Film review: ‘It Follows’

Doesn’t always follow that style makes a movie

In one long unbroken take, we watch a frantic young woman, dressed in very little (as horror conventions would dictate), exploding out of a house on a row of identikit family homes into the quietude of a classic American suburban street. Apparently traumatised by an unseen pursuer, the contrast between the girl’s nervous energy and the otherwise eerie calm of the setting creates an electric charge that continues to crackle well into the running time.

Grisly and gorgeous
Wowing critics at Cannes last year, It Follows is the second feature of American filmmaker David Robert Mitchell after his under-appreciated debut The Myth of the American Sleepover.

This time Mitchell sets himself the task of creating “a beautiful horror movie”. In attempting to do this, he’s appropriated the popular Asian trope of a curse that can be passed on – one that is somehow transferable – à la The Ring, The Cursed, The Grudge et al.

Here the means of both contracting the curse, which involves being followed relentlessly by shuffling ghouls that only the victim can see, and lifting it are the same: hanky-panky. Simple then – glue on your pants securely enough and you’ll never have to worry about discovering a naked, pale, angry old man perched on your roof. Unfortunately for these teenagers, they weren’t privy to that advice.

A nightmarish logic
A young cast of relative unknowns are uniformly strong, giving a sense that we’re glimpsing a new generation of actors, soon to become much more familiar in the same way that A Nightmare on Elm Street gave us Johnny Depp, amongst others.

The cast’s serious treatment of the material proves crucial in selling what reads like a thoroughly silly premise: when Jay (Monroe) sleeps with her date, she unwittingly relieves him of a curse that has seen him stalked by a malevolent being who can inhabit any human body (usually rendering it naked and invisible to all but the victim) and whose ultimate goal is to kill and keep killing until it arrives at the source of the curse. Of course now, that murderous being is relentlessly pursuing Jay and there’s nothing she can do to escape it – except sleep with someone new to pass it on.

This somewhat wobbly premise exploits primarily religious fears related to sexual morality, wielding its venereal disease metaphor and ultimately proving to be Mitchell’s trump card – the nightmarish logic of this shadowy, indistinct but relentless attacker is so persistent that one can only surrender to it.

Weaker second act
With any inherent weakness fortified by the cast, Rich Vreeland’s heavily John Carpenter-inspired score/soundscape and the flawless photography – geared towards claustrophobic effect and wistful retro flavour (think The Virgin Suicides with ghosts) – Mitchell’s highly stylised and refreshingly gore-free film achieves his goal of the beautiful horror movie – but only in part.

By the halfway mark, the near suffocating sense of foreboding that drives the first half dissipates after the gang arrives at a beach house, giving way to a subsequent series of episodic set-pieces that betray the film’s lack of budget and ideas.