D/S: David Robert Mitchell. P: Rebecca Green, Laura D. Smith, David Robert Mitchell, David Kaplan, Erik Rommesmo. Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe. UK dist (Blu-ray/DVD): ICON Entertainment.
All hail David Robert Mitchell, little-known director of this brilliant, heart-stopping horror gem. It Follows is only his second feature (the first being a coming-of-age drama, 2010’s The Myth of the American Sleepover), but by God this guy knows what he’s doing. Not since Hideo Nakata’s Ring (1998) have scenes of such soul-freezing terror been captured on film. (You may find it prudent to have a hypo of adrenaline to hand, should you wish to make it through your viewing alive.) Perhaps the best thing about It Follows is its beautiful simplicity. Its core concept can be traced back to M.R. James’s “Casting the Runes” (and, of course, its 1957 film adaptation, Night of the Demon), a notion profitably exploited since by the aforementioned Ring cycle and, I suppose, the Final Destination films: that of a demon or ghost inexorably pursuing its victims to the bitter end, having tagged them for destruction through some ‘orrible curse.
For It Follows, Mitchell has pared down the concept to its starkest essentials. We never know what the spectre is, or why it does what it does, for certain. All we do know is that it’s a form of supernatural STD, passed from one victim to the next through the sexual act. Our heroine, Jay (Maika Monroe), is a sweet, girl-next-door teen with, it turns out, spectacularly poor taste in men. When she finally decides to sleep with her boyfriend (Jake Weary), she finds herself abruptly chloroformed and tied to a chair in an empty warehouse. There he explains her fate: he has passed on his curse to her (as it was passed on to him), buying some time from the evil spirit that’s after him. It can look like anybody – a nude girl, a seven-foot giant, even a close family member. Whatever helps it get to you quickest. From now on, he explains, Jay must remain ever-vigilant. She’ll see it, somewhere close, wherever she goes: walking towards her, eyes fixed on hers, getting closer every time. Crucially, it’s always walking – so if you can manage to keep ahead of it, you can keep yourself alive, at least for a while. To give her some additional headway, she should find some guy – any guy – to screw, ASAP. That will shift the spectre’s attention to the latest target, giving her some time to regroup. But once it’s found and killed that victim, it will return its focus back to her. And once it’s killed her, it’ll start dogging her boyfriend again. So it’s in everyone’s interests for her to sharpen up her survival instincts, pronto…
What a film! Mitchell keeps the nature of the pursuing force darkly ambiguous, though we’re left in little doubt that the thing is deadly – and very, very nasty. (We see one of its victims hideously mangled on the beach; knees really weren’t meant to bend that way.) Mitchell’s style is an elegant blend of John Carpenter and Stanley Kubrick, favouring clinically precise, symmetrical compositions, with a lot of medium and long-shots to draw our eye to the surroundings – reserving up-close-and-personal stuff for the big horror payoffs. The suspense is often agonisingly acute. The camera is forever creeping slowly, slowly forwards, mirroring the shade’s remorseless approach. Backgrounds are charged with electric tension: who’s that walking towards us, right at the back of the frame – a harmless passerby, or something infinitely worse? Until the last moment, we’re never quite sure…and by then, it may be too late. Carpenter’s influence is especially apparent in the use of insistent, percussive, nerve-jangling synth cues (by Disasterpeace, a.k.a Richard Vreeland) in the scenes of pursuit; mention should also be made of the unusual care given to the teen characterisations, which may be the most likeably realistic since Halloween. We really, really want to see these kids survive. (And like Carpenter, Mitchell punctuates the action with clips from an all-night TV monster marathon, whose rubber-suited antagonists are contrasted with the unknown, nameless thing that’s after our heroes – and which, on occasion, offer an absurd Greek chorus to their grim ordeal.)
Technical credits are excellent across the board, with particular credit to cinematography (Mike Gioulakis) and music. The Disasterpeace score is exceptionally good, a mixture of retro-electronica and harsh white noise (the latter primarily for the attack scenes, but needling hints of it are dropped into the soundtrack, here and there, to maximise dread). Nor are scares the film’s only concern: Mitchell will often cut to small details – fingers caressing a flower; the careful arrangement of blades of grass, like roman numerals, on the heroine’s thigh – giving each a subtle, poetic charge. These quiet, thoughtful, throwaway interludes gradually accumulate, serving to draw out the tension even further – we can’t help but view them as the calm before the storm. Thanks to touches like this, It Follows succeeds not just as a relentless terror machine, but as a work of real cinema. It’s a class act all round. Find it, before it finds you.