Grungy and Lo-Fi, Director David Robert Mitchell’s “It follows” takes place in the bleak and desolate suburbia of a decaying Detroit of yesteryear or tomorrow or maybe today. There’s an artfully obfuscatory approach to the era in which the film is set, lending it an unsettlingly dream-like quality and providing a fertile environment for the main conceit to take root.
When Jay (Maika Monroe) has sex with the guy she’s been dating for the first time, her happiness is short lived as he drugs her and takes her to an abandoned car park to tell her that he has transferred a curse to her. There is a creature coming for her, slowly but relentlessly, and the only way she can rid herself of the curse is to pass it on to someone else through sex.
The central threat of “It Follows” is original and chilling: slow moving and relentless, the unnamed and unexplained creature is a terrific creation. In an era where zombies have become abundant, agile and faster, making a solitary, slow moving figure truly menacing is a real achievement. While there are fleeting glimpses of mobile phones and a quirky but deeply anachronistic e-reader (a fictional creation for this film) the in the main the film feels like it comes from the late 1970’s and the ambiguous timeframe of the film is fundamental in making the whole film work. Despite the cleverness of the central concept, this is a horror film which simply would not work set in the post-“Scream”, ironic self-aware horror world. There’s an innocence to both the characters and their actions that simply wouldn’t seem authentic were the film clearly set in the modern day.
At its finest, especially in its quieter moment, it evokes the same uneasy tension as “A Nightmare On Elm Street” (the original, before the sequels increasingly turned towards action-horror-comedy), and there are visual references to classic horror movies such as “The Evil Dead”, “Children Of The Corn”. But Mitchell isn’t content simply to homage the greats of the past and infuses the film with a restless, kinetic eye, keeping the camera in near constant motion as if to mimic the actions of the often unseen threat and culminating in some spectacular 360-degree panning shots which heighten the paranoia and shock value of the monster’s fleeting appearances.
It’s only towards the end that it begins to stumble as the movie forgets its own rules in favour of striking imagery and in its denouement it homages another staple of 1970’s spookiness: “Scooby Doo” cartoons. As Jay and her Scooby gang devise their master plan, much of the tension fritters away and the ending feels clumsy and, especially effects wise, disappointing as the budgetary constraints start to show.
Thematically, “It Follows” is a cleverly layered horror allegory with the obvious STI-as-a-monster metaphor hiding a deeper, warmer subtext about the need for love and sex to keep the spectre of death at bay. It builds masterfully in both fear and frights yet can’t quite stick the landing but, like last year’s similarly lo-fi horror success “The Babadook”, the fumbles don’t take away anything from the brilliance of the concept or the chills it delivers.