“I could look like someone you know or it could be a stranger in a crowd”
It doesn’t think, it doesn’t feel, it doesn’t give up. It follows. The tagline to David Robert Mitchell’s retro horror flick It Follows is simple enough, a clever mix of ambiguity and certainty in one uneasy mantra.
The premise to the film is relatively straight forward, after a Teenage date goes horribly wrong, the central character Jay -played spectacularly by Maika Monroe- is told something will follow her and try to kill her. The thing, or ‘it‘ is passed between sexual encounters and will only leave once the victim sleeps with somebody else, to continue the chain reaction.
Perhaps the creepiest aspect of It Follows is the monster itself; forever lingering in doorways, on the peripherals of Jay’s vision, always walking towards her. There are no fast paced chase scenes a la Insidious, just a simple sense of slow, frightening inevitability. ‘It‘ seems to have no motive for its murderous intent, and its mindless malignity, makes the film genuinely chilling.
Every now and then, we are exposed to ‘it‘ as a physical entity. ‘It‘ could be an old lady shuffling down a corridor or, more graphically, a half clothed woman urinating all over your kitchen floor. However, the scenes in which ‘it‘ is truly frightening, is when it’s not obviously shown, a testament to Monroe’s fantastic performance and one of the best portrayals of abject fright I’ve seen in years. The relationship between Jay and her close friends is authentic, riddled with teenage angst and a fair amount of sexual tension. The interactions between friends and lovers drive the plot forward, culminating into a bloody satisfying ending.
The film is being praised as revolutionary, earning fair comparisons to the professionally clever plot deliverance of Cabin in the Woods.
I’d actually be prepared to state that It Follows is a better film than Cabin in the Woods, which I always found to be overhyped and quite frankly, a little mediocre. However, neither film is particularly revolutionary – it’s insulting to say a film called Cabin in the Woods is revolutionary when films like Evil Dead exist…in title and plot contrivance.
Similarly, It Follows is more of a homage or throwback than anything new, harking back to the slow electronic haze of early 80s horror with a dash of grind-house violence more suited to a Wes Craven film. This trend has already been capitalised on by several other films, such as House of the Devil and You’re Next in different ways.
One the criticisms that seems to be levied at the film is the idea that it punishes the female protagonist for having sex via the destructive spirit that follows her. Yes, Mitchell plays upon the sexual slasher pictures that gained real momentum in the 1980s-Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween and Friday 13th to name a few–but there is fragility to the film that prevents it from being perverse. It Follows uses the teenage fear and embarrassment about sex as a tool to oppress Jay and the viewer, picking up on the dubious sexual politics preached by its predecessors and turning them on their head.
In true John Carpenter fashion, the camera is somewhat voyeuristic, watching Jay from afar, catching glimpses of her descent into hysteria. The camera, the audience themselves, become implicit with the creature in stalking Jay.
The slow and heady soundtrack, an electronic collection by Disasterpeace, is a triumph and perfectly encapsulates the stagnant environment of American suburbia. The near constant hum of music drives home the familiar feelings of teenage listlessness and frustration, something Jay complains about at the beginning of the film. I’m also pleased to say there are none of the screeching violins, angry tubas and loud bangs you’ll find in a James Wan flick. The cameras drift from scene to scene, and the scares in whic the film offer, are wedged between those of hanging out at home or aimlessly wandering the streets.
Much like Tai West’s House of the Devil -a 70 minute movie in which nothing truly terrifying happens for 58 minutes- It Follows pushes cinematic limits when it comes to timing and pacing, perhaps why some have described it as: ‘weird’ and ‘boring’, actual quotes from the cinema I was in.
It’s not a film for everybody – despite what the trailer implies. But what horror film hasn’t been a victim of a poorly cut trailer?
The vintage theme so integral to It Follows may not ring true for people who aren’t familiar with the sexual politics of 80s grind-house or the traditionally slow pacing of a John Carpenter film. People will flock to see it but people will be disappointed. It Follows is an example of just how intelligent and thought provoking the horror genre can be, Mitchell doesn’t use cheap and endless jump scares, the fear is encapsulated in what we don’t see and in what we imagine.
In a year that promises the release of Insidious: Chapter III, The Conjuring Part II and dozens of other found footage gore-fests, it’s refreshing to see a revival of retro horror, even if it isn’t as revolutionary as some may think.
Written by Saskia Van Emden