There’s been much discussion as to what the ever-creeping terror in It Follows represents – STDs, AIDS, the dangers of promiscuity, the end of puberty, the inevitable chase of death – and they’re all right, if you want them to be. That’s the beauty of this film; the concept is solid enough to raise hairs, yet abstract enough for the viewer to attach whatever fear they have lurking in their own dark spaces. And that, together with some truly spectacular cinematography, is what makes It Follows one of the best horror movies of the last few years.
The concept is killer, and borrows slices of the best other horrors to make its own creative angle. Like in The Ring, there’s a curse that, once exposed, will come for you. Like The Thing, the evil that pursues can take the form of anyone at any time. And, like Night Of The Living Dead (and even Terminator), evil doesn’t run; it walks, straight towards its target, never relenting. Tying all these elements together is the fact that the curse is passed through sex; once it’s transmitted, It will walk directly towards its target in a straight line, until they are (horrifically) killed with its focus then shifting onto the next person up the chain.
Vitally, it’s not played for laughs. Unlike, say, Drag Me To Hell, there’s no humour for the audience to revel in as the danger closes. Instead, It Follows is a slowly turning thumbscrew that hinges on the great performance from Maika Monroe as Jay, the protagonist who finds herself in the crosshairs of the demon after giving herself to her local love. Her growing fear and desperation is never overplayed or gimmicky but internalised and genuine. When It appears in the periphery – as it does in many shots – we are with her in her plight. The spot-on casting also extends to the rest of the actors who portray her family and friends with the sensitivity and realism of a script that is just the right side of sparse.
The look of the film is stunning, and goes directly against the trend for first-person shaky-cam, which I’ve definitely had enough of; it’s unrealistic and intrusive, and has become lazy shorthand for whenever the director feels like there is tension to be felt. The hand-held documentary technique works fine in certain stories – like The Blair Witch Project, where the protagonists’ inability to hold their shit together is the crux of the movie – but, generally, it’s too busy shaking to allow me to join with the scenes in any kind of meaningful ways. Maybe that’s another reason why I enjoyed It Follows so much – the cinematography is distanced and steady, passively showing the oncoming terror in wide, sweeping curves. It’s a tool Hitchcock used to great effect and works equally well for writer/director David Robert Mitchell here. Each shot is beautifully constructed and balanced, with sharp neon colours shooting through the dark shadows. The sets are purposefully anachronistic, CRT TVs mixing with clamshell e-readers, giving us a sense that this could be any of us, at any time, in any place. It’s a strong decision that works beautifully.
The sense of overriding helplessness is ever-present and a vital part of our engagement with the story. The thing, the IT – and I’m going to disagree with Quentin Tarantino here, of all people – keeps to its own established rules but adds terrifying additional elements whenever the screw needs to tighten a little tighter. The first carrier, Jay’s boyfriend Hugh, tells us everything we need to know in one succinct line – “It’s slow, but it’s not stupid”. This slowly proves to be true as It adapts to its new target’s seemingly uncommon refusal to die. First, breaking windows, then smashing doors, until the gang’s (admittedly ridiculous) plan to trap It falls apart with a few unexpected throws. And, as It can take any human form, then what better than one that will destroy the mental willpower of the victim as soon at they look at it? The realization that It is an adaptive predator is a crucial moment in the film; when It transforms from mindless hunter to the embodiment of certain – horrible – death.
By the time the final credits roll, you’re left with a feeling that you’ve been dragged through the mill and the chase isn’t anywhere near from being over. That feeling of ever-closing creep is what remains, especially in the dark. That’s where It Follows wants to be remembered most; walking directly towards you, in your mind, forever. It’s one hell of a horror movie that deserves a wide audience, so give it your time and it’ll stay with you.