From the Archives: Best Horror Movies of the Decade: It Follows upends the genre to model mortality

From the Archives: Best Horror Movies of the Decade: It Follows upends the genre to model mortality

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on Cinema76.

All this month, we are counting down the 31 best horror movies of the decade and taking a closer look at why each one earned a spot on our list!

1. It Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell, 2014)

Happy Halloween, everyone! Here we are at the final day of our countdown of the best horror movies of the decade! When I submitted my personal list of favorites at the outset of the month, I had It Follows ranked in my number one slot. While I figured it would be highly ranked overall, I never would have expected it to be number one on our list at large. So before I get started, let me say congratulations to everyone else on the staff: you are all correct. It Follows is indeed the best horror film of the decade.

Some may disagree, of course, and many have. The general consensus amongst those who don’t care for the film takes the flavor of “it’s boring” or “nothing happens.” Quentin Tarantino praised the film, but stated that it ultimately came up short by not using the concept to its fullest, most fucked up ends. While I do get these criticisms, I think hey are rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of the film. Many viewers reasonably expected a film with such a concept – a malevolent, slow-moving ghost that you can pass off to others via sexual intercourse  – would result in a high-body count, heaps of gore, and a doubling down of a typical slasher trope (you fuck, you die), but writer/director David Robert Mitchell delivered something wholly different. It Follows is much more mature than that, and while it’s not necessarily a full-on shriek-fest like, say, Insidious, it’s plenty scary. What it lacks in in-the-moment scares, however, it makes up for in deeply felt terror that resonates from well-beyond the losing credits.

You see, It Follows is not utilizing the dated and misogynistic morality play affixed to the slashers of the 1980s. In this case, sex is not an evil act reserved for jocks and sluts. No, here it’s a part of adulthood. The catch-22 with adulthood, as we have all learned at some point, is that the freedoms of maturity all come with a price. Sex is a beautiful, healthy thing, but one must engage in it responsibly, lest any of a number of misfortunes befall the participants. This is not unique to sex, however. Any of the things we enjoy as adults, from recreational substance use to voting, comes with the chance that something bad can happen if we don’t engage with caution. As an adult, no one is going to stop you from eating ice cream for dinner every day, but good luck seeing the other side of 50 if you do.


This is what the follower represents: the knowledge that death is always on our tail. Once the blissful ignorance of childhood fades, it’s this ever-present concept that must be reckoned with in every aspect of our lives. Every last one of us will die, some sooner than others, and all we can do is make our best effort to stay one step ahead of our ultimate fate, knowing that it’s a losing battle at any speed. Carrying this knowledge is our ticket to the freedoms of adulthood, and we don’t really get to pick when we have access to it. One day we’re just grown up, and suddenly we can no longer cast responsibility aside. This is why the phrase “adulting is hard” has become so prominent.  Adulting IS hard, and time travel doesn’t exist.

Another criticism of It Follows that I often hear is that the “rules” of the follower are unclear. Throughout the film, it seems as if the path of the follower is one that cannot be as accurately predicted as the “rules” might indicate. We as viewers to our best to track and trace just who the follower is affixed to at any given moment, based on a loose set of rules given to us by the young man who first passed the follower to our hero. What looks like an incomplete plot point to some feels more like delicious ambiguity to me. What critics of the “rules” fail to remember is that no character ever has the chance to chat up the follower and get a concrete explanation as to how it all works. Nope, it’s just trial and error (which if you really think about it, means a lot of young men and women had to die before the events of the film began in order for our cast of characters to have even the simplest understanding of it.


This ambiguity persists throughout the film. When our heroine Jay begins experimenting with passing the follower to others, the film purposefully loses the exact chain of sexual connections. Not only are we forced to contend with the notion that our audience surrogate is now guilty of cursing unknowing parties with certain death, we also must deal with the unknowing that comes with the nature of the haunting. What I mean is, since the follower always kills its way back up the chain of sexual connections, the only way to know if it’s back on your tail is by impossibly following the sexual exploits of every person you’ve ever shared a bed with. So even if you manage to send the follower down a long chain of intercourse (an orgy as a life-saving measure is a funny concept — perhaps to be explored in the porn parody It Swallows), you must still act as if it is always on your tail, because it just might be.

So how does one beat the follower? Well, one doesn’t. Death always wins, no matter what. The follower always catches up. The only way to function with this knowledge is also the only way to keep the follower at bay: strength in numbers. In the reality of the film, the best way to survive the follower is to maintain a supremely social presence. One must always be out and about, always moving forward, and always willing to make connections with others. Such is the process for dealing with our own mortality here in the real world. Since all life is doomed to end, the best way to stay ahead of it and keep ourselves sane in the process is through friends and family. Our connection to others gives us the resources to live better (it takes a village), and our emotional connection to others makes the race against the grim reaper both manageable and desirable.

The final shot of It Follows says it all. In it, Jay and Paul, two young lovers, walk hand in hand while a presence looms behind them. It could be the follower, or it could be the mailman. We don’t know, and neither do they. And at this point, we don’t have a clear indication as to whether either of them are currently at the top of the follower’s list. Yet the duo does not look scared. They hold hands and they march forward, confident that together they can keep death at bay long enough to make a doomed existence worth living.

See the entire list here.

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