I can honestly say that I have never been more terrified of getting the tube alone at night then after seeing David Robert Mitchell’s IT FOLLOWS (what follows? Who follows? The cryptic title is now enough to give me chills). The indie teen-traumatiser carves out a path of terror with tools that horror films nowadays tend to neglect, including vividly beautiful cinematography shown off in 360 degree pans and an overtly synthetic soundtrack by Rich Vreeland that conjures vintage Carpenter instantly. It is both old-school, ‘pure’ horror and progressive filmmaking. But where is ‘It’ following us too exactly? Ultimately, Mitchell takes us on a teenager’s harrowing journey into adulthood: it’s uncertain, messy, and urgently searching for an explanation that doesn’t exist.
The great thing about the distant, dehumanized monsters of horror films is that you fear them as otherworldly, protected from them by the separation of difference. I issue a very serious warning with IT FOLLOWS: you will fear but everyone passing you on the street from the second you leave the cinema. There is barely anything visceral or gory about the film (in fact it seems to actively avoid this at moments when you might expect it, bar during the mysterious opening sequence, which leaves a terrified girl who has just pegged it onto a beach in her nightwear dead and limb-torn, without explanation). Yet the horror is instantly personal and bodily because it expertly infiltrates the general human anxiety of that which is hidden from us in the form of something seemingly innocent. In other words, it exposes that inexplicable fear – that natural instinct we are born with – of the inevitability of time, and with it change and the unknown.
Yes, the monster of IT FOLLOWS is the death drive. It is also the sex drive. It’s both. Every horror movie exposes the human fear of death in one form or another, and sex is often its partner in crime. But the way Mitchell orchestrates this exposure is so raw it makes it near impossible to quash the disconcertion it induces. It’s so relentless.
Jay (Maika Monroe) is just an average 19-year-old excited about her new boyfriend and contemplating with her friend when they might “seal the deal”. However, there is more resting on their first sexual encounter than she thinks. After it happens, Jay finds herself plagued by a shape-shifting presence that follows her everywhere, and she is faced with the decision of whether to pass it on too or find a way to stop it altogether.
IT FOLLOWS is the Mother Superior, Molly Ringwald of all modern teen horror movies. There is something almost ironically self-conscious about Vreeland’s score, which twangs invasively over slow motion pans of the Scooby Doo-esq team (consisting of Jay and her friends as they search for a solution), and draws attention to the fact that it knows it is a genre movie. It’s evidently not ashamed to be. What with Jennifer Kent’s excellent THE BABADOOK of last year (from which there are many comparisons to draw), it looks as though intelligent horror is growing in confidence again. Robert Eggers’ THE WITCH has just premiered at Sundance to rave reviews along similar lines.
My first thought was ‘anti-STI propaganda.’ Sleep with someone and you pass ‘it’ on. But under the moody teenage uppercrust of horny irresponsibility, there’s a deeper representation of how, when you go through puberty and become an adult, the world around you becomes utterly sexed-up. Everything leads back to sexuality and your innate sex drive. It is such a strong part of human nature that you can never predict when it will overcome you, and this is the threat that ‘follows’ all of us.
To this end, Michael Gioulakis’ cinematography – bold, often neon, and always expressive – is skin-tinglingly loaded, as if we are seeing the everyday world through the eyes of a sexually-awakened teenager. A particularly beautiful scene takes place in a swimming pool, where Jay and her friends attempt to lure the spectre in order to draw it into the water. Waiting for the inevitable to come, they splay out around the edge of the pool in all their youthful glory. A seemingly alive crimson cloud spreads through the turquoise of the water. We all stare at the way it expands and evolves, creeping closer and closer. An unstoppable, beautiful fluid boundlessly expanding.
But the stand-out factor of Mitchell’s masterpiece is its unrelenting level of tension, where threat impends on every single frame of the movie. The danger could lie in literally anyone, so there’s not a moment to relax.
IT FOLLOWS is an instant classic. It won’t let you forget about it – it’s always, always just behind you…
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Read her original review for ScreenRelish here.