Horror obsessives, welcome to the age of awesome eerie movies. Until recently terror was becoming terrible. We suffered years of the “Paranormal Activity” franchise making the same convoluted film over and over. We endured genre catastrophes like “Dracula Untold” and “I, Frankenstein” trying to create horror superheroes.
But recently ominous cinema has been showing perverse originality and spellbinding creativity. Imaginative indie entries like “Oculus,” “The Babadook,” “Spring,” “Silent House” and “Martha Marcy May Marlene” ditched the usual template of trauma. The diabolical new “It Follows” is spare, unnatural and full of chills. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell forms a provocative filmic world of slowly unfolding secrets, creating a highly disturbing, highly recommended nightmare.
“It Follows” simultaneously unfolds a story of the occult with an equally effective teen drama. It opens in a leafy middle-class neighborhood, as if the Steadicam wandered out for a stroll among average suburban families on a nice fall day. Then we encounter a slice of visual ingenuity in a way that signals trouble. The area seems to be playing a startling chase game of Tag You’re Terrified.
In a sustained long shot, a teenage girl bursts out of her family’s front door, racing up the block in incongruous short shorts and high heels. Only somebody in doomy dismay would run like that, and she looks paranoid. But there’s nothing ominous onscreen. And why would she then turn and run back in her home (which doesn’t resemble a haunted house)? The camera patiently circles her as if she’s sprinting through a mental maze. The mystery thickens when we find her hours later, lying on a pretty beach. Those legs that we met in the opening scene are crossed in a way that looks, let’s say, unusual.
To discuss them further would spoil some of the film’s worrying surprises. Though this is not a film about goblins and demons, something bewildering is menacing the area. Like many spine-chillers about adolescents, its central conceit is that sex carries a curse: Once you’ve had it, you’ve had it.
The focus of the story is late-teen college student Jay (Maika Monroe), exposed to a bizarre boogeyman following her first fling with a local lady’s man. With Jay strapped to a wheelchair, he shows her that their contact means she will now attract a violent, sexually conveyed monster that had been pursuing him. “It’s slow,” he warns, “but it isn’t dumb.”
Now the succubus is after her and her alone, unless Jay can seduce someone else to become the supernatural killer’s new target. Only she can see it as it slowly walks toward her in an ever-shifting human appearance fluctuating from male to female, young to pubescent to aged. With the help of her sister and a few friends, Jay tries to outrun the ever-changing monster.
What follows is a tour through everyday horrors — threats just out of view, strangers with ulterior motives, faulty self-defense, stalkers with all too much time on their claws. And of course, the sense of sex as a box of problems even Pandora would hate to open.
“It Follows” disrupts viewer expectations in jarring, unsettling ways. It is a small-scale thriller but it isn’t dumb.