It Follows

Year: 2014
Production Co: Northern Lights Films
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Writer: David Robert Mitchell
Cast: Maika Monroe, Lili Sepe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Olivia Luccardi

For a genre that's so frowned upon by the literati and cineaste firmamanet – never bothering awards ceremonies and so frequently a stopover on the way to directing stardom – horror is still the progenitor of some of the most innovative aesthetic techniques in moviemaking.

It Follows is another example of a 'why hasn't that ever been done before' concept which effortlessly fulfils the sole criteria of a horror film – being seatrest-shreddingly scary.

It also manages a very skilled balancing act by making the act of sex the inciting incident to the rules of this universe, treating its premise with complete seriousness and respect even while it seems to nod slyly to one of the classic tropes of the genre where having sex is a sure fire way of making sure the killer gets you.

In this case it's like an STI, passing on a kind of curse where ghostly figures stalk you, intending to catch up to and kill you. They're invisible to others, can appear as strangers or people you know, all seem to be dressed like they just escaped from an insane asylum and like zombies, never tire as they shamble endlessly after you no matter how far you run.

It's something Jay (Maika Monroe) discovers to her horror. After a few dates with a guy she's starting to really like, they do what teenagers do and make love in the back seat of his car. Everything has gone swimmingly in Jay's evening until he knocks her out with chloroform and she wakes up tied to a chair in an abandoned factory building nearby, the guy ranting about how sorry he is but that he can't live with the curse any more, that she won't believe him but that she just has to keep moving and she'll be all right.

He lets her go unharmed but shaken and Jay gradually returns to class and tries to get on with her life, and when the horror descends it's handled in a way you've never seen in a scary movie before. Freed from almost any convention by his brilliantly simple rules, writer/director David Robert Mitchell can stage scary set pieces any way he likes.

When Jay first sees the venegeful spirit who wants to kill her it's an old lady in a hospital smock approaching from across the grass quadrangle on her campus. The crowds of kids everywhere are obvlivious, and before long it's plain the woman is staring murderously at Jay as she approaches.

Freaked out, she flees school and confides in her friends and sister, a group of people with such low key familiarity and delivering such sparse dialogue so believably you invest in their relationships straight away.

Apparently Mitchell has cited Peanuts (of all things) as an inspriation – a world where adults are curiously absent and the kids have to take care of matters alone. Jay and her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) seem to have a drunkard for a mother, conveniently seeing her out of the picture while murdering spirits stalk her children.

The race is on to get Jay as far enough away from the lumbering ghost as the gang can, fleeing to a seaside cabin owned by the boy from across the street, Greg (Daniel Zovatto) and somewhere they think they can finally relax and take stock – with almost tragic circumstances thanks to the biggest shock of the film.

I've always loved the horror concept of a killer that's so slow but relentless it will catch you eventually – it was used most effectively in Dawn of the Dead and put into words in The Terminator ('it absolutely will not stop until you are dead').

But It Follows has such a creative personality on top of the concept it's not just a good horror movie but it's done in a style you've never seen. Mitchell makes something deliciously nerve-sawing out of the premise, and you're with Jay every breathless seconds as she waits for some pale ghoul to burst through a door or around a corner.

There's also a synth-heavy soundtrack that owes a lot to John Carpenter and it's partly set among the economic ruins of urban Detroit, which makes for a distinctive visual backdrop even if it's not terribly clear what kind of subtext it's making about the movie.

There's not as much screaming and running as there appears – the voices and thoughts of the characters are soft and calm most of the time, and it's yet another good story that you don't realise until after has given you a very different viewpoint being told from a female perspective.

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