It Follows is a fascinating new little horror movie from writer/director David Robert Mitchell that operates under the assured thesis of taking one simple but effective idea, and doing almost everything one could with it. That premise is right there in the title, or as one character meekly puts it; “this thing…it’s gonna follow you”.
What said “thing” actually is isn’t especially important or dwelt upon, it’s some kind of spectre/ghost that takes can take the form of anyone and it will just walk towards you. Not too scary you might think? Well just wait until you see what this movie does with it. The way someone ‘acquires’ the thing also sounds a bit cringe-worthy when described – it’s passed on by having sex. Sex equals death has been a staple troupe in horror movies for years now but It Follows thankfully isn’t interested in simply creating a big, on-the-nose abstinence promotion, or indeed a transparent STD metaphor. Its concerns lie more with exploring the conflicting, simultaneous feelings of allure and dread that burgeoning sexuality can cause among teens; this is never more exemplified than in a scene when one character, despite being fully aware of the life-threatening reality of the entity at this point, is willing to voluntarily risk taking it upon himself just so he can have sex with the girl he’s pined after for years.
It Follows is also a film than pulls off the rare feat of feeling like its own beast while wearing its influences proudly. This is most obvious not just with its themes but also in its score – a creepy synth job by Disasterpeace that harkens back to John Carpenter. (I actually found the retro-electronic buzzes a little irritating at first but it fully grew on me as the film progressed). Likewise, the mood of horror movies from the late 70s and 80s can be felt in the general atmosphere of the film, yet it takes place in a strange place of no specific time. I first began to notice this in an early scene when we’re introduced to several of the characters; one is watching what looks like 1950s monster movies on a TV that appears to be from the early 90s, meanwhile a girl is reading an eBook on a distinctly modern shellfish-shaped e-reader. This otherworldly ambience persists throughout the film and helps cook up the tension further, even though it makes the odder choice considering to have the film take place in a specific location (Detroit). The central group of teen characters also inhabit a world where adults appear to be essentially absent, another fact relevant to its broader themes.
What really makes It Follows unique though is the fact that despite resembling numerous slasher and zombie movies at times, the entity itself is an original prospect. We haven’t seen any movie monster truly like it before and Mitchell avoids all the flashiness prevalent in mainstream cinema today, instead proving that there’s perhaps nothing scarier than an expressionless old woman in a hospital gown walking slowly straight towards you. The other innovative aspect to the entity is that only the target can see it. The ‘trapped teens in peril’ scenario is given a fresh coat of paint by this notion, not only because just one of the onscreen characters is scared and in danger, but that they must also convince their friends of this.
It Follows explains what little ‘rules’ it has fairly early on and commendably does it’s best to stick firmly to them. Whenever new elements are introduced, they surprise yet never contradict, and as I mentioned at the start, the film’s characters do explore just as many different angles of how to deal with this thing as any audience member could likely conceive of.
The other weapon Mitchell has in his arsenal of terror is his camera work. There are several occasions in the film wherein he employs unusual techniques to maximum effect. Two startling examples include an early scene when he attaches the camera to a moving wheelchair a girl is bound to, and a later scene in which it slowly pans around for two complete circuits, something I can’t recall ever being utilised in a horror movie for such a purpose. There’s also a tremendous opening sequence that begins in one continuous wide-angle shot, then ends with a shocking smash-cut. The true nature of it only becomes apparent later in the film, but it’s an attention-grabbing opening.
Alas, It Follows isn’t a perfect horror movie, as good as he is at cranking up the dread, Mitchell isn’t above sticking a good old typical jump scare in there, and while the entity’s form usually reflects its surroundings, it occasionally takes a form with no apparent logical purpose other than to creep out the audience. There are also, for all its credible teenage characterisation, a few instances when the kids just act in a manner that’s a little too stupid, plus the fact that central girl Jay (The Guest’s Maika Monroe), who ‘catches’ the entity near the start still doesn’t believe in it even after it’s been deftly demonstrated to her.
Still, It Follows is an innovative, terrifying horror movie boasting an arresting concept and plausible group of teens that could well see it achieve the status of a genre classic in a couple of decades.