The premise is deceptively simple: Once you’re cursed from a sexual encounter, a ghoulish shape-shifting presence will follow you until it kills you. Where the rules of “It Follows” get fiendishly complex is that the only way to get rid of the demonic force is to sleep with someone else and pass it along like an STD. Should the person die, however, the killer spirit that only the cursed can see will return to its previous victim.
Living in a bland suburb of Detroit, Jay (Maika Monroe) is your typical bored teen who finds unexpected high school love. But after they consummate the relationship, everything goes terribly awry, and her ex throws her from his car after telling her the rules of the new curse she now has. Traumatized, Jay tries to rebuild her life with her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and friends Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Yara (Olivia Luccardi) ... but she realizes the warnings were real. There is someone following her. Unable to get any adult’s help, the group of neighborhood kids must figure out how to save Jay or risk losing their friend forever.
Stylistically and thematically, “It Follows” is one of the best horror movies to hit the big screen in recent years. It subverts the old horror movie trope of “young horny teens meeting a bloody death for their sins” by making the plot’s cure-all the need to pass it on. Yes, it’s taken to gruesome conclusions, but the film’s multiple nods to movies like “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Halloween” tap into viewers' primal fears. “It Follows” boils down the slasher concept to its bare bones: The basic threat is that something is following you and won’t stop until it kills you.
“It Follows” revisits several 1980s movie conventions. The movie borrows heavily from suburban horror stories like “Halloween” and “Nightmare on Elm Street,” where the supernatural threat can bounce from house to house on a tree-lined street. Plus, that threat doubles as the moment the teens realize that the suburbs are not quite as safe as they were raised to believe.
The steady pace of “It Follows” tracks along a synth soundtrack that pays respects to several of the classics this generation of filmmakers grew up with. Obviously, it owes a great deal to composer and filmmaker John Carpenter. The movie also has a Spielbergesque quality in a group of neighborhood kids who band together to fight an enemy without their parents' help, as in “E.T.”
Most frightening is the specter that can never be shaken off. After Jay’s romantic night gone horribly wrong, the shadowy figure that follows her is visible only to her and others with her curse. Even when she is on the road to recovery, the shadow will linger over her future romances. She may constantly look for bad signs in a relationship, suspicious that it could all go wrong at any moment. For that kind of trauma can keep you up at night and away from friends, and on that level, “It Follows” is the stuff of very real nightmares.
"It Follows" hits theaters on Friday, March 13.