Tuesday 17 March 2015

It Follows (2015) - David Robert Mitchell

It Follows

It all starts with a young, virginal girl running from her house. She’s panicked. She’s being followed, but by what we can’t see. It doesn’t end well for her.

From there, It Follows is a checklist of horror tropes: a lazy suburban American summer; ennui; dark woods; a creepy holiday home; and teenagers making very bad decisions. Yet the film manages to twist these apparent clich├ęs into something fresh and genuinely tense.

The plot itself is a thinly veiled metaphor for STDs and teenage sexual paranoia. Jay (Maika Monroe) is dating Hugh (Jake Weary). Hugh is keen to take things to the next level, but it’s soon uncovered why. He has passed on a curse: Jay will now be followed. ‘It’ can take the form of a loved one, a friend or a stranger. ‘It’ could be anywhere. And ‘it’ will kill her. The only way to escape is to have sex with someone else and pass on the curse, but if that person is killed then she’ll be back on the hit list as ‘it’ moves back down the chain of sexual encounters.

It sounds like a laughably ridiculous premise, but it’s testament to director David Robert Mitchell that the film is so hauntingly believable. What’s clever is that ‘it’ is never fully explained; it could literally be anywhere, anyone. The camerawork reflects this as the teenagers’ paranoia becomes our own: careful, considered widescreen shots are juxtaposed with disorientating point of view and 360 degree shots, forcing us to inspect and analyse every detail for fear of a sudden outburst. The film fully exploits its central conceit, creating a perpetual sense of dread through atmosphere and suspense.

This is only emphasised by the cinematography. Everything is filmed in a hazy low-fi filter with a purposeful indie lack of polish. Together with the eerily derelict buildings of downtown Detroit and timeless retro setting, it lends the film the feel of an urban legend come to life that’s utterly hypnotic. The score, too, aids this – after swathes of silence come the minimalist synths of producers Disasterpeace that sound at once youthful, ominous and otherworldly.

And Monroe, with her vacant, brooding expressions, is the perfect host for both ‘it’ and our own fears, even as she’s assisted by a close-knit friendship group whose relationships are the real focus of the film. On a sexual level, is the curse really to blame for death, or should we blame the actions of those afflicted who, quite literally, spread the love? The layered narrative ensures this film is a thrilling and refreshing psychological foil to the current vogue for gore and torture porn.

It’s certainly silly at times, with plenty of illogical plot decisions being made. Yet that’s just one of the many horror tropes the film pays homage to, lovingly referencing teen horrors from Halloween to Scream. It’s a film that therefore works on multiple levels: horror pastiche, psychosexual exploration and a frighteningly good time.


Watch: It Follows is out now.