With a premise that’s as ingeniously simple as it is terrifying, David Robert Mitchell’s masterful low-budget chiller stalks our primal fears with a potency that’s all-too-rare in today’s horror cinema.
The brilliance of It Follows is in the way it borrows from the likes of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1998), Ringu (1998) and Whistle And I’ll Come To You (1968), the little-seen screen adaptation of M.R. James’ classic short story, and comes up with something that’s both refreshing and bloodcurdling.
Based on a recurring nightmare Mitchell experienced as a child, the horror of It Follows stems from the spine-tingling concept of being pursued by an unrelenting figure that only the victim can see.
Mitchell’s script injects sex into the equation, both as a nod to the horror trope of punishing those who engage in intercourse, but also as a sideways observation on the consequences of sexually transmitted disease; in this case one spread as a deadly curse that can only be lifted by having sex with another person.
The film’s disturbing prologue tracks a terrified teenage girl who perplexes her father by running out of her house and speeding off in the family car; all the while looking behind her at what appears to be nothing.
The grisly aftermath points to something very real, however, and the next teenager on the chopping block is Jay (Maika Monroe), whose sexual encounter with Hugh (Jake Weary) takes a disturbing turn when she’s informed she’s now the target of a malevolent figure that will stalk and kill her unless she passes the curse onto someone else.
Despite not being able to see the supernatural figure, which constantly changes its appearance, Jay’s sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and friends Paul (Keir Gilchrist), Yara (Olivia Luccardi) and Greg (Daniel Zovatto) come to her aid and try to find a way to stop Jay’s relentless pursuer.
In the wrong hands, this could so easily have been just another limp-wristed horror flick, but Mitchell gives us a genuinely taut and unnerving experience. The use of the camera is inspired; from the artful 360-degree pans which are as slow and methodical as the assailant, to the way he cuts between tight close-ups and empty corridors or doorways that invite us to imagine the worst is just out of shot. Furthermore, Mike Gioulakis’ oppressive cinematography uses light and dark to terrific effect.
A superbly edited sequence on a beach leads to a – literally – hair-raising moment, while a key sequence in a swimming pool is a masterclass in grinding tension.
It Follows distinguishes itself from the crop of lazily edited cash-grabbing products loosely defined as ‘horror’ by giving us characters we actually care about. Jay is sympathetically played by Monroe and the friendship she shares with the others is believable and engaging.
One of the film’s strongest threads is its jagged and percussive synth score by Disasterpeace that evokes the very best of Carpenter and serves to amp up the terror rather than smother it, while geek fans will note the use of the Serif Gothic font in the title is a further nod to Carpenter’s Halloween.
A bona fide modern horror classic, the cold, clammy sense of dread of It Follows will mean you’re looking over your shoulder long after the credits roll.