Horror movie tradition dictates that doing the naughty business carries a hefty price – often personified by a headgear-sporting killing machine, misusing sharp objects.
David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows presents a far more insidious threat: an entity that can assume any form – a neighbour, a relative, a close friend – and whose sole motivation is to stalk you. It has all the time in the world. It doesn’t break a sweat. Once it reaches you, it’s curtains…unless you can pass the sexually transmitted demon on to another poor soul.
It’s a devilish spin on the notion of safe sex, and a delightful moral dilemma sure to prompt feverish discussion amongst friends about how they would escape such a menace. Touch wood.
Writer and director Mitchell does his core idea justice through a likeable cast and atmospherics designed to intoxicate and get your shudder on. Maika Monroe follows up her impressive turn in last year’s throwback thriller The Guest with another warm, winsome performance as heroine Jay.
The predominantly teenage cast do what the genre sometimes neglects to do and actually makes us care for them. There are no stereotypes to be sliced and diced here, just a group of friends trying to look out for Jay and each other.
Playing with rather than pandering to convention, the film wisely rations jump scares. Since the sustained atmosphere of ominous doom is so well realised, cheap scare tactics are ignored in favour of expertly distilled foreboding. Jay’s affliction is stressful to watch as her slivers of respite are constantly thwarted by her relentless aggressor.
The idea of a pursuer appearing out the corner of your eye in broad daylight is enough of a seat-squirmer, and Mitchell sees no reason to scupper its chilling purity unnecessarily.
The score by Rich Vreeland – recording under the moniker Disasterpeace – is the phantom cousin of his chirpy but other-worldly video game compositions. Here, he hits the ‘Dread’ preset button and doesn’t look back. Eerie ambience punctuated by hair-raising synths stabs suit Mitchell’s suburban nightmare down to the leaves-strewn ground.
Mike Gioulakis’s cinematography evokes John Carpenter with an eye for cold, empty neighbourhoods and prying shots from across the street, while calculated sojourns through Detroit’s decaying districts are like touring a haunted house dumping ground.
The production design is enjoyably off-kilter as well. Ostensibly set in the present day, the drama seems to unfold in a timeless dimension where the teens watch B movies on bulky analogue TV sets, social networks are absent, and vintage bangers outweigh sleek modern vehicles. Such temporal oddness only goes to strengthen the film’s mainline route to disturbia.
Another interesting wrinkle is that while adults are technically present, they have next to no bearing on events. They exist at a distance, often with backs turned or their forms partly obscured. Portraying the adults as mere abstractions surrounding the well-developed youngsters is a fun touch and emphasises the closed ranks of Jay and her pals. That said, when the plot does bring parental figures into the fold, it’s done with delicious venom.
The aftermath of this intelligent, infectious horror will depend on the tensile strength of the viewer’s nerves. If you like nothing more than to take a leisurely stroll along the street without fear of that slightly off-looking pedestrian in the distance hunting you down and horribly killing you, don’t go and see It Follows. Otherwise, go and see It Follows.