Dir: David Robert Mitchell (2015)
Sex and death are forever linked in the mythology of modern horror. When Wes Craven plastered the rules all over the school for the masses to see in his slasher revival smash Scream the first rule was if you give it up, get it on or put it in, you die. This disturbing sense that geek writers and directors were punishing young women as a whole for their promiscuity (or more likely for never taking them to the back seat of a car when they were young) lives on to this day in the genre. The genius of David Robert Mitchell‘s dread filled instant classic is the way he uses the cliché without ever, for one second, succumbing to it.
A fantastic Maika Monroe (The Guest) plays Jay, a disaffected teenager typical of the director’s rather good The Myth of The American Sleepover, living in the suburbs of Detroit. Mitchell eyes the leafy streets in the same way John Carpenter did in his masterpiece Halloween; The light is always slightly dusky, the place feels lonely yet strangely alluring but sometimes downright terrifying in its monotony. Jay jokes with her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) on the street about the boy she’s dating; “Have you done it yet?” she asks puffing secretly on a cigarette. “No.” is Jay’s reply.
That boy is Hugh (Jake Weary) a seemingly nice but slightly preoccupied older guy. A game they play on a date at a local cinema brings up questions of teenage desire, jealousy and expectation and when Jay finally loses her virginity in the back seat of Hugh’s car all expectations are lost. Jay is strapped to a wheelchair in a gloomy multi-story car park and Hugh reveals his secret; He’s passed on something to her. Something terrible; A shape shifting demon who will be forever plodding in Jay’s general direction. The slow spectre of shame can take on many forms, including loved ones, invisible to those not infected. It’s a bizarre idea which some have called an STD parable but there’s much more to Mitchell’s writing here. The kicker is that Jay can pass her curse on in the same way Hugh did…
Jay and Kelly’s friends Yara (Olivia Luccardi) and Paul (Keir Gilchrist) aren’t buying Jay’s story but soon enough they are on the run with her while Mitchell deftly uses deep focused shots to constantly keep us looking over everyone’s shoulder. The sense of creeping death is most apparent in the films quieter scenes but the director certainly knows how to scare with a nerve shredding finale in a public swimming pool. It Follows does what 99% of horrors forget to do; It puts us the viewer visually in harm’s way as we’re alone with Jay in her visions of impending death but the film also tilts the genre by observing the disease, or the shame, or the fear from a distance.
From the insidious opening to a brilliantly orchestrated Jaws inspired beach set piece and the films final suffocating moments Mitchell uses his cast superbly, perfecting a kind of timeless quality which his first film strived for. Here it’s meshed incredibly. As Yara reads Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot from her shell shaped e-book we’ve no doubt to the timeline of the film, but it’s a make-believe world without mobile phones, where teenagers still find their pornography in magazines and where the creeping fear which looms from the woods could be an analogy of so many things, present and past. This is the greatest feat of the Grimm fairy tale which It Follows could easily be; It’s an instantly timeless, scary and thought-provoking horror which deserves all of it’s praise and accolades. It really is one of the creepiest films of recent memory.