Over the last decade, horror films have resembled a factory-made, clichéd hodgepodge of the same handful of miserably exhausted concepts and predictable plots, populated by the same terribly-written, interchangeable cardboard cut-outs posing as characters that are impossible to become emotionally-invested in, killing all possible tension and suspense and thus making the “horror” laughable at best and painful at worst. Adding insult to injury, the Hollywood machine has been hell-bent on remaking and rebooting every old classic horror film and franchise from the last 40 years over and over again, to the point where The Texas Chainsaw Massacre alone has been remade three times, and they’ve announced another one, for crying out loud. Plans have also been announced to reboot Friday the 13th again after the 2009 remake flopped harder than your mum after she tried to do a sit-up that one time. Essentially, the genre has fallen victim to the nostalgia-craze currently afflicted upon the movie industry. Rather than take a risk on new ideas, it insists on pumping out copies upon copies of the same handful of horror IPs millions of times so it can stay safe and warm in a gray sludge puddle of mediocrity. Unfortunately, the few more original horror films that have come out over the last half of the decade have all felt the same and have been given a slew of sequels to hurl at your face every Halloween like clockwork; vomiting out a slurry of dull, uninspired predictable jumpscare-fests that half the time were so cringeworthy, they made me laugh instead of cowering in fear. You know a horror film has screwed the pooch with the fear factor when the protagonist's face is about to be torn off by some eldritch abomination and you're giggling like a twat at how stupid everything is.
As you can tell, when it comes to horror, I am a picky son of a bitch. I struggle to name even 3 horror films that have been made in the last 10 years that I can honestly say I liked. So, you can just imagine how happy I was after I had finished watching It Follows. I had heard a lot of good things about it from people I trust, and after the recommendation from my friend and fellow YouChewian, Erazor, I bought it on DVD and boy, oh boy, was this money well spent. In the current state of horror films, especially western-made ones that really take the cake in terms of stagnation and dissatisfaction, I can’t tell you just how relieved and even excited I am about this film and what it could help inspire. It has rejuvenated a waning faith in western horror films for me and is such a breath of fresh air that I cannot stop smiling about it. With great intrepidity, the film presents a very simple, but perfectly haunting concept: You are being followed by something. You don’t how, you don’t know why, you don’t know what it wants and you especially don’t want to know what will happen when it finds you.
The story has Jay, your typical teenage girl living in a humdrum suburban landscape, go out on a date with her new boyfriend, Hugh. Throughout the night, while they enjoy each other’s company talking and being cute as teenagers do, Hugh at times acts oddly and constantly has a change of mind over what to do for the night and coerces Jay into doing something else, almost as if he keeps seeing people he’s trying to avoid. Eventually, the two of them become intimate in the back of Hugh’s car. While Jay is distracted in post-coitus ecstasy, Hugh takes the opportunity to chloroform her. When she wakes up, tied to a wheelchair in an abandoned parking lot structure, Hugh tells her he’s sorry and quickly explains how he had to “pass it on” to her. He briefly explains that she will be haunted by an enigmatic presence that can look like anyone, will follow you wherever you go and though it isn’t very fast, it is persistent and will never, ever stop. It cannot be killed, it cannot be reasoned with. You must pass it on, less you let it find you. To say much more would be going into plot summary and spoiler territory, so I'll leave it there. I can tell you however that the story is not only serviceable as a foundation for the scares, but really works to deliver its themes and ideas. It doesn't just want to jump out of the closet and yell, "ARGLEBARGLEWARGLE!". No, it really does have something to say with the material it explores, which alone makes it worth your time.
While the acting isn't hugely noteworthy and the characters aren't all that memorable, it's still incredibly refreshing to have a cast in a horror film that aren't a gaggle of simpering morons or represent a checklist of the same horror movie archetypes we've seen a million times. The story doesn't rely on an Idiot Plot and for probably the first time in a good long while, despite being played by twenty-somethings (some traditions never die), they actually act like teenagers and are believable. They don't speak like well-rounded adults, but they also don't make asinine decisions for the sake of plot convenience or to mindlessly walk into a death trap or anything you'd typically see, which really kind of hurts me the more I realise just how fresh and new it feels to me just to have a level of nuance and thought put into them. By far, the best performance comes from Maika Monroe, who plays Jay. Monroe does a fantastic job portraying someone who fears that she's losing her mind, that her friends don't believe her, and that she cannot fathom the thing that pursues her. You really feel her fear and get a great sense of how terrified and helpless she feels. I see a bright future for Monroe as a modern Scream Queen if she were to star in more horror films down the line. Despite their lack of charisma, all the actors do an excellent job of selling the fear and really work well as a group of kids trying to makes plans, work strategically and battle this bizarre force that they only just barely comprehend, so you do find yourself caring about them which adds to the tension.
