Maika Monroe is fast becoming a bonafide Scream Queen. She is following up her scene-stealing breakout performance in last year’s The Guest with It Follows, the sophomore feature from writer-director David Robert Mitchell. And this time around, she finds herself contending with a far more sinister foe than a shirtless Dan Stevens.
As the title suggests, the film concerns an unknown “it” that stalks and eventually kills its prey with terrifying precision. The idea is established in a thrilling opening sequence, scored with glee by composer Rich Freeland. The composer infuses the narrative with a synth-heavy, otherworldly quality that’s a bit like Carpenter, on steroids and punctuated by a shocking final shot.
It’s a ludicrously simple premise–the demon is passed from person to person through sexual intercourse–that is exploited to wonderful effect. Although the unknown entity moves slowly towards its prey, it cannot be outrun (at least, not for very long) and, suffice to say, when it catches up, you’re toast.The threat of the unknown is something that is explored in horror over and over, because it’s never not going to be scary to imagine feeling unsafe in your own house, or surrounded by your family and friends. Refreshingly, It Follows features a believably normal-looking friend group, who rally around Monroe’s Jay when she starts losing it, instead of freaking out the way stock characters often do. As she is the only one who can see “it”, there are a lot of sight gags involving strangers walking slowly toward the group, as Jay demands to know whether the person is really there before fleeing without another word.
Much like The Guest, It Follows pays a certain amount of homage to Carpenter’s work and, in particular, Halloween. The quiet, suburban street on which Jay lives could be plucked straight out of Haddonfield and, although it’s presumably set in the present day, the aesthetic is very late-seventies/early-eighties, particularly when it comes to styling.
The action actually takes place in Detroit and, as with Jim Jarmusch’s dreamy vampire opus Only Lovers Left Alive, the dilapidated, near-wasteland of a city is the perfect setting for a teenager running away from a deadly foe. Mike Gioulakis’s gorgeous cinematography drips with darkness, capturing the bleakness of the once-thriving city, and making it seem as though the walls are closing in even when there’s nobody advancing, while Mitchell ensures we are constantly straining to see what’s lurking in the corner of the screen, just out of focus.
Although simple, the premise is considered, not contrived, with only a late sequence (set in an abandoned swimming pool) bordering on cliche–although it does deliver some stunning visuals. And it’s clearly meant as a love letter to classic horror, It Follows recalls The Virgin Suicides in texture and style, particularly in Monroe’s central performance, which is not dissimilar to Kirsten Dunst’s bittersweet turn as a tortured teen. The score is a character in itself and, although it jars slightly in places, without it It Follows wouldn’t pack quite as much of a punch. Music cues often ruin the scares, but here, the screeching strains make you clutch the armrest even more, in fear of what’s coming.
This is only the second mainstream horror release of the year (following the rather good The Woman In Black 2: Angel Of Death) and, somewhat predictably given the publicity trail, it’s divided critics and fans alike. The great Kim Newman gave it 4/5, while longtime buddy Mark Kermode described it as “not quite as revolutionary” as people are suggesting, revealing he found The Babadook more frightening when prompted. It’s likely It Follows will be this year’s Babadook: the film everyone is rushing to see and dissect afterwards, passing on the hype like the titular demon.
Unlike The Babadook, which tried to pay homage but instead ended up being completely derivative, It Follows recalls certain, familiar elements while simultaneously staking its own place in the horror pantheon. Beautifully shot, well-acted by a cast of virtual unknowns, and with a score that’s nerve-shredding in its intensity, the film is regularly terrifying. There’s no gore to speak of, but the visuals are stark, disconcerting and memorably weird. The characters feel fresh and realistic, and it’s easy to root for Monroe’s Jay as she tries desperately to rid herself of a demon she received, simply thanks to trusting the boy she was seeing.
There is a suggestion that this may be a sex education PSA, because the demon is passed from person to person through sex (like an STD), and having more sex with other people only worsens the situation. The ending sort of confirms this suspicion, even though it’s slightly open-ended. Whether that sits well with you or not will depend on your own, personal politics, but taken for what it is, It Follows is a frightening, original and involving horror movie that totally lives up to the hype and solidifies Maika Monroe as a Scream Queen to watch in future.
WICKED RATING: (8 / 10)
Director(s): David Robert Mitchell
Writer(s): David Robert Mitchell
Stars: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe
Release: February 27, 2015
Studio/ Production Co: Northern Lights Films
Length: 100 min.