An excellent entry into a genre that’s far too often found lacking. A genuine diamond in the rough.
Yesterday’s trip to see It Follows was a happy accident. I had a spare couple of hours and wanted to see something new. With the local Cine being refurbished the list of films available was a short one and my choices were limited to old guff, new guff, and this. I’d not heard anything of the film until recently. I hadn’t seen a trailer until yesterday and caught a couple of preview write-ups while deciding whether or not to watch it.
I went into the film knowing almost nothing about it. An advert and a synopsis was all I had and I admit, it was a nice change of pace. It was refreshing to go in blank and let the film be the film. Part of me still sat worried what I was letting myself in for. After all, I’d just seen a trailer that made it look like I was in for a couple of boring hours as the latest crappy, trope filled, teen hating “horror” movie. Fully expecting a paint-by-numbers waste of time, I sat with my popcorn and my bottle of water, put my feet up and prepared for nap time.
I rolled out of screen 3, an hour and forty minutes later pleasantly surprised, suitably creeped out and eating my own words.
It Follows is pretty formulaic on paper. We follow our heroine Jay, played by The Guest‘s Maika Monroe, as she becomes the latest person to become plagued by a curse. One that haunts its victim with terrifying imagery of a lone person chasing them. The only way to escape the agony of the curse following you is to pass it on to another person by having sex with them. Jay’s boyfriend has quite literally given her the shaft in an attempt to escape his curse. Now she must find a way to defeat it or escape it before it gets to her.
Enlisting the help of her friends, Jay seeks to find a way to beat the curse that, as the title suggests, follows her everywhere she goes. The guy that gave her the world’s worst STD informs her that it will chase her unrelentingly trying to kill her. Once it kills her, it will go back to the person that passed it to her and so on until it gets to the person who started the cycle. But the curse can’t run. It can’t pass through walls and it can’t fly. It walks. It’s one, single entity, and it walks after you, single-mindedly, hoping to catch you in a corner.
Like I said, pretty formulaic and by-the-numbers, right?
What blew me away was how it played out. It took its bland, generic looking ball and ran with it. I went in with genuinely low expectations and even when the first tropes were appearing on the screen I was rolling my eyes and sighing like a kid wanting attention. I didn’t want to be subject to the same garbage I was with films like Insidious. Luckily, I wasn’t.
The whole film quickly had me intrigued. Whilst there’s no scene or dialogue that dates the film, it seems to be set in mid 1980’s Detroit. Everything on the screen screams the 80’s. The cars, the clothes, oh god, the clothes. At one point a guy in acid wash jeans and jacket walks across the screen invoking thoughts of The Breakfast Club as I was watching. No mobile phones, no-one tweeting that they “saw a dead body #gross” and no massive flat screen TVs being advertised in every living room shot. There’s one hint that doesn’t sit with the rest of the setting, that’s it. Just one. The rest of the film has its feet firmly planted 30 years ago in the greatest age of horror movies. It’s a genius move to make. It felt like I had gotten tickets to some 80’s retrospective night and this was one of those greats that no-one had heard of.
The movie’s score serves to solidify its setting. Almost everything you’ll hear is that out-dated, teeth grinding electro-synth stuff we thought we left behind all those years ago. The films every encounter plays with an electronic backdrop that instantly conjours up memories of the films obvious influences. Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, even The Shining are all heavily borrowed from in both sound and visuals.
Writer/director David Robert Mitchell (of The Myth of the American Sleepover fame) also takes a lot of his influence from a much younger genre; Japanese horror. Taking some of the creepiest moments from films like Ringu and One Missed Call, Mitchell had my skin crawling and me writhing in my seat time and time again as these visuals, that had no business being in a retro looking film, jumped out of the screen at me and had me searching for the exits.
Now, you can hardly talk about a horror film without talking about its scares, can you? In a genre that’s become increasingly more reliant on blood and gore instead of scares, It Follows sticks with its old-school feel and sticks with what made horror what it was; scares. There are plenty of predictable jump scares for the masses going to see their “hug me” movie on date night. But there a few times where I was genuinely scared. I jumped out of my chair on more than one occasion and there was one time that, I swear to god, if I’d been at home where none could see a grown man crap his load, I’d have stopped the film and legged it to the nearest khazi to scrape my pants. I even knew it was coming. I’ve seen it before, but it didn’t stop the film from creeping me out to the point I wanted to go all ostrich like and hide my face in my popcorn.
It Follows owes its entire existence to the 1980’s. It’s an homage to all the horror films we all love from the late ’70’s and most of the ’80’s and in a sea of mediocre shocker films, it’s an absolute gem of a horror. Its heritage is firmly in a golden age of scary movies and while it’s an original film in its own right, it’s a better remake of 1980’s horror than most of the actual remakes we’ve been forced to watch over the last decade or so.
It Follows was released in UK cinemas on Friday 27 Feb and you can catch Brooker again on the next episode of the Failed Critics Podcast.