The problem with so many modern horror films is that they don’t have any ideas deeper than ‘and this is how the next person gets killed’. They’re exercises in shallow repetition (particularly in the case of reboots of 70s and 80s franchises), and audiences are wise to them. They pay to see them because they’re hoping the next one will be better, but it rarely is.
It Follows is a good, creepy horror film. It’s rooted very much in the canon of horror cinema – from the delicious John Carpenter-esque soundtrack to the removed, ‘teens on their own on the streets of America’ setting – but David Robert Mitchell’s (The Myth of the American Sleepover) film is its own beast, rich with invention.
The basic premise – a demonic presence is transmitted between teens via sex – is not entirely original (many horror films deal in their own ways with sexual behaviour) but It Follows has the smarts to come at the issue from a number of different angles. After a brief intro, we are introduced to Jay (Maika Monroe) whose boyfriend reveals to her (after having slept with her) that he’s given her the demon: a presence that follows the ‘carrier’ at walking pace, taking on the appearance of any number of different people, and which can only be seen by the carrier and the person who gave it to them, until the chain moves on as a result of the next sexual act. Mitchell surrounds Jay with a likeable group of friends who have their own personalities and who, thankfully, don’t by default reject their friend’s fears (so often a misplaced horror trope) and instead rally round to help her.
The film is ingenious in the way it generates fear out of everyday situations, and Mitchell has fun with the premise by allowing walking figures to flit in and out of his frame. Any film that can conjure fear out of somebody walking slowly towards you is doing something right.
It Follows also has interesting things to say about Detroit (where it’s set) and, by extension, American society. In the tradition of the best horror pictures, the ideas are fleetingly presented but linger in the mind. The young cast do a great job of conveying a group of friends looking out for themselves – again in the tradition of so many horror flicks, adults are conspicuous by their absence, although Mitchell does offer a couple of brief, suggestive glimpses in this department that say more than any amount of exposition could’ve managed.
Mitchell allows the film to filter out on a nervy, ambiguous note, which works brilliantly in the context of the story. Ambiguity is often introduced at the end of films in this genre to paper over the cracks of a flimsy or unfinished screenplay, but here it works in tandem with the premise. I didn’t find the film to be hugely scary, but it does create tension and the idea is deliciously creepy, even if you can pick one or two holes in the logic. Mitchell and his cas t really make it work, and the soundtrack coats the whole thing in a sort of beautiful dread. It Follows will surely turn out to be one of 2015’s strongest horror offerings.