It Follows (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Icon Home Entertainment) Running Time: 100 minutes approx.
America and Japan have something in common – whenever they make a horror film it almost assuredly revolves around teenage protagonists. This latest low budget affair from the US is no different but it does at least try to do something different with this already overcrowded genre.
It Follows revolves around 19 year-old Jay Height (Maika Monroe) who is on date with a lad named Hugh (Jake Weary). His behaviour at the cinema is a little odd, spooking Jay when she can’t see a girl Hugh claims is there. The next date they sleep together in Hugh’s car after which he smothers Jay with a chloroform cloth. Jay awakens tied to a wheelchair and Hugh delivers a cryptic warning about a curse he has passed on to her via their copulation. Hugh takes Jay but shortly after Jay starts to have strange visions of people she doesn’t recognise that no-one else can see.
Plot wise this doesn’t seem to offer anything new but behind it is a unique twist insofar as the cause of the curse and the symbolism of it being transmitted sexually. Nothing is made explicit but one can allude to this being a commentary on the rise of the AIDS epidemic and similar diseases in an increasingly promiscuous society.
Other observers have suggested it is story about avoiding death and by having teens being the centre of the story is a warning that it can come at any time, and no matter how much we think it is too early for us or that we have room to run away and hide, it will catch up with us eventually. Both are valid interpretations but writer-director David Robert Mitchell insists it was inspired by anxiety nightmares he had as a teen.
There are certainly some anxious moments to be experienced by our leading lady and Mitchell has clearly been observing the “modern” branch of old school horror directors like John Carpenter in constructing the set-up for his scares. The pacing of the film also suggests a similar influence from this period, while the concept of a chain curse has its foundation in J-horror fare such as the classic Ringu.
Mitchell opens his film however with a disturbing bang. A young girl Annie (Bailey Spry) runs out into the street dressed in her underwear and high heels. She then takes her car and drives away to a beach where she makes an apologetic phone call to her parents. By the next morning we see that Annie has been brutally – and uncomfortably it has to be said – murdered.
It is hard to tell if the time skip to Jay’s story is forward or backward as the entire aesthetic from hereon in is rooted in the 1980’s, with old style telephones, analogue tube TVs, “classic” cars and drinking from cans and not bottles. The fashions and hair styles are ambiguous too and not for the best either – the do that Hugh sports is an embarrassing relic from the 90’s which should have warned Jay off him from the start!
Yet Jay’s bookworm friend Yara (Olivia Luccardi) has a clam shaped Kindle type device, the girls have tattoos and modern style piercings and Annie in the prologue had a mobile phone! The time period isn’t really essential to the plot or one’s enjoyment of the film, and being honest, the lack of mobile phones and Internet adds much to Jay’s plight with the automatic reliance on such useful technology.
Jay isn’t alone – she has a younger tearaway sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), wannabe lothario Greg (Daniel Zovatto), Yara, and nerdy Paul (Keir Gilchrist) who has a crush on Jay – and while they may not be affected they do stick by her through thick and thin. This loyalty comes at a risk and not all escape unscathed but they at least are given roles beyond being easy fodder for the evil apparition to wipe out one by one.
Ah yes, the antagonist of the story. To his credit Mitchell has created a rather unique manifestation of this curse in that “It” has no singular specific form. It could be a elderly woman in a dressing gown (Ingrid Mortimer), a naked woman with an apparent bladder problem (Alexyss Spradlin) or most frightening of all a menacing giant (played by 7ft 7in Mike Lanier)! “It’s” final form – at least the one we see – leaves more questions than answers, hinting that Jay’s addition to the chain was quite serendipitous, if it wasn’t preordained.
Every good horror needs a climactic showdown and this film is no different. The set-up is a little ill-advised on the practical front (it involves water and electricity) but this does create another inventive situation where Jay is hoisted by her own petard so to speak and her survival seems severely compromised by the ingenious plan to solve her issue with “It”. Mitchell handles the drama well and builds to the tension wonderfully, using the selective visibility of “It” to his advantage, keeping us hooked with little to no gore whatsoever.
The cast are all unknown to this writer and only Maika Monroe is really given anything of any substance to work with, and to be fair she steps up to the plate and does her best in the role. With Jay going from a positive young girl with her life ahead of her to a nervous wreck in fear of her life, Monroe marks the transition well enough, even if she is trapped within the “horror heroine” role to some extent.
While it may not be the scariest or horrifying film It Follows is a tense, well crafted, beautifully photographed ride with an intelligent, ambiguous concept behind the main story. Its low budget is never once exposed as David Robert Mitchell manages to blend a familiar template with a fresh idea to create an enjoyable enough distraction.
Interview with composer Disasterpeace
Audio Commentary with Danny Leigh and Mark Jancovich
Rating – ***
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