Perhaps while I was sleeping (or busy keeping to myself), several horror movies of the “intelligent” variety appeared. Those scare quotes aren’t to imply the films aren’t actually intelligent, but rather that many people assume horror can’t be smart. Yes, there have been some cheap scare phases in the genre when viewers didn’t need too much intellectual capacity to figure out someone else was about to get snuffed, but since the late 1960s many cerebral movies have appeared. It has only recently become acceptable for academics to address horror, and now that they have begun to do so several more provocative films have become part of the discussion. I’m now trying to catch up (as I can afford to) with those more intellectual movies. One of them was It Follows.
Of course, seven years ago, when it was released, it didn’t get much press. It did, however, impress the critics. A movie about sexual awaking, it wouldn’t make Puritans very happy, but it is pretty scary. The premise itself is frightening: “it” (never defined) follows young people after a sexual encounter with someone already “infected”—it is visible only to intended victims and although it follows slowly, it is persistent and unrelenting. It will eventually catch up. It can take the shape of anyone—stranger, friend, family. The only way you can tell “it” is that it’s walking slowly straight toward you and nobody else can see it. To get it off of your trail, you have to pass it along to someone else. It starts killing and working back to the previous victims, so once it starts you’re never safe.
Part of the visual appeal of the movie is the urban decay around Detroit, where the film was shot. Another is the lack of adults. A few are shown here and there, but this is a young persons’ dilemma and the young people have to sort it out. Bleak and contemplative, the movie has a literary streak to it. This isn’t just horror for screams—there’s an existential element as well. The only place that adults really play a role is when it finally catches up to its victims, it appears as their parent. Various critics have suggested it is a movie about STDs, but to me it felt more like a movie about struggling to cope with the complications sexuality brings. Unlike most horror I discuss here there really isn’t an element of religion to It Follows. It may be some kind of demon, but never defining it makes the viewer stop and think. And that makes it intelligent.