Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe
Much like last year’s The Babadook, It Follows is a horror that thrives on its originality. Granted it is also one that struggles to outrun its conceptual problems, but it’s impossible not to be haunted by the film’s perpetual sense of dread.
Writer/director David Robert Mitchell has crafted something truly spine-tingling, an urban legend that’s equally as effectual as both a myth and a metaphor. Jay (Maika Monroe) is a typical high-school girl who spends her evenings and weekends hanging out with friends and chasing boys. But, after an apparently innocent sexual encounter with her new boyfriend (Jake Weary), Jay finds herself persistently tormented by a demon that’s invisible to everyone else and can only be got rid off by being passed on through another sexual encounter.
It’s a bold concept that subtly plays with the conventions of an increasingly timeworn genre. Mitchell’s softly illuminated visual style is more in tune with the likes of Sofia Coppola or Harmony Korine than John Carpenter. And yet the dreamy, hallucinogenic atmosphere it creates perfectly augments the evermore-enveloping terror.
On a deeper and more meaningful level, Jay’s situation is an intelligently constructed discourse on adolescent attitudes towards sex. Her unrelenting stalker is literally a walking STD (with the ‘D’ perhaps standing for demon instead of disease). Mitchell’s direction of this component is particularly impressive, never directly addressing the idea but instead allowing its shivering symbolism to linger at the back of your mind while the story progresses.
The fear of the immediate situation, so fiercely brought to the surface, is what truly leaves you writhing in your seat throughout though. Mitchell has learnt from the best. There are elements of both Carpenter’s Halloween and Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre to be found in It Follows, particularly in the characteristics of Jay’s pursuer, who is ultimately as threatening and unstoppable as both Michael Myers and Leatherface.
The decision to give the demon the ability to shape-shift into whatever human form it chooses is a masterful creative stroke, allowing further tension to be found in watching something as simple as Jay walking along the street. Mike Gioulakis’ creeping camera furthers the fear here by teasingly glimpsing the possible ghouls from over the shoulders of the protagonists, while Rich Vreeland’s superb synth score skulks ominously in the background.
Carrying our hearts through all of this misery is Monroe. Her blank, unimposing demeanour during the early expositional scenes is a wise choice, allowing Jay’s growing anxiety to be accentuated as it becomes more unremittingly stressful. Crucially, Monroe never over exaggerates the horror hammering down on her, channelling the audience’s empathy to the point where you’re likely to find yourself shook to your very core.
Given its high-concept, it isn’t unexpected to find that Mitchell does struggle at times with the rules he has implemented. And there are certainly a fair few plot holes that weaken the film’s overall impact. But for the most part this is an utterly immersive and superbly executed thrill ride.