It would be forgivable to look at the current state of horror and conclude that at some point it was agreed that anything hoping to be categorised as such must have either found footage cinematography or obscene levels of torture, gore and sex to qualify as horror.
David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows takes sex and turns it on its head for one of the genre’s most exciting films in years.
The premise is simple: a cursed individual sleeps with another person and the latter inherits the worst sexual STI imaginable. They are now pursued relentlessly – at a walking pace – by a creature that adopts the form of a human that only they (and other unfortunate previous carriers) can see. The consequences of being caught are demonstrated in a thrilling opening sequence that wastes no time in the set-up.
The only way to escape is to pass it on through sex in the hope that the person is not subsequently caught or it’s back to the front of the queue. 19-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe) joins this hapless game of sexual hot potato after sleeping with her boyfriend.
And it’s the walking pace that Mitchell sticks to diligently that makes It Follows such a toe-curlingly tense ordeal. Just like in films such as Carpenter’s Halloween or the shambling zombies conceived by Romero, slower is often better.
This tension can be near unbearable at times. At one point Jay and her sister relax on a beach talking as a slowly emerging figure approaches in the distance. The camera sticks mostly to a basic shot-reverse-shot style that only makes what is approaching closer and closer outside of the frame more terrifying.
Scares are all well and good, but successful horror films understand that atmosphere is what endures. It Follows drips with tone and atmosphere. The phantom that stalks Jay gives every scene a palpable feeling of dread. This is evident even during moments of respite – the viewer is simply never afforded time to relax.
Cinematographer Michael Gioulakis’s camera fuels the mood – it roves inquisitively and unshackled as if allowing the viewer to passively keep watch with Jay and her friends often none the wiser. A brilliant synth soundtrack pulses during the inevitable blowouts.
When a film relies so much on frugal show-and-tell, the reveal itself invariably falls short. It Follows’ second-half never quite matches the electric first; the formula begins to feel repetitive as Jay, her sisters and two friends move from location to location with the inexorable creature always in hot pursuit, sometimes implausibly so.
Mitchell, in trying to find a conclusion to satisfy the premise, ends It Follows with a somewhat flat showdown.
These are all relatively minor quibbles, however. It Follows is an often exhilarating experience and in the face of what populates much of modern horror, should be considered a triumph. (8)