When “It Follows” begins, we don’t see “It,” but we see her. In one fluid shot, a distraught girl in a thin shirt sprints through her peaceful suburban neighborhood, desperately seeking refuge from something. Scratchy, pulsating synths blare as she refuses help from a well-meaning neighbor, dodges past her father, jumps straight into her car and floors it. Her trembling body is small against an expansive beach as she calls her parents and tells them she loves them. Next is a jarring, front-on view of her dead body, leg bent bloodily at a gruesome angle and high heel dangling dangerously off her foot. “It” has arrived.

It Follows

State Theatre
Northern Lights Films

“It Follows” ’s subtle terror comes not from gore or jump-scares, but from a monster that embodies no defining characteristic. We first meet Jay (Maika Monroe, “Labor Day”) floating lazily in her backyard pool. She spots a bug on her arm, inspects it and serenely lowers it back into the water. But her peace is quickly shattered. After having sex with her boyfriend, she finds herself haunted by a monster only she can see. It takes on different manifestations each time, but always comes for her slowly and purposefully. Her boyfriend informs her that if “It” kills her, It will come back for him, and the only way to escape is to pass “It” on.

The physical forms of “It” are not, themselves, scary. The unyielding persistence and vacant stares make them so. Ultimately, “It” ’s origin and purpose go unexplained, so the victims cannot even fully understand their tormentor. Nothing is more terrifying than battling the unknown, except the added sting of the curse – doing it alone. The haunting operates like a psychological illness. Because only its victims can see “It,” Jay’s loyal friends remain a step removed from her experience and cannot truly help her despite their best efforts.

Central to the quiet unease is the film’s mood-setting soundtrack, provided by Bay Area composer and producer Disasterpeace. Breathy, atmospheric sounds and dissonant synthetics swell around the film’s gloomy visuals. The setting slices out a bleak alternate universe in which time stands still. Cell phones coexist with grainy black-and-white TV. Parents or daily routines don’t intervene. A tense haze clings, refusing to detach, and only “It” soldiers forward.

The film constructs an intricate dialogue about innocence and intimacy. Sex sparked the monster, and the loss of innocence brings an underlying sense of anxiety. At first, the film is set in a tranquil, well-maintained suburb, but after “It” strikes, the backdrop shifts to blighted Detroit streets. Once removed from childhood’s protective bubble, responsibility falls on Jay alone. Despite what overtly seems like an STD-scare metaphor, the film implies more than just abstinence. Though intimacy spells death, it’s also the only way to stay alive. In this way, real-life horror blends with the supernatural as Jay grapples with emotional trauma and the difficult decision of how and to whom she should pass “It” on.

Intelligently made and truly petrifying, “It Follows” harnesses our basest fears about intimacy and the unknown. We may laugh at lurid special effects, indulge in waves of blood that we know could never prevail in reality, but emotionally devastating victimhood? That’ll get to you.

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