Director: David Robert Mitchell
Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist
Watch It Follows online in the UK: BBC iPlayer / iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Imagine someone walking towards you. Not very scary, is it? Wait until you see It Follows, a film that does for pedestrians what Jaws did for sharks.
David Robert Mitchell’s horror thriller follows Jay (Monroe), who finds herself on a date gone terrifyingly wrong, when she wakes up post-sex strapped to a chair and is told that something is going to try and kill her. Why? We don’t know. Who? We don’t know that either. What we do know is that this entity will continue following her until it catches her and shuffles her off her mortal coil.
There are some conditions – the creature only moves at walking speed and only the person being followed can see it – but these, crucially, are things learned by those on the run; there’s no Basil Exposition living in Detroit to give her the answers.
That simplicity is what gives Mitchell’s script its scares – and there are a lot of them packed into these 100 minutes.
Doing away with most genre conventions, the entire movie is, aside from a slow opening to introduce our main heroine, as stripped down as it gets. It’s like watching Halloween for the first time – a feeling that’s emphasised by Disasterpeace’s ambient, 80s-style score.
There is a modern component, though, to its back-to-basics approach: with no cheap jumps to speak of, the film relies upon the audience to build the tension. Mitchell shoots his landscape, from residential streets and beaches to abandoned buildings, with a wide-angle lens, giving as much scope as possible for It to walk into frame. Every new shot leaves you scanning the screen, actively seeking out fear in the same way that made the original Paranormal Activity so effective.
The use of location is another smart device: because of the nature of It, our victims don’t run blindly up stairs into attics, or hide in cupboards: they seek the most open space possible, giving them more chance of escape, and us more chance to freak out over the blurry figures in the background.
After an excellent turn in The Guest, Maika Monroe brings just as much likeable charisma to her increasingly desperate Jay, who soon learns to surround herself with friends (including Gilchrist’s loyal Paul) so that she can determine whether anyone else can see the person walking towards her. After all, it might just be a harmless jogger.
Underneath it all lies a deceptively complex subtext, as Monroe discovers that if she has sex with someone, the curse is passed to them – until it kills them and starts following her again. The result is something that could be interpreted as a metaphor for STDs, both being invisible to the human eye and spread through intercourse, but also subverts the more conservative horror tradition of bumping off those who commit immoral acts: here, survival encourages our gaggle of panicked teens to have sex, rather than abstain from it; the petite mort becomes, as its name suggests, a temporary reprieve from the grande mort. But it also potentially seals your fate.
Sex and mortality? It’s a heavy theme for a no-nonsense slasher flick, but one made all the more potent by its implicit presence. Whether you choose to read into the look on Jay’s face after seducing a stranger or not, it doesn’t matter: It Follows still grips you by the feet and gets you edging away from all those around you in the street for weeks after seeing it. It’s clever. It’s unconventional. And it’s very, very creepy.
It Follows is available on BBC iPlayer until August 2019.
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