Director: David Robert Mitchell
Stars: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi
A horror masterclass
I’m a pretty hardened horror movie watcher. Very little gets under my skin these days, for example I can quite comfortably sit and watch The Exorcist on my own, in the middle of the night and not feel a teeny weeny bit frightened. Whilst all the kids were losing their heads over The Conjuring, I sat there completely stone-faced, although that could be something to do with the crap cinema I saw it at in Loughborough which had a screen the size of a microwave and subtitles for the hard of hearing. The last film to properly scare me was Sleepaway Camp, but that’s only because of THAT ending… Perhaps I’m not as hardened as I make out though. There have been a few recent horror films which have given me some genuine chills: Kill List, Sinister and The Babadook have all unsettled me greatly. It Follows can also be added to that list.
I watched It Follows alone last night and once it had finished I ran off to bed with chills tingling along my back, hopped straight into bed and threw the covers over my head like a 14 year-old girl. It’s something I’ve not done for a while, but It Follows really got under my skin! It’s been at the top of my watch list for a while after the buzz it created at all the festivals last year. Once it hit a wider release, all of the critics were raving at how brilliant it was and how it was the scariest film to come out in a decade. It Follows quickly fell into what I call the hype machine. The trouble with this machine is that you often let your expectations rocket to impossible heights which ends up in massive disappointment.
I allowed the hype to die down (and for the blu-ray to become cheaper!) and gave it a watch with lower expectations, and it worked! It’s easy to see how many were disappointed when people were calling it the new Halloween and a new horror classic. I wouldn’t quite go that far, but in an age full of horrendously conventional horror films with bad acting, super-fast editing and unoriginal ideas; It Follows stands head and shoulders above the rest as the superior animal. It grabbed my attention right from the opening shot which is done all in one long take. There’s no shaky camera and no cutting away every two seconds, it’s just one long shot of a girl running away in a panic. It feels grounded, real and completely refreshing. The incredibly cool retro synth score doesn’t do it any trouble either! David Robert Mitchell is clearly someone who knows what he’s doing behind the camera. The opening also culminates in a jarringly haunting image which feels like something from a nightmare. It Follows means business from the start.
We then follow our hero, Jay who’s a blameless young adult going about her normal boring life until she decides to do a bit of innocent dogging. It results in her being cursed like a girl from Japan, but instead of a long black-haired figure following her, it’s an invisible demon who takes many guises and will follow her relentlessly until she passes it on. It’s an incredibly simple premise to pad out into a 100 minute feature film, but it absolutely works. Every single scene is filled with a strong atmosphere of complete dread because you never know when the demon is going to return, or what form it’s going to take. Even scenes where Jay and her friends are sat talking are suspenseful because you can feel a presence. Someone is always watching and it makes for a nightmarish experience.
When the stalking demon appears, that’s when stuff gets real. The film reaches its most terrifying peak when Jay and her friends stay up all night at her house to watch out for spooky happenings. I don’t want to spoil it for those who are yet to see the film, but suffice to say that it has a couple of seriously nightmarish images that will stay with me for quite a long time. It’s masterfully executed to squeeze out the maximum scares possible. It’s scary in the same way Kairo (Pulse) was. Rather than generating quick jump scares, the imagery slowly creeps under your skin and sends sharp chills all the way up your spine. It’s truly a spine-tingling experience, or at least it was for me!
Throughout the whole film you’re basically waiting for the demon to make another appearance and because you don’t know when that’s going to be the film was never boring for me. The film does lean towards the arthouse side, so those not familiar with arty, slow stuff might find it a little tedious. It’s not the kind of film you can dip in and out of with your phone and just watch when ‘something happens’. It Follows requires your full attention for it to really work.
It’s not quite perfect though. I have to admit that although the group of characters were likable, I did find them flat. They don’t really say a lot and at one point I was thinking that they could possibly be the most boring group of people you could ever hang out with! Also, I found Maika Monroe, who plays main girl, Jay distractingly attractive. I know it’s my fault for being a hormonal young man but at times when I should’ve been completely focused on the film, I was distracted by how drop-dead gorgeous she is! She also flashed a lot of flesh which didn’t help the situation. She’s in a swimming costume for the thrilling finale for gawd’s sake!
In all seriousness though, It Follows is a modern horror master-class. It’s flawlessly executed and feels refreshing and original. It’s also genuinely terrifying for once! I won’t use the old cliché by saying ‘it’s the scariest film in years’ because lots of scary films pop up every year if you look hard enough. I’d say it’s the best horror film to come out since The Babadook.