There's nothing more exciting for a horror fan than hearing a new film has hit the festival circuit and is getting people excited about the genre again. Great horror films are few and far between, and it seems as if only from independent cinema does true originality surface (look at least year and Jennifer Kent's spectacular film 'The Babadook'). So when buzz picked up around David Robert Mitchell's second feature 'It Follows', I immediately put the film into lockdown. I didn't watch a trailer, avoided any synopses or images, determined to come to it as fresh as possible. But is 'It Follows' a new horror classic after all?
To put it simply, a resounding yes. Firstly, it works of a beautifully simple and original premise. 19-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe) has started dating Hugh (Jake Weary). He's kind, funny and handsome, and always appears the consummate gentlemen. When they finally sleep with each other though, Hugh reveals a horrifying secret to Jay - that something is following him, something that never looks the same as it did, something that wants to kill him... and now he's passed it onto her. And the only way she can get rid of it before it kills her is to sleep with someone else and pass it onto them.
For horror fans, 'It Follows' is the most delectable of treats, a genre piece that totally embraces everything twisted and wonderful about the genre itself. What Mitchell has crafted with mesmerising skill is an 80s-inspired demon child of Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch by way of John Carpenter and David Cronenberg. The trope of a young girl terrorised by a dangerous force centred around sex isn't new, but this is a fresh take on the idea, and one that doesn't easily explain itself. In fact, I suspect that 'It Follows' is exactly as we see it, not a social commentary or a comment on youth and sexuality, but simply a cracking idea for a horror film executed with staggering imagination. 'It Follows' is sumptuous to look at, filled with striking photographic daring such as enormous panning shots and daring POVs, all perfectly composed by cinematographer Mike Gioulaskis. The closest thing you can compare it to is the haunting beauty of the original 1978 'Halloween'. As each moment passes, it builds the most exquisite tension, bolstered by having an antagonist who never appears in the same form as before, putting both the characters and ourselves on the edge of our seats. It's a considered, carefully paced film with long moments of stillness, but when it goes for it, the set pieces are as horrifying and disturbing as they are exhilarating. The wonderful thing about horror as a genre, and something that Mitchell demonstrates both with his direction and his taut screenplay, is that horror doesn't exist in the world of naturalism, but rather a heightened reality adhering to its own narrative and visual rules. 'It Follows' has such a keen understanding of its heritage and somehow manages to honour it whilst being itself wholly original, even down to the electronic score from Disasterpeace that's both a pastiche of 80s horror and an impressive composition in its own right.
Mitchell is also able to usher great performances from his young cast, though Maika Monroe does overshadow as Jay. Mitchell adheres to the genre tropes of presenting the girls in the film in an idealised sexualised light, but Monroe is given the chance to give Jay far more agency and texture. She's more knowing than the usual damsel in distress, especially as she is both protagonist and antagonist, knowing that her only chance of survival is to damn another person to be the target for this most bizarre of STDs. That isn't an easy double-role to pull off, but Monroe manages to walk the line beautifully. It's a quietly impressive performance, and one that will no doubt get her a lot of attention. Also of note is Keir Gilchrist as Jay's childhood friend Paul, whose infatuation with her throws him in harms way.
Where perhaps 'It Follows' stumbles though is where it is at its strongest. For fans of the genre, it's a giddy delight, but for those unfamiliar with the language of horror, and in particular horror of the 70s and 80s, the tropes and heightened realism might seem a tad silly. 'It Follows' is such a striking work of style that, unless you're willing to embrace that, it might fail to connect to a more causal audience, especially in Australia where horror isn't taken seriously as an artistically rich genre of storytelling. That isn't necessarily a fault of the film though. As a massive horror fan myself, I wouldn't have it any other way, and devoured every twisted moment and gorgeous shot and visual trick, but it might be worth bearing this all in mind.
For horror fans, 'It Follows' is the most delectable of treats.
One thing is for sure though - 'It Follows' is not a film that you'll forget in a hurry. It creeps up on you unexpectedly and maliciously, filled with images familiar and frighteningly alien. It's a vicious little film, sparing with its moments but unrelenting when they appear. David Robert Mitchell has delivered one hell of a film, and one that will slip easily next to the great horror classics it follows in the footsteps of. If you revel in the visceral experience that horror can offer, then 'It Follows' is going to have you writhing in delight while you grip the arms of your seat.