BY BRUCE INGRAM | FOR THE SUN-TIMES
Generally speaking, it’s never a good idea to have sex in a horror movie, and that’s certainly the case in this queasily carnal low-budget shocker that equates grim death with a sexually transmitted disease.
On the other hand, given the unusual circumstances in “It Follows,” having more sex is the only way to survive — temporarily. Which could be seen as consolation of a sort. Only not really.
A hit at last year’s Cannes festival, “It Follows” opens with a classic horror movie victim — a teenage girl in a nightie — in very serious trouble. After stumbling out of her house, clearly panicked about some unseen threat, she drives to a beach and waits there alone, staring terrified at … nothing. And that’s the last we see of her except for a quick, gruesome shot showing her mangled body with limbs snapped at impossible angles.
We don’t learn what’s going on until later, at the end of a particularly disappointing date between our 19-year-old hero Jay (Maika Monroe of “The Guest” and “The Bling Ring”) and her hunky new boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary). After a tender moment of bliss in the back of his old car, Hugh chloroforms Jay, takes her to an abandoned factory, shackles her to a chair and explains the situation.
A monster has been following him, Hugh says, since he had sex with a girl who passed the problem on to him, and now it will be following Jay. It’s a slow-moving, shape-shifting monster and only its intended victims can see it, but it’s deadly, it never stops and the only way Jay can stay alive is by choosing someone else for a game of sexual tag-you’re-it.
“It Follows” is similar in some ways with writer-director David Robert Mitchell’s indie debut “The Myth of the American Sleepover,” a sweet coming-of-age tale about a group of young friends in a Detroit suburb. The chief difference being that the new friends in this Detroit suburb have a monster in their midst. After a period of shocked disbelief, Jay’s friends rally around her, including a dorky lifelong secret admirer (Keir Gilchrist), who gallantly offers to take on her burden. Proving once and for all that a desperate teenage boy will happily give up his life for sex.
That might sound as if there’s an element of teen comedy in “It Follows,” but that’s not what Mitchell has in mind, despite a few light touches here and there. The mood is somber, ominous and increasingly suspenseful throughout (despite an awkwardly handled final showdown), goosed along by an intense John Carpenter-esque electronic music score — and a boogeything with the unnervingly slow pace of Michael Myers from Carpenter’s “Halloween.” It’s hard not to share Jay’s mounting panic as she watches the thing in its various guises walking slowly toward her wherever she may be, invisible to everyone else and entirely intent on destroying her.
No, what Mitchell is going for is something surprisingly serious, as evidenced by his frequent references to Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot” and a quick reading from T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Namely, the inescapable, unavoidable inevitability of death.
With a side order of sexual titillation to sweeten the box office.
RADiUS-TWC presents a film written and directed by David Robert Mitchell. Running time: 100 minutes. Rated R (for disturbing violent and sexual content including graphic nudity, and language). Opening Friday at local theaters.