multi-level marketing

IT FOLLOWS

it-follows

2014 – After an ill-advised sexual tryst, Jay (Maika Monroe) is told she’s caught the worst STD imaginable: a shape-shifting supernatural creature who will relentlessly pursue her… unless she can “pass it on” to someone else…

This is a “rules” horror movie, like Gremlins (don’t get them wet, don’t feed them after midnight) or The Ring (watch the tape and you die in seven days). Within the self-contained worlds of such movies, these rules function just fine. Unfortunately, killjoy know-it-all rules lawyer types flock to this genre like distressed patrons to the bathroom of a Chinese buffet.

Just look at the IMDB message boards for It Follows: “Trap it in a vault, then brick up the wall.” “Gay sex?” “Just pass it to a successful hooker.” “Semi simple problem to solve to be honest.” “What if you constantly stayed airborne?”

*SIGH* Yeah, you’re all geniuses. Now shut up. The point is, you have to accept a movie like this on its own terms. If you do, it’s a genuinely frightening and disturbing experience.

There’s a sense of bleak desolation that hangs over everything, even the few “happy” scenes. Our heroine Jay, her sister Kelli (Lili Sepe), and their friends Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Yara (Olivia Luccardi), live in Detroit, and the area hasn’t looked this bad since OCP ran things.

Jay, who seems to be the object of desire for every male character in the movie, decides to get intimate with her new boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary). Things go well until he chloroforms her, ties her to a wheelchair, and explains that she’ll now be stalked by the titular “it.”

“It” moves toward you at a walking pace and can look like anyone, from a total stranger to a loved one – but most often like a creepy naked person. Once “it” catches you, you die and “it” goes back to following whoever came before you in the chain. Honestly, I don’t feel too bad for Jay. I’ve been told worse things on dates.

Fear, paranoia, and a sense of steadily encroaching doom pervade the rest of the whole production. While Maika Monroe turns in the best performance, balancing vulnerability with an endearing resilience, all of the relatively young cast does a fine job. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell largely eschews cheap “jump scares” in favor of steadily building tension and atmosphere.

What’s most fascinating, however, is Mitchell’s inspiration for the film – a recurring dream from his youth in which he was hounded by multi-level marketers. Mitchell acknowledges that he used “the basic idea and feeling” of this constant pursuit and harassment, and adds that his parents “got involved in a multi-level marketing scheme around that age, so I imagine it was something to do with that.”

When viewed through this lens, the movie becomes less a fable about the dangers of casual sex and more a cautionary tale about the agony caused by someone constantly hawking special makeup or “health” supplements.

Just as “it” follows its victims based on an ongoing chain of sexual encounters, so loathsome multi-level marketers pursue one person after another to add to their “downstream.” Just when you think you’ve satisfied them by ordering some junk jewelry or skin cream, BOOM! They’re back, having exhausted the rest of their pipeline. Just as “it” takes the form of friends and loved ones, you can easily come home one day to find your friend, your lover, or your spouse transformed into something monstrous, greedy, and inhuman.

Strains the mind a bit, doesn’t it? But filmmakers have used far more innocuous things as a source for scares. And like its own silent, faceless antagonist, the unsettling effect of It Follows will stick with you long after you’ve watched it.