The horror movie genre has been in a sorry state for some time now, lost in a welter of found-footage shaky-cam cliches that neither surprise nor scare the viewer – so it’s heartening to witness what feels like the beginning of a new wave of scare movies that offer something a bit more original. First up was Jennifer Kent’s antipodean frightener, The Babadook, which delivered a well needed kick to the ailing beast. Now comes It Follows, a film that despite owing a massive debt to the work of John Carpenter, nonetheless offers an interesting new direction, one that manages to generate genuine dread throughout the film’s duration.
Jay (Maika Monroe) is the unfortunate teenager who after indulging in a little casual sex with Hugh (Jake Weary) is rather bluntly informed that she has now inherited the unwelcome attentions of a shapeshifting creature that will pursue her (luckily it only moves slowly) and will kill her unless she first has sex with somebody else, thereby diverting the creature’s attentions to the new partner. The creature, which comes in a whole variety of guises, from an old lady to a urinating teenager, is only visible to those who are being hunted by it.
You could look at this film as an allegory about STDs and you could also criticise its rather protestant approach to promiscuity (something else it has in common with Carpenter – in Halloween, the sexually active girls are murdered by Michael Myers, whilst virginal Jaime Lee Curtis survives) but what you won’t be able to deny is that David Robert Mitchell’s adept handling of the material wracks up almost unbearable levels of tension. The comparisons with early John Carpenter don’t stop there – the gliding steadicam shots along suburban streets evoke the semi-legendary setting of Haddonfield, while the wiry synthesised score also recalls that director at the height of his powers. It’s hard to believe that this is accidental, more likely a homage.
But while it wears its influences on its sleeve, I don’t want to deny Robert Mitchell’s undoubted skill at creating something refreshingly original in the world of horror. This is unsettling stuff that will make you feel very uncomfortable and that, after all, is the name of the game.