David Robert Mitchell’s “It Follows” is a movie with just enough specificity to make for a satisfying story and enough vagueness to for it to take up residence in your head.
Before I get going, I should say that it’s possible I’ve spent far too much time thinking about this movie.
I’m not sure it’s the best movie I’ve seen all year, but it’s easily the one I’ve come back to most, and because of that it is an easy choice for my favorite movie of the year. For those living the sucka lifestyle, the story centers on Jay (Maika Monroe, stellar), a 19-year-old who goes on a date and does what 19-year-olds do on dates. But then it goes horribly awry in the way you’d most likely hear about from a hyperbolic Sex Ed teacher. Jay ends up strapped to a wheelchair while her boyfriend explains that he passed something on to her, something that will follow her unless she sleeps with someone else. Say what you will about his bedside manner, but he gets the point across. The It can take the form of anyone, and It walks slowly after you and will catch you eventually. All anyone really knows is that you don’t want to be caught, lest you end up a tasteful murder tableaux. Sleeping with someone will pay it forward but, like all things on this mortal coil, that’s only a temporary solution. But even after you pass it on, you’re not safe, as you’re still next in line, so now your fate is entirely in the hands of someone else.
The whole movie has the feel of a nightmare. No matter how far or fast you run, It will be right there. Like in “Nightmare on Elm Street,” sleep instantly becomes a risky proposition, so we’re on edge just as much as Jay. Mitchell nurtures this feeling with countless wide shots and 360-degree pans that have you examining every corner of the screen for someone stalking forward. The camera moves with a calmness that’s as unsettling as it is impressive. The film also captures that sense of wanting to look around to make sure you’re safe, but at the same time being too scared to do so. The film constantly reiterates that no matter where you go, you’re never truly safe.
And that’s where the movie really sinks its claws into me. The It that follows you is vague enough that you can imagine It as anything that scares you. There’s the obvious STD allegory at play, but that’s not nearly as compelling as the larger theme of the sexual baggage we all carry. Casting a wider net still, the It is just enough of a Rorschach entity that you see in it whatever you want. Throughout the movie It appears as an old woman, a freakishly tall man, a possible murder victim, a deranged mother, an old nude man, and a ruggedly handsome guy in his underwear. All creepy on their own, but taken in totality it makes me think that It is not only following each of us, but we could be somebody else’s It. It pops up without notice, and that sense of inevitability is the thing that really gets at me.
My It, the thing that haunts me the most right now, is being a father to two young boys and knowing that, on some level, there are things I can’t protect them from. I know that’s hardly revelatory or groundbreaking, but once you become a parent, you just can’t ever forget. No matter what I do there’s always an uncovered corner or a bookshelf to climb or a hot pan to touch. Or worse. Those are the things that follow me around and have me constantly on edge. I wish I had seen “It Follows” before I became a father because I’m very curious to know what the It would’ve been then. But I know what it is now, and in the coming years I imagine It will become something else, something that I can’t even imagine right now. That’s how life is. One day you’re on a date with the guy you’re really into and the next day you’re looking over your shoulder for the rest of your life.
But even through all of that, the film finds a way to end on an optimistic note. Jay and her friends (played by a strong ensemble) make mistake after mistake trying to help Jay in ways that don’t make sense (the climactic pool scene poses more questions than it can possibly answer) and others that are purely selfish (Keir Gilchrist’s lovesick Paul’s chivalrous/slightly creepy offer to sleep with Jay and take on her problems), all with the same result. In life there are some things you can’t outrun, things you have to face head on and find a way to deal with. The key takeaway for me is that all you can do is continue to live your life and not look over your shoulder. Whatever’s coming is coming regardless, but you can’t let it consume you.
Yeah, I’ve definitely overthought this one.
Ed. note: Thanks to the folks at http://moviesinpaint.tumblr.com/ for letting us use their “Number 8” as the cover art for this post. Give them a follow at https://twitter.com/moviesinpaint.