A great man once said that everybody dies. That someone’s carrying a bullet for you right now and doesn’t even know it; that the trick is to die of old age before it finds you. We love the idea symbolising death as an inescapable force: be it a hooded reaper, a pouring hourglass, or any metaphorical notion of a pre-determined fate. So what if you could escape? What if, every day, death would come for slow enough to outrun for a time but fast enough to always find you eventually. Your fight and survival would change from the physical to the psychological as you will against that inevitable day when you can run longer. When your spirit breaks upon the unavoidable conclusion that a life lived in fear of death is no life at all, until you finally welcome whatever horrible end may befall with open arms. This is the supernatural force we explore in the new horror/thriller It Follows as a slow and creeping death becomes a corporeal foe. The results are hauntingly good.
When the 19 year old Jay (Maika Monroe – Labour day, The Guest) sleeps with her quirky new boyfriend Hugh, (Jake Weary – Fred The Movie, Zombeavers) she gets much more than a case of the clap as he reveals he’s passed on a curse to her. A slow but unstoppable presence begins to stalk her day and night, but with the help of her sister and friends, she tries to find a way of escaping.
In general, horror fans want a story that is both familiar and new to them, giving them the things they like in ways they haven’t seen before. It Follows fills this nicely as its central sexually transmitted haunting (STH) idea immediately rings of The Ring in that in can be willingly passed on to a new victim, yet the twist of it coming back down the line again in the event of death, makes things far more interesting. Only by admitting to your new notch on the bedpost what they’ve unwillingly signed up for, do you have hope of being free, which unlike Hugh, Jay finds herself unable to do. This creates a fascinating moral undertone or who really is the worst of the pair. Though Hugh consciously inflicts this torment upon Jay neither does he want her to die, encouraging her to quickly pass it on again herself. Whereas though Jay tries to fight it off rather than doing the same in one scene, it’s clearly implied that she does pass the curse without the honest confession just to buy herself some time. It’s a subtle play on the adult responsibility of sex and how many young backseat bonkers are not as prepared as they think for the very real consequences. This is echoed nicely by the frequently nude, indecent or abused forms the shapeshifting evil takes (in many cases feeling like its past victims), implying that the ghosts of sexploits past are coming back with a vengeance. Yet most importantly, It Follows works as a smart horror film because it’s simple. It’s theme of creeping death is immediately understandable, negating the usual insufferable avalanche of explainer scenes and characters (rest assured, there’s no Final Destination “is he death?” figure). Instead, this allows the story to present as a puzzle and indulge our imagination with several innovative attempted solutions. There’s great deal more intelligence on show than many would expect from its cliché-laden opening moments as scenes like the mermaid bait climax really showcase. It also dodges the other great horror gripe of routing for the villain as Jay is an incredibly likeable heroine. Just to make sure that none of her accompanying friends feel just in it for the drama, there’s some good complex character inter-relations going on but in a very natural feeling manner rather than manufactured slasher archetypes.
There’s also many high-fives to dish out behind the camera as It Follows is equally impressive on a technical level. The star attraction is the camerawork. Firstly there’s absolutely zero found footage/shaky cam techniques on show...... lets just take a moment to savour that....... instead the pans and zooms are slow to mirror the gentle pace of the oncoming spirit and this really keeps a tight hold on the quintessential tension by never breaking our attention. By never moving too fast, audience eyes and minds never need to catch up, keeping them fixed in the moment. Speaking of fixed, there’s some outstanding locked perspective shots too. The best being Jay’s wheelchair strapped abduction scene, in which we stay permanently mounted to the front of the chair as its spun and wheeled away. Next there’s the music which in a similar fashion to last year’s The Guest, we get a near constant throbbing and pulsing electro score that brings a very classical horror feel along with it. Writer and director David Mitchell pulls no cheap scares here either. Key moments are built up before shocking payoffs are executed and most importantly with story relevance. Even sudden seemingly red herring scares are actually double bluffs leading into the real thing. It is neither gore dependant nor avoidant, keeping it as a tool rather than a focus.
At just 21, and now with a solid lead performance under her belt you can only see big things on the way for professional kiteboarder/actress Maika Monroe. Her ability to seamlessly switch between terrified horror victim and ordinary feeling teenage girl really emphasizes and amplifies the film's diversity. The rest of her accompanying teens make less of a lasting impression partly by plan of not being overbearing and are no less likeable. Keir Gilchrist does well as the friend-zoned love interest by not overdoing his expressing his feelings. Lili Sepe is very pleasant as sister Yara and Olivia Luccardi gets some good laughs as e-reader addicted hipster Yara.
It’s been well commented that last year’s horror films were a garden of weeds with only two great seeds managing to find their way into the sun. That’s why it’s so great to see only the year’s second genre releasing such a great result. It Follows is a triumph of terrific tensionm capturing filmmaking with technical master class of the powerful use simple and steady camera work (cinematographer Mike Gioulakis is a name to watch). It even feels like a concept that can even outrun grim death of the inevitable following sequels, with an easily translatable setup and very little actually explained about the supernatural nemesis, it gives plenty of space for expansion. Maybe you can outrun death, maybe you can’t, but clearly with the right talent, you can make one hell of a film about it.
Recommended for all horror and thriller fans that aren’t packing a gore porn fetish, those looking for a genuinely unnerving cinematic experience, and anyone that’s ever had a one night stand come back to haunt them.