Horror is currently going through something of a renaissance. 2011’s Insidious, 2012’s The Woman in Black, 2013’s The Conjuring, and 2014’s Oculus and The Babadook are all excellent horror films that don’t rely on showing all of the gore and torture to terrify the audience. Even our bad horror films aren’t as bad; some low budget found footage fare like Devil’s Due even went as far as to actually be decent. Directors are starting to realise that it’s far better in the long run to make a horror film that’s genuinely scary rather than one that just satisfies a lust for fake blood and guts. 2015’s first great horror film now comes in the form of It Follows, the third film from writer/director David Robert Mitchell.
It Follows centres on Jay (Maika Monroe), a teenaged every-girl who is going steady with her boyfriend, Hugh (Jake Weary). After a date one night, they have sex in Hugh’s car, but she suddenly wakes up bound to a wheelchair in an abandoned car park. Hugh explains to her that he was being haunted by a mysterious creature “ the eponymous ˜it’ “ and the only way to pass it on to another person was through sex. He tells her that the only way she can get rid of it is to sleep with someone else as soon as possible. While she initially doesn’t believe him, strange things begin to happen around her, which makes her question whether he was really telling the truth.
Often, horror films are only as good as their villain. Nightmare on Elm Street wouldn’t be anything without Freddy Krueger, Friday the 13th wouldn’t be anything without Jason Vorhees, and Halloween wouldn’t be anything without Michael Myers. The hero is very often less interesting than the thing trying to kill them, and that is definitely the case in It Follows. The every-girl protagonist is just that, an every-girl. She has almost no defining characteristics and is completely one-note, or even no-note.
However, this isn’t really a problem, as It Follows has got to be one of the most horribly, unbearably, insanely tense movies in recent memory. It’s a truly terrifying film, because it finds the sweet spot of what we all find scary. The monster doesn’t run after you screaming with blood dripping down its mouth, it simply walks towards you. It’s always walking. It can take the shape of any person “ an old woman, a small child, a naked man “ and will always walk towards you. David Robert Mitchell has said that he based the idea off of a nightmare he had as a child, and it really shows. It expertly captures the feeling of a bad dream, one where a horrible entity is totally in control, where despite the fact you want to run you can never run quite fast enough, it’s always right behind you.
It’s pitch perfect psychological horror, and perpetrates a constant oppressive atmosphere of pure dread, the horrible feeling that something horrifying will happen at any moment, even when it doesn’t and would have no place to happen.
It isn’t perfect, mind. While the horror is fantastic, the actual writing of the film probably could have used some work. It Follows‘ first half is better than its second, mostly because the second half basically is the first half repeated again with some different characters and in a different place. It really does feel like a short film stretched out to feature length.
However, it’s not a deal-breaker, and the ending is wonderfully ambiguous. It really is a shame they couldn’t have thought of something a little more new for the last half of the film, but the terror never does let up. This is largely due to Mitchell’s wonderful camerawork, all flowing stedicam shots and tension building 360 pans. It adds a vaguely surreal aspect to the proceedings that helps along the weirder parts.