Boy meets girl. Boy dates girl. Boy sleeps with girl, ties her to a chair and passes something evil to her. This unconventional set up for an adolescent meet-cute is the basis to David Robert Mitchell’s inventive horror It Follows. Initially the plot sounds like a routine teen flick, airing on the side of cheap exploitation/titillation but, set in the hazy autumnal glow of an American suburbia, the film takes an urban legend premise and shots it through a retro gaze that also feels resoundingly fresh.
Nineteen year old Jay (Maika Monroe) spends her days like any normal teen, hanging out with her friends and going on dates, until one night, after a romantic evening on the beach, she succumbs to sexual desire with her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary). Instead of a post coital afterglow Jay finds herself tied to a chair whilst Hugh explains his motive, he is being followed by something, something that was passed on to him and something that can be anyone at any time. The rules are given to Jay, and in turn us as the audience, she must not let it catch up with her, it must not touch her and she must not die, a stipulation that Hugh enforces, rather selfishly, as if Jay dies, it will transfer back to the previous recipient.
As Jay recovers from her ordeal, she begins to see it; it follows her to school and into her home, taking on the guise of various disturbing individuals and even those she knows. With the help of her sister and friends, Jay must find a way to outrun it as it begins to ebb closer and closer, dominating her life at every corner.
It Follows avoids the tropes of recent horror films to deliver something genuinely sinister, director David John Mitchell uses a languid pace to create an atmospheric tension that becomes more effective than relying on gore and overplayed scares. Like John Carpenter meets Virgin Suicides, it stalks its prey in a manner of Michael Myers, slow but menacing, whilst long haired girls flee in knee high socks and a dreamy pastel sepia. It is played out in an almost unidentifiable time period, such is the reliance on vintage apparel, the only signifier of the present day is a shell shaped E-book that Jay’s friend Yara carries around with her.
Mitchell’s use of panning shots in the film becomes particularly effective in dialling up the suspense, in one scene, the camera pans at a full 360 rotation to encompass Jay in a school corridor whilst outside the window we see a figure moving closer to the building, as the camera rotates again, the figure is inches closer. The pace and style of the film will not be to everyone’s taste, a horror that is shot like an M83 video will not appeal to the mass mainstream yet this is It Follows strength along with a killer synth score that pulsates throughout, heightening the sense of doom. The film would make a great double bill with recent underrated Adam Wingard gem The Guest, aligned by their preoccupations with old school vibes and Carpenteresque music and coincidentally they both star Maika Monroe.
The horror genre is one that soon feels stale and needs to revive itself to appear relevant unfortunately it is also a genre that produces more mediocrity than mastery. Last year produced the brilliant The Babadook and we already have a contender for best horror of the year with the strikingly inventive It Follows. It may be too early to hope for a renaissance in the genre as a whole but it will be intriguing to see what dares follow this.