What makes the horror in this film so brilliantly tangible is that it taps into a plethora of basic primal fears that have plagued us since the very beginning: fear of the unknown, fear of trust, fear of being watched, stalked and pursued, fear of sex and intimacy, fear of no one believing you and the fear of losing one’s mind. The terror and suspense the story produces have incredible depth and a stark beauty to them as the film explores these fears to create an intense and harrowing atmosphere of dread, confusion, isolation and insanity as Jay is forever hunted down by an unknown, ever-changing force of nightmarish proportions that even her friends feel helpless to stop as they try to fight it with her. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell is an absolute godsend for this flailing genre, as well as a staggering surprise considering It Follows is his very first time directing a horror film. I can only hope he will one day return to the genre, or at the very least, that this film ushers in a new wave of horror films like it because Mitchell took the time to truly understand where great horror comes from. Instead of making another generic masked serial killer, evil object or haunted house story, he developed a unique concept that perfectly encapsulates some of the things that scare us the most. The story takes basic human psychology into account to create something that will truly rattle your core and chill you to the bone.
The cinematography does an incredible job complementing the atmosphere of every scene and accentuates the themes explored within with slow moving pans, zooms, tracking shots and even an interesting method of having the camera slowly turn around in a circle, a complete 360 that is paced and utilised so unbelievably well that I have no doubt some uncreative schlockmeisters out there will try to emulate it and fail to understand why it was done and why it worked so well. The editing, thankfully, works hand-in-hand with the cinematography as you will find no lousy jump cuts, shaky-cam effects or sudden drops in audio to signal a predictable jumpscare. You will find none of that bullshit here. Instead it does its job properly to enhance and amplify the atmosphere conveyed on the screen as each cut is timed extremely well as it knows exactly how long to hold a shot and when to linger and make your skin crawl. The way the cinematography and editing work together with building tension and making you paranoid is a thing of beauty that I have been dying to see more of and it really delivers on that front. Together they create an atmosphere that runs its fingernails across your scalp and down your spine as it takes something so innocently mundane as a person walking towards the camera and sends your synapses into a flurry of apprehension as a foreboding sense of dread is slowly draped over your head.
Naturally, we cannot forget the audible force that can make or break the atmosphere. The choice of composer for the score was an strange, but interesting one: an indie video game composer who goes by the moniker Disasterpiece, dearth of experience with the horror genre. Thankfully, Mitchell saw something in Disasterpiece’s work and the result is fantastic. Disasterpiece’s score is a deliciously ominous electronic dirge wavering between Drone and Dark Ambient, with an emphasis on synthesised tempos that feels like an homage to similar scores from 80s film scores, particularly by John Carpenter. It’s an odd choice, but it works because like any good horror soundtrack, it knows when to keep you on edge and when to ebb and give you a false sense of security before sneaking up behind you and jamming the blade into your back. Disasterpiece’s music is terrifically erratic at the film’s most intense moments, sometimes pushing the electronic ambience into a bizarre, distorted caterwaul that feels like it's screaming in your ears, trying to warn you that you’re in danger, getting louder and more distorted as it comes closer, and closer, and closer.
It Follows is a mesmerising and chilling experience that any devout horror fan can wrap their lips around and suckle with deep, meaningful satisfaction and a must-see for newcomers who need to truly experience horror done right. I personally am stoked to have it in my collection and I cannot stress enough just how important this little film’s contribution to the genre is. Some of you may think I may be exaggerating when I claim this film to be important, but I truly mean it. If you're sick of hollow, jumpscare-laden schlock that only wishes to insult your intelligence with idiot plots, try your patience with hateful characters and bore you to tears with its lack of atmosphere and genuine fear factor, you have to see this film. This honest, independent little flick brings so much that has been needed for so long, and I sincerely hope people recognise its importance and other films like it will be around the corner. It goes out of its way to remind you that the horror genre can be so much more than just chainsaw-wielding maniacs chasing stupid drunken teenagers through the woods, but can be something truly spectacular that leaves an impression on you and forces you to think about the things you fear most.