In a genre beset by remakes and tired concepts, It Follows is well and truly a breath of fresh air. The indie horror film is moody, tense and genuinely frightening, made with a steady, confident hand. It resembles the classic work of directors John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing) and David Lynch (Eraserhead, Lost Highway) but it does not imitate either of those icons. Writer and director David Robert Mitchell, for whom It Follows is the second feature film at the helm, has created something so perfectly unsettling that it will haunt you for a long time.
The film is a sly and smart play upon the fear of sex that has been cultivated by horror movies since Bela Lugosi preyed on nubile young women in Tod Browning's 1931 version of Dracula. After a shocking and enigmatic opening that makes nail biting use of long-takes, we are introduced to Jay, played by Maika Monroe, who goes on a couple of dates with the handsome and charismatic Hugh. Despite his intermittently odd behaviour, Jay eventually has sex with him, only for him to reveal that he has passed on a curse to her via coitus and there is now an inescapable demon on her tail.
The film's message is open to interpretation, and if you don't want to read any message into it, it's still a viscerally thrilling piece of supernatural horror. It seems to be making a comment about how women and their bodies are treated by horror films, and attempting to undo the effect of the almost puritanical eye with which horror tropes look upon a woman engaging in intercourse. The film evokes anxiety about these topics in a perfectly controlled and wonderfully intelligent way that truly makes it stand out among its horror brethren.
The sense of dread in this film is nearly constant and the effect is absolutely absorbing. Monroe plays Jay with genuineness and sweetness, so the audience really feels for her. The whole cast is superb, made up of relative or complete unknowns, who give a strong presence even to characters that have only a small amount of screen-time. There is a real tenderness to the performances here, making it clear that horror can be more than just shrieking.
This film sets itself apart from other horror movies with its fierce creativity. The hyperactive cuts of contemporary horror are disposed of in favour of long, thoughtful takes and delicate use of slow-motion. The score, composed and performed by electronic musician Rich Vreeland under the name Disasterpeace, works perfectly with the film's slow-moving creepiness. Full of rippling synthesizers, crackling, unnatural drones and deep, booming hits of bass, it adds a whole other dimension of uniqueness to this already striking film.
It Follows does not make an attempt to wrap everything up in a neat little package, though it does have a slight tendency to occasionally err a little too far into ambiguity. The film wins big points by not trying to approach its supernatural elements with the kind of flimsy veneer of logic that can often cripple a film of this type. Most of the time, the added sense of mystery doubles the terror felt in the wake of the faceless and unknowable presence that stalks Jay through the film. This little indie gem, which is slowly taking hold on audiences all over the world, is one of the best and most frightening horror movies in years.
It Follows opens exclusively at Dendy Newtown on April 16.