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Abuse victim's post traumatic horror

  • 16 April 2015

It Follows (MA). Director: David Robert Mitchell. Starring: Maika Monroe, Lile Sepe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary. 100 minutes

The best horror films can play on the viewer's deepest fears and existential anxieties while also providing robust commentary on the politics of the day or on the human condition. Think of George A. Romero's seminal Dead films, each of which is a richly allegorical treatise on the foibles of human society that also happens to feature zombies. It Follows, up-and-coming arthouse filmmaker David Robert Mitchell's first incursion into the horror genre, owes an aesthetic and thematic debt to Romero.

It takes place on the suburban fringes of Detroit, a region that Mitchell and his cinematographer Mike Gioulakis have captured in a state of silent decay in the wake of the city's near economic ruin. Much of the film's suspense and sense of mute dread seems to emanate directly from this wasteland of emptiness and alienation. Adults are all but notionally absent from the film, and Gioulakis' wide angles make the neighbourhood seem like row upon row of haunted houses.

Against this backdrop the film focuses on the lives of five teenagers — Jay (Monroe), her sister Kelly (Sepe), their friends Yara (Luccardi) and Paul (Gilchrist), and their neighbour Greg (Zovatto) — and their tussle with an unnamed evil that stalks this suburban wasteland. On the surface this sounds like a well-trodden slasher-film premise, but while the film does offer more than its fair share of suspense and low-gore scares, there is plenty going on underneath the skin.

Jay has recently begun dating Hugh (Weary); after her first sexual encounter with him, he drugs and binds her, and tells her he has passed a deadly curse on to her. 'It', he says — the aforementioned, unnamed evil force — will follow and kill her, unless in the meantime she has sex with someone else, and thus passes the curse on to them. The film follows Jay's emotional and psychological deterioration as with increasing desperation she attempts to evade 'it'.

The film has been described as a parable about STDs, or even as a cautionary tale about the dangers of casual sex. But the premise of a 'curse spread through sexual intercourse' supports this reading on only the most literal level. There are more layers to the film's subtext than this; the film's equation of sex with death is pointedly a subversion of slasher movie tropes