Saturday, 7 March 2015

Review: It Follows

Year: 2014 (U.K release 2015)
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Screenplay: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Jake Weary

Synopsis is here

A friend of mine, warned me about It Follows not being “scary” in the slightest. Informing me of the walkouts he had in his screening, he was quick to label the film as pretentious. Once that word was used I was wary about his reaction. However, when the film made a splash with some of my other film friends last year at the London Film Festival, I was even more cautious. I saw one tweet from an acquaintance labelling it as one of the horror films of the decade. After finally viewing the film on the Saturday of its opening weekend. I can safely say that while I lay somewhere in the middle of both reactions, the film’s unsettling style and thoughtful subtext had me wondering about the film in fascination for a good two days.

It Follows is not scary in the now more conventional sense of long banging jump scares (although one such moment is perfectly handled). The film mines great amounts of discomfort from it’s startlingly simple premise. If you have sex with someone who has had “it” passed on to them, then “it”, a shape shifting apparition, will follow you. It makes a beeline for you. It’s slow, yet unrelenting. It can look like someone you know, or a complete stranger. Once “it” has you, then it leaves your mangled corpse before moving on to the person who passed it before.

Part of the film’s strangeness comes from the various human forms the shape takes. One of the earlier scenes has us witness “it” as an elderly woman. Once you consider the films mechanics, the film becomes more disquieting. It takes forms of people these teens know and love. This not only disarms the youths, but also implies transgressive consanguinity based anxieties, which are difficult to shake off. Two of the key scenes are quick to remind you not only of the absence of adults, but also the destruction of the suburban family. A well-known component of U.S horror, which often rears its head amongst the strongest entries of the genre.

Then the film contrasts this with the way it observes teenage sexually (particularly female) and relationships. Marking them with a keen eye for closeness and rapport. While the dialogue isn't remarkable, the performances do grow as the film continues and the icky creepiness of the premise and the cold deliberate dread of the film then really takes hold. Highlighting relationships, not too dissimilar to the seemingly parentless teens who permeate the films of Larry Clark. A sense of loneliness begins to penetrate throughout. Parents are often heard but never really seen, while most of the information shared between the kids never trickles up to them, only emphasizing the generation gaps and isolation.  

The main reason the film manages to instill such a beautiful sense of dread, is its cinematography. Excuse me for my hyperbole (I’m sure you have before), but I can’t think of a horror film which lies so much fear on such precise compositions. Utilising the widescreen format (as well as autumn, suburb setting) in a way that harks back to one of horror’s granddaddies: Halloween. While so many horror films have attacked the forefront and centre. It Follows, like Halloween, understands just how disturbing things are when we’re not fully focused on them. Things don’t jump out in It Follows, they stalk towards. Close ups make us restless, as due to their tightness, we can’t peer round the frame. Innocuous background characters, suddenly pose threat when walking into the shallow depth of field.  The film becomes a “Guess Who” of the genre, gleefully recalling the “did you see that” feeling of Carpenters 1978 hit feature.

Unfortunately It Follows sometimes suffers from some frustrations. A character informs another of a certain rule and it’s broken with a hint of irony. One could easily place this down to fear and I urge you should for more enjoyment. However, the fact that characters play a little fast and loose with the rules more than once, only reminds me of just how Scream (1996) broke a generation of film goers. The film also feels more than a little indulgent at the best of times. Not all the directorial flourishes always help tell the story or build the character while the music often comes off as more jarring and incessant. 

However, by the end of the film, It Follows posed questions and feelings that, much like Kill List (2009), or Ringu (1998) provoked me with a complexity and ambition that I so often crave from a horror film. Much of the films beauty lies in the fact that despite having elements that will remind folks of Kids (1995), Final Destination (2000), Under the Skin (2014), The Terminator (1984), The Night of the Hunter (1955) or the photographic works of Gregory Crewdson, It Follows never feels like it a list of obvious homages. It never rests on its retro leanings or its laurels. It uses subtext to its advantage and does what I feel a good horror should do: make the mundane feel frightening. It Follows sets a high bar for horror movies in 2015. Unlike my friend in the first paragraph, I hope that the other contenders can keep up.