General stuff out of the way first; It Follows is a great film, filled with smart ideas and neat little touches, with the standard cheap shocks almost totally absent in favour of unusually structured scares and a strange but unsettling electronic score (imagine Malcolm Clarke was alive today and re-scoring "The Sea Devils" to scare the absolute shit out of people). It's based around the astonishingly simple dream logic idea (by which I mean I've actually had this dream) of a creature that always knows where you are, and is always walking towards you. As well as being a literal nightmare, of course, this is the ultimate extent of the standard horror trope of a killer that never moves at more than a walk but somehow always gets in front of you. The latter is discarded here in favour of simpler logic; whatever is following you is easy to evade, but impossible to shake off.
(Spoilers below the fold.)
It's also a film not remotely afraid to deal in ambiguity. How does Jeff know so much about how the entity works when he apparently never spoke about it with the girl who set it on his trail? Why does having sex cause the creature to change course from you to your sexual partner? What's with all the beaches and lakes? What actually happened with those three guys in the inflatable dinghy? The ending might annoy some people with its purposeful refusal to answer whether Jay and Paul are safe, but it's entirely in keeping with the rest of the film. Indeed, as Yara's quote from The Idiot makes plain, the whole point is that it doesn't matter. Death is following them anyway; it always has. It always knows where you are, and it's always coming towards you. Jay and Paul's stalking spectre is more literal, and perhaps coming rather sooner, but ultimately from an unpleasantly clinical perspective, they're focusing on the same random variable as everyone else, just with a lower mean and a smaller variance.
All of which is based on the shaky proposition that what I gleaned this time round is all there is to glean, of course. It's a film that, despite requiring some minor flexing of the "fanwank"muscles (Jeff doesn't notice the girl in the yellow dress is walking right for him?), cries out for a second watching. I'm desperate in particular to crack why so much of the action takes place by or in water, which oddly here is presented here both as a barrier to escape and a form of refuge. It's confusing, but I'm convinced there's a theme there.
Speaking of themes, we get to the specific reason I wanted to write this post. I'd been wanting to watch It Follows since I first started hearing people rave about it, but I bumped it several place up the schedule (no doubt to Fliss' delight, since I made her watch it for our bank holiday entertainment) after friend and commentator Gooder responded to my suggestion that Cabin in the Woods is an explicit call for horror to shake off tired cliches like sex-as-punishment with the following:
First off, if you haven't take a look at It Follows, it spins things around where basically the characters have to have sex to survive.And, well... no. Spinning around isn't what's going on at all. At the most obvious level, it's true that the characters have sex to survive, but I'd argue a more fair way to put it is that the characters have sex to delay danger by deliberately putting others in harm's way instead. Beyond that, though, the evidence is overwhelming that this film, whilst being very clever in lots of ways, is absolutely about the dangers of sex, particularly for women.
Let's start with Jeff "Hugh" Redmond, a man who is explicitly dating Jay purely to get her into bed (or, as it turns out, the back of his car). A man who mere moments after they've had sex first turns nasty, then does his best to ensure she can never see him again. This is the guy fathers warn their daughters about. And it's worse here, because as a direct result of their shagging, Jay now finds herself being followed wherever she goes. She slept with someone she thought was a decent guy, and as a result she's acquired a dangerous stalker. The implications are no less obvious here than they were when Buffy did it more or less the same thing seventeen years earlier.
But there's more. Sex with Jeff doesn't just endanger Jay, it corrupts her. It tempts her with the necessity of passing the danger on; pressures her into becoming a predator just like "Hugh" was. And whilst we never find out, it's entirely possible that she gives into that temptation, dooming one or more of the young men in the dinghy purely to keep herself alive a little bit longer. The relationship between those who have and have not had sex becomes one of predator and prey, the classic model of those who refuse to believe sexual intercourse can ever be truly mutually consensual, or at least mutually satisfying. Of those who insist that sex is an inherently predatory, animal act, that somehow detracts from our humanity, rather than, you know, perpetuating it.
(I am not, I should stress, suggesting these are Mitchell's actual views. I'm just saying he's used those views as the foundation of his film.)
As well as the psychological "dangers" of sex, It Follows delves into the physical ones. Here, at least, we are on firm ground; dangerous and even potentially lethal STDs quite clearly exist. As such, they lie coiled in our collective subconscious as a global bogeyman waiting to strike.
But the manner in which we respond to such threats is inconstant. When a single case of Ebola was recorded in the United States, vast swathes of the western world utterly lost their collective shit. The rarity of the condition, and the comparative ease with which it can be avoided if one is fortunate enough to be born at the right place and time, was completely irrelevant; something we couldn't see was coming to kill us. Compare that with the reaction to the AIDS epidemic when it first took hold in the west. No doubt there was fear among the general public, but that fear was very much dampened by the assumption that only "those people" were actually at risk. Drug addicts and homosexuals were in trouble, but the vast amorphous mass of "normal people" should be quite safe. The cure to this disease, went the line, was moral fibre.
The result was inevitable: subcultures were riven by and devastated by the disease whilst surrounding civilisation pretended not to notice . The invisible killer was safely ignored by everyone who wasn't - or who didn't think they were - at risk. The relevance all this has to It Follows should be obvious. This is a story about how sleeping with the wrong person infects you with a curse that will kill you unless you take immediate action, and even when you do, you're never free of the curse. Not really. It will remain within you forever, waiting for the chance to strike. From the day you were infected until your last day, you must be constantly vigilant for signs no-one around you is even going to bother to look for, unless they have the exact same problem you do. It's now you versus the world, not because they necessarily wish you harm, but because their ignorance works against your survival.
Perhaps the metaphor isn't perfect, since you can't arrest the progression of HIV/AIDS by having sex. Except, well, there's this. The idea that you can cure yourself of an STD has been circulating since the 16th century; AIDS is just the latest condition (if it even is the latest now) to find itself being spread through the very method some sufferers are using to try and cure themselves. All these men are doing what Jay thinks about doing when she stares out at those boys in the dinghy; the only difference is she can't fool herself into pretending she's doing anything other than finding new people to put in danger.
In conclusion, then, It Follows is a film born from the confusing, self-contradictory swamp-water of a culture obsessed with yet repulsed by sexual activity. From the way we lust for physical contact even as we fear the power those we lust after have over us. From the way we desire the act and are terrified by the potential consequences of that act. By the lies we tell ourselves and each other, over and over again, so we can remain in willful ignorance of the damage we can take, and the damage we can do to others. To the extent to which it flips the script at all compared to classic horror tropes, it's in that it suggests the problem ultimately lies in our attitude to sex, rather than to sex itself. This, I confess, is progress,
 And when they did notice, it was with cognitive dissonance and violence. Somehow the twin beliefs that "only the morally compromised can get this disease" and "we must wipe out the morally compromised before we get this disease" became, instead of mutually exclusive, justifications for bloodshed. Because clearly the best way to avoid a disease is to seek out those with it and expose yourself to their blood.