|UK Release Date||27th February 2015|
|Director||David Robert Mitchell|
|Reviewed||15th March 2015|
Our festival radar is often a bit wonky, we’ve picked some superb movies over the years from the wealth of options, but equally, we’ve missed out on some absolute winners. Last year’s London Film Festival has now produced two movies that we can’t believe we missed. I finally caught up with Whiplash in January and it completely blew my socks off, I’ve now finally caught It Follows and boy did we miss something great there.
It Follows begins perfectly; a barely dressed young girl stumbles out of her house, clearly terrified of something, eventually gets into a car and drives to a remote beach where she tearfully phones her parents to tell them how much she loves them. One brief, startling scene later and we have just enough information to be scared but not enough to venture any kind of opinion on what just happened. A brooding, Carpenteresque score underlines our discomfort and within ten minutes I’m already more scared than I’ve been for the entire of any number of recent horror efforts.
The principle behind the movie is so simple, I can’t help but wonder why it’s not been filmed before. A particularly vicious entity is passed from person to person via sexual contact. Once it’s attached to you, the only thing you can do is pass it on via the same means. Failing to do this leads to It following you, always at walking pace and eventually catching you and killing you. This is made doubly sinister by the fact that it can take the form of anyone but nobody but the infected can see it. And that’s it. No reason and absolutely no rhyme. In other words, genius. The creature, although restricted to walking speed, displays intelligence (“It’s slow but it isn’t stupid”), meaning that although it is essentially a mindless killing machine, it avoids coming across as a completely dumb one. Its relentlessness and total focus make it an outstanding bogey man, despite rarely taking the same shape twice and never anything particularly threatening, only jarringly at odds with its surroundings.
This bare-bones structure is established fairly early on when Hugh (Jake Weary) has sex with Jay (Maika Monroe). As she relaxes in the car afterwards, he drugs her, ties her to a wheelchair and explains her horrific situation. Displaying a cavalier lack of team spirit (if It kills Jay, It will revert to its previous victim and so on down the line of infection), Hugh then dumps Jay outside her house and vanishes, leaving her to deal with It.
Clearly writer / director David Robert Mitchell is a Carpenter affectionado because the great horror auteur’s influence has left big, bloody hand prints all over this movie. This is absolutely not a criticism, Mitchell has channelled Carpenter perfectly, this is no mere homage and it’s certainly no rip-off. What we get is a stalking camera that is not afraid to take its time painting the situation, at times almost lazily looping around in a complete circle as our eyes strain to every corner of the wonderfully widescreen frame. Mitchell peppers scenes with people, usually something guaranteed to reduce the scares but here essential to create the most terrifying game of ‘where’s Wally’ you’ll play. Somewhere in the frame is It, forever advancing on its hapless victim. You’ll keep spotting It and every time it will send a shiver down your spine. Even when it’s a naked guy stood on a roof. Especially when it’s a naked guy stood on a roof.
And alongside this brilliantly creepy camera work, we have a synth score by Rich Vreeland which is spot on at accentuating our terror, amping up the audio clues without ever bashing us over the head with YOU’RE SCARED NOW moments of high volume.
As for the players, central victim Jay is fleshed out just enough for us to care whether she survives or not. Family photographs and, for once, a relatively normal suburban life mean she is more than just It fodder. Monroe keeps her just the right side of all out hysterical and, as with Laurie Strode, shows that girls at the centre of these things don’t have to just be mindless screaming bimbos. As a teenager with probably more than enough angst it’s clear just how much she is torn between the monster stalking her and the horrifying thoughts that she may just be losing her mind. Fortunately (if you love being scared), Mitchell doesn’t want to dwell on Jay’s mental state for long, It won’t allow for that. The remaining cast don’t get a huge look in to be honest, but they fulfil the roles as required, none exactly inhabiting the cliches you’ve come to expect of a horror movie.
I’m not exaggerating when I state that It Follows is one of the most magnificently scary movies I’ve watched for some considerable time. Mitchell keeps everything on side and if the final reel drifts a little, he can be forgiven that because he has created something deeply creepy here. The monster is a brilliant concept, everyone and no-one at the same time, it’s amorphous nature gives the director a free hand in establishing thoroughly terrifying scenes without having to resort to by the book tricks or CGI. John Carpenter must absolutely approve of this one and as you watch Jay peer out the window of her classroom, your mind may mentally be superimposing Michael in the quad outside but what you’ll really be afraid of is the harmless looking school kid in the background, walking slowly towards the camera. Mark my words, in twenty years time, people will be looking back on this with the same kind of admiration they do now of Carpenter’s masterpiece. And I can’t think of any higher praise than that.