Today: May 28, 2024

It Follows

For quite a long time there has been a close relationship between sex and death in horror films, both in metaphorical and literal terms. We all know the cliché of the virginal “final girl” leads in slasher films, even though this rule is a lot less rigid than Scream would have you believe. This trend reached its nadir with Jason X, where a pair of holographic camp counsellors are created to distract the cybernetically enhanced Jason Voorhees with exclamations of “we lurrrrrrve pre-marital sex!”. (Yes, Jason X is a profoundly silly film.) Who’d have thought that new life could be breathed into this concept and manage to be one of the scariest, freshest and most slick horror films in years. Not only that, in a way that avoids the story falling into areas of exploitation. David Robert Mitchell explodes onto the horror scene with what is very likely to go down as a modern classic, It Follows

Jay (Maika Monroe) is nineteen, and seeing Hugh (Jake Weary). It is with him that she has her first true sexual encounter, but she was not ready at all for the consequences of it. Hugh had an ulterior motive, a supernatural one. There is a being out there, an entity that can only be seen by those that have been targeted by it. This thing appears an ever approaching figure, rarely ever the same one twice. It walks straight towards its targets and needless to say if it reaches them the result is horrific. The attention of it goes from person to person, like a curse; Hugh was the latest in this chain still alive and now Jay is the target. How can you fight something that is forever approaching, that no-one else can see, but you can as even people you know?

The whole concept of the threat in this film, the “Follower” for lack of a name, is something truly unique and kind of brilliant. It taps into the way nightmares work, how something that seems fairly simple and everyday is infused with a huge amount of menace in the right context. The fact that it can look like anyone means that one can never be sure if that person in the background is or isn’t a source of danger. Its trick of taking on the forms of other characters on occasion, and what at times could be its former victims, is the set-up for a number of ingenious scares. What also helps is how little we know about it. We never find it out its origins, why it does this, or even if it is actually intelligent (does it understand what it does, or is it all instinct?). This is a refreshing change to too many modern horror films revealing way too much about their mysteries (remakes are particularly guilty of this).

It Follows also bucks current trends in horror by having main characters who are… well, nice. That really doesn’t sound like it should be anything revolutionary, that it should be kind of a no-brainer, but it’s telling how rare this is. In most slashers for instance, the teens in those are forever bickering, arguing, generally revelling in the worst aspects of teenage years; you wonder why they are even friends. It Follows’ main cast though aren’t like that at all. Yes, the plot is started off by a sexual encounter, and there is that aspect throughout the story, but overall these are good, real people that these events are happening too. Jay’s friends don’t really get what’s happening to her at first, but as the film goes on, they all stay by her side to help. No-one just cuts and runs, everyone tries to help to free her from this “curse”, and none of them question helping her deal with it. It’s good to see that filmmakers can still know that for a horror to be truly effective, to really get under your skin, you absolutely have to care and have a connection with the characters on screen.

As for the horror stakes, this succeeds magnificently. Mitchell is a natural for setting and establishing mood, with camerawork, music, and set-ups straight out of the John Carpenter playbook. Incidentally, this is one of many recent horror/thriller’s going for a Carpenter vibe; star Maika Monroe also appeared in last year’s The Guest. All the right lessons have been learned here, with the closest comparison being with Halloween in the suburban setting. In terms of story, not only is such an ever approaching threat prime for tension but the way it comes only at walking pace inescapably gives the thing a whole layer of subtext. Many can read it as an STD parallel, like Charlie Burns’ legendary comic Black Hole. However, a better reading could be of that moment when, after the “eternal summer” phase of being a teen is over, one becomes all too aware of their own, inevitable mortality. That’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom, there are plenty of funny lines and character beats to keep it from being overwhelmingly grim. One particular point worth mentioning in setting it’s tone is the effort put into the production design; everything is set up to make the whole thing feel somehow timeless, not tied to any one year. This is for the best, as the points made in here are as effective today, as they were ten years ago, or ten years from now.

It Follows is smart, original, fresh, and already a very strong contender for best horror film of the year (though some big competition is still to come). This has better scares and more to say about real teenage life than almost any other horror movie with the “teen” label. With this only his second feature (after The Myth of the American Sleepover), David Robert Mitchell has shown himself to be an astonishing talent to look out for in the future. Definitely don’t miss this one on the big screen and afterwards tell your friends, let them know that they’re it…

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