What’s scarier, suburban sprawl or a shape-shifting sexually transmitted demon?
There’s a line in It Follows that I would have written down, had I been able to temporarily disengage the two-handed terror-grip that I maintained on my date’s upper arm from the first 45 seconds of the film onward, but the gist was this: One of the secondary characters shares the realization that her parents had forbidden her from ever crossing 8 Mile unsupervised — yes, that 8 Mile — because it’s the point at which the suburbs end and the city begins.
The city, you see, is where innocence goes to die. It’s also where the heroine, Jay (played by newcomer-ish Maika Monroe, looking almost exactly like fellow fictional metro Detroit denizen Brittany Murphy), meets the man who will saddle her with a sexually transmitted demon. The demon will stalk its victim until either a) it succeeds in killing her or b) she passes it along to another unfortunate person through — you guessed it! — more sex. Jay spends the duration of the film being stalked by a slew of surly, sinister characters (since the demon can shape-shift), all plodding along at an ominous, zombie-like pace, who will never let her forget a seemingly fine date that’s turned into a living nightmare. (Incidentally, this is exactly how I would describe the experience of visiting certain bars in the Seattle metro area, but that’s neither here nor there!)
David Robert Mitchell, who’s partial to a good sexual-awakening-in-the-suburbs story, wrote and directed It Follows. Both the city (Detroit) and suburbs (anonymous suburbs of Detroit) are painted as fairly awful in the film: The suburbs are full of bored teens, above-ground pools filled with yard detritus, and drunk moms; the city is full of houses whose states of disrepair range from extreme to catastrophic, disgruntled prostitutes, and off-brand porn mags. Jay frantically tries to shunt the sex demon around her own suburb and bucolic Michigan lake country via various trysts, but it turns out that non-urbanites are really not great at surviving attacks from the slow-moving but highly determined undead.
There are some lessons to be learned here: 1) Holing up in the suburbs to escape so-called “urban problems” — be it crime, bad public schools, or amorphous sex demons — is a fool’s errand; 2) attempting to flee from a zombie on foot is a good way to discover exactly how walkable a community can be; and 3) always use protection with a new partner!
If you, like me, are as terrified of sleepy suburban sprawl as you are of running into the ghosts of sexual partners past, you will find It Follows very disturbing indeed — but honestly, that makes it all the more fun to watch. You can see it in theaters this weekend, when it goes into wide release.