D: David Robert Mitchell / 100m
Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe, Jake Weary
Jay (Monroe) is nineteen and embarking on a new relationship with Hugh (Weary). At the cinema one night they play a game where they have to choose someone they can see that they’d like to change places with. Jay gets Hugh’s choice wrong, but when it’s his turn, Hugh points out a woman in a yellow dress that Jay can’t see; with Hugh visibly upset, they leave the cinema. On their next date, Jay and Hugh have sex in his car. Afterwards he drugs her. When she wakes, she’s tied to a wheelchair in a ruined building. Hugh tells her he’s sorry but he’s had no choice: he’s passed on to her a curse that means she will be stalked by an unknown entity until it catches her and kills her. Then it will go after him and then on down the line of everybody who’s ever been affected.
They both see a naked woman walking slowly but steadily toward them. Now that Jay has seen an example of how the entity may appear – to make matters worse, it might also appear as someone she knows – Hugh takes her back to his car and leaves her outside her house. Jay reports the incident to the police but they find no evidence of the naked woman, and Hugh has disappeared. When Jay goes back to school she sees an old woman in a hospital gown walking toward her across the grounds and then inside the building. Jay flees and tells her sister Kelly (Luccardi) and friend Paul (Gilchrist) about the curse and what it means. Along with another friend, Yara (Sepe), they agree to stay with her that night for support.
A smashed window in the kitchen leads to the entity gaining entry to Jay’s house. It tries to attack Jay but she escapes and flees to a nearby playground. Her sister and friends catch up with her, as does her neighbour, Greg (Zovatto), who’s seen Jay leave in a panic. He offers to help. Using his car to get there, they go to Hugh’s address but it’s abandoned. However, they find a clue that leads them to his real address. They confront him but he refuses to help, except to advise Jay that she should sleep with someone else to pass on the curse.
The group travel to Greg’s lake house but Jay is attacked there as well. Fleeing in Greg’s car she crashes it, ending up in hospital with her right arm in a cast. While there she sleeps with Greg (much to Paul’s disappointment as he has a crush on her). Days pass and the entity isn’t seen by either of them, until one night when Jay sees Greg break into his own house. She rushes across the street in time to see the entity kill Greg in the guise of his mother. She flees, but when she returns, Paul tells her he has a plan that might kill the entity once and for all.
Every now and then a horror movie comes along that critics praise to the skies as being the “new best thing” in horror. Recently it was The Babadook (2014). Now we have It Follows, a movie that brings us a new creature to fear. But where the Babadook made itself known through the pages of a book – Babadook is an anagram of a bad book (the clue’s there for anyone to see) – the implacable entity in It Follows makes itself known through sex. As the logical extension of all those slasher movies from the Seventies and Eighties where promiscuous teenagers made up the bulk of the killer’s victims, and the virgin was left to fend off and despatch said psycho, David Robert Mitchell’s second feature gives the sexually active no way out from their predicament.
It’s a great idea, one that should be filed under “careful what you wish for” perhaps, and the script cleverly introduces the idea that passing on the curse won’t make any difference, almost from the start. This makes the movie the most nihilistic horror movie in years, and it becomes an object lesson in how to maintain hope against all odds. Mitchell makes it clear: Jay and Hugh and anyone else they have sex with are – cue: ominous predatory silence – doomed. And yet we still root for Jay and her friends in their efforts to avoid the inevitable. Even when Paul says he has an idea of how to kill the entity, and despite all the evidence to the contrary, we still hold out hope that he’s right. For if he’s not, then aren’t we all – say it quietly now – doomed as well?
Having a supernatural creature in the role of sexually transmitted disease is a fine metaphor, and one that Mitchell has great deal of fun with. By allowing the creature to appear in any guise it chooses, the movie becomes a series of guessing games for the increasingly paranoid audience (forget the characters – half the time they’re not even looking). And although Mitchell shows a preference for having his entity appear as a nude or semi-nude woman, they’re sufficiently creepy, reanimated even, to add a chill when they’re first spotted (the director does redress the nudity issue though, with the sight of a naked man on the roof of Jay’s house – what he’s doing there specifically is a bit puzzling, however). And there’s an added resonance when it appears as a family member – eagle-eyed viewers will recognise its first appearance as Hugh’s mother when she turns up later in the movie. That said, being chased, however slowly, by your naked, corpse-like mother is wrong in all sorts of ways, and again, Mitchell shows he’s unafraid to pile on the psychological horror in his efforts to make the viewer uncomfortable.
With an ending that’s suitably ambiguous, and likely to annoy viewers who like a more clear-cut resolution to their movies, It Follows is a horror movie that does its best to offer something new and different, and by and large it succeeds. It doesn’t try to explain everything – like where and how the curse got started in the first place – and it doesn’t try to over-elaborate its basic plot. Instead it tells things plain and simple, and if the sight of Jay running away time after time seems too repetitive, then what else can she do? It will find her; all she can do is postpone the inevitable.
As the beleaguered Jay, Monroe gives a finely tuned performance that anchors the movie and gives it an emotional core for the viewer to connect with. Jay’s not as strong as you might expect the heroine of a horror movie to be, but Monroe gives her a tenacity that helps carry Jay through. Gilchrist has a slightly unenviable role as the lovelorn friend who gets passed over for the hot guy across the street, but he shades the character well, expressing Paul’s disappointment and pain with an economy of expression and attitude. Zovatto and Luccardi have little to do in comparison, and Sepe even less, but Weary makes Hugh appropriately anxious and frightened.
The movie is bolstered by some of the finest camerawork – courtesy of Mike Gioulakis – in a horror movie since John Carpenter let Dean Cundey loose on the streets of Haddonfield. Mitchell’s use of space and distance, particularly the way in which he utilises the foreground in a shot, is remarkably reminiscent of Carpenter’s work, and as a homage, offers some superb moments that linger in the memory: Hugh’s car with the ruined building looming ominously behind it; the entity as a tall, cadaverous man appearing out of the shadows in Jay’s house; the vast space to the left of shot as Jay sits on a swing in the playground; seeing Yara appear on the beach when she’s already on a lilo offshore; Jay’s point of view when she sees Greg breaking into his own house; and in perhaps the most obvious visual nod to Halloween (1978), the entity having a sheet thrown over it so that Paul et al can see it.
There’s a terrific score as well by Disasterpeace that is as unsettling as the visuals, a dark electronic discordance that is sinister and harrowing at the same time. With all this, the movie proves as well-constructed and well delivered as you could hope for, and if there is to be a sequel – entirely likely given its critical and commercial reception – then let’s hope Mitchell is the one to see it through. In anyone else’s hands it’s likely to be a letdown.
Rating: 8/10 – a genuine surprise, It Follows is that rare beast: a horror movie that is fresh and surprising and creepy and keeps its scares and any gore to a minimum, choosing instead to focus on the terror inherent in its protagonists’ situation; beautifully shot and with a killer soundtrack, this is bold, compelling stuff, and a shot in the arm for a genre that seems to have one foot in the grave more often than not.