Let’s be honest, as time passes there are increasingly fewer places for horror to go. As with most film genres, the chances that audiences will leave the latest chiller saying, ‘I’ve seen it all before’, are reasonably high. Film being what it is the probability that the medium will eventually run out of new ideas is inevitable. So, when a horror movie emerges that feels original and – perhaps more importantly – genuinely scary, people sit up and take notice. Such is the case with the indie frightener It Follows, written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, and starring a group of fresh, young talent – including Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist and Olivia Lucardi – who it will be well worth keeping an eye on in the future.
Jay (Monroe) is a carefree teenager, concerned only by the things which worry most girls of her age – friendships, school and how to spend her weekends. However, things take a turn for the worse when, following an unexpected amorous encounter, Jay begins to suffer terrifying hallucinations which may or may not be real, and which could have devastating repercussions for her and all who know her.
It’s a sign of a good horror film that it can still appear unique and unsettling, despite using some of the oldest tricks in the book. It Follows takes a host of horror staples – with the essence of its scenario, situations and shocks having been seen in everything from Cherry Falls to the Final Destination and Scream franchises – yet uses them in such a way that, despite having seen them before, they still manage not to annoy or detract from the film’s overall enjoyment. Take for instance sex – one of the most popular, some might say overused, tricks in modern horror. Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the genre post Friday the 13th will know that teenagers indulging in elicit sex are prime fodder for whatever nasty demise may befall a film’s victims. In It Follows though, despite the main way for the unfortunates to pass on the ‘curse’ is for them to have sex, you never feel as you do with a lot of ‘teenager-in-peril’ films that it is there just for titillation. Here it serves a purpose in the storyline, resulting in a certain acceptability.
Amongst the film’s other strong points is the setting in which the story plays out. Reminiscent of the innocent looking suburban America introduced to a world wide audience by such films as Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street – here one featured house looks like it’s straight from The Amityville Horror – the ‘normality’ of the environment (wonderfully captured in the decaying Detroit locations used in filming) in which Jay and her friends live simply adds to the film’s seeping, unspoken horror. Part of any film’s success is its ability to make those viewing it believe in it, no matter how farfetched its premise. It Follows works because – like many of those early slasher films from the late 1970s and 80s – viewers will recognise the film’s settings as similar to those where they live themselves, hence giving the proceedings an added sense of discomfort.
The young cast – particularly Monroe whose portrayal of Jay’s frustration and mounting terror brought on by the futility and desperation of her situation is palpable – are marvellous. Left to their own devices, with the minimum of interference from older cast members, the result is a film which focuses on the isolation and fears experienced by many teenagers entering adulthood, which simply makes its terrors all the more real.