It Follows

It Follows ★★★★

In It Follows, David Robert Mitchell has crafted something that is nothing short of a perfect, postmodern genre exercise that revels in the past and embraces the new all at once. For any cineliterate horror fan who understands the functions, clichés and overriding themes that have become present in the genre over the past half a century (in particular the realms of 70s/80s horror remakes/classics) one of the core principles that surrounds the slasher subgenre is the knowledge of the careful relationship between sex and violence. As in those who partake in promiscuous adolescent activities or otherwise are guaranteed a place on the devil’s wish list. Sex is an activity that often leads to unsavoury ends to those who surrender to it, and here in It Follows that’s not just the main theme at play, it’s the whole plot.

There are undoubtedly an abundance of psychosexual readings that can be taken from the “follower” and its embedded thesis, such as STD’s and even the slow approach of adulthood at the hands of time. But one of the bigger subjects that it’s trying to present is the nature of companionship, and to that extent true love. Casual sex is portrayed as a dangerous and malevolent force, like an insatiable addiction that must be tended to frequently for the sake of sanity and pleasure. The “follower” is also a phantom creation so ingeniously simple in concept that it’s bewildering to think that it’s taken this long to come to fruition. The typical stalker villain icons of yore are exchanged for the unknown, the fear of anything and anyone stalking the heroine as an unspecified presence that constantly lies in wait. The lack of explanation to the spectre’s origins feeds the intrigue of questioning how and why it functions the way it does. The slow walk is an immediately unsettling presence as, much like the seemingly invincible Michael Myers, it may be slow and lumbering but it will never stop coming.

References to Halloween are not to be taken lightly. The film owes much of its setting and many of its visual elements to the Carpenter and Craven films of the era through specific framing techniques and still camera positioning. All of the tropes are played effectively with a seeming lapse of parental support and a fantastically atmospheric score by Rich Vreeland. While it does appear to exist in a timeless 80s no-man’s land where technologies and spaces share alternate heritage, this is no straight genre homage. This is a visually gorgeous film that allows audience participation in that the eye can explore the frame whenever the characters are placed in exposed open spaces, adding to the growing sense of paranoia and dread that something far in the distance could be anyone or anything creeping into focus. The storytelling is also fantastically structured, not restricting exposition to dialogue alone, with many scenes and edits displaying information fluently and subtly – be it plot points for later on or simple character motivation given through lingered or shared glances. An introductory prologue serves as a mainly wordless example of what fate awaits those haunted by the phantom.

What elevates the engagement higher is Mitchell’s attention to his youthful cast. All perfectly cast and pitched (Maika Monroe cements her position as this generation’s Scream Queen), the incredibly natural interaction between the leads is what sells their relationships from the get go. These are believable, ordinary people thrust into an extraordinary situation that they are struggling to come to terms with. Their unwavering devotion to each other sustains the suspense, as you come to enjoy their company and wish them no ill will. Although the characterisation isn’t as strong as you might expect, it’s barely noticeable as the performers do their best to make them believable as childhood friends.

If there are any short comings they come in the form of generic lounging, as though on autopilot at times. Some of the various forms that the “follower” takes fall into particular horror categories of intentionally scary figures of old women, small children and dead, manipulated carcasses. While there are many jump scares throughout the film they are for the most part very well timed, but maybe a few less would have worked towards making them less expectable come the halfway point- with some aiding in distracting from an occasional lag in pace. Its nigh-perfect ending moments add to the layer of uncertain menace that cloaks the entire film. It Follows is an exercise so deceptively simple that in less capable or ambitious hands it probably wouldn’t work half as well as it does here. It’s one the most genuinely frightening, intelligent yet incredibly refined horror movies in recent years and possibly the makings of a true modern classic.

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