set of discussion questions will be in the April Visual Parables.