Review: It Follows

In the brightly-lit, leafy green suburbia of middle-class Detroit, a teenager is pursued through the streets by an invisible force. Her bewildered neighbors and parents call after her, but she escapes by foot and then by car, pressing on as if some unseen horror were hot on her heels. It's with this unsettling sequence that David Robert Mitchell's teen horror It Follows begins.

Not long afterwards, we meet Jay - a long-limbed nineteen-year old girl with the last blush of teenage innocence about her.  She kills time as most girls her age do; hanging out with friends, floating around in the pool, and going on the odd date. On one such date, Jay has a sexual encounter -- and finds her entire world thrown into chaos.

The film's premise has a misleading simplicity -- the 'rules' are delineated early on, when Jay's date frantically explains to her that he must sexually 'pass on' a curse to her before it kills him. In order to save herself and countless others before her, Jay must sexually transmit the curse onto some other poor soul, entrusting him to do the same. The curse takes the form of a malevolent shape-shifter that stalks its victim ad infinitum -- sometimes resembling parents and friends. It's like sexual hot potato, only you can lose the game based on others' sexual activity - not just your own.

It's not long before Jay begins to see strange figures moving toward her with eerie purpose; she turns into a quivering wreck, surveying different exits and ready to leap out of windows at any moment. It's a film of broad daylight scares, accompanied by Rich Vreeland's prickly, nerve-tingling electronic score. Smooth, quietly watchful tracking shots are accompanied by a soundtrack which paranoiacally pings and throbs -- cleverly mimicking Jay's heightened awareness.

The sense of being hunted is omnipresent; in one circular pan, the camera spins around a high school corridor and stops where it began. Nothing looks out of the ordinary, but it's unnerving. Later, a lingering shot out of a rain-streaked window reveals nothing unusual; again, the expectation is frightening in itself.

Navigating teenage sex in the horror film is material rife with cliché. In the slasher film pecking order, the promiscuous are never long for the world. Riffing on this reactionary idea, sex in It Follows is both the catalyst and the only cure for the curse.  But if Mitchell is driving at a reconsideration of horror movie tropes, the precise reasoning remains inconclusive. If Jay knows the curse will return to her, why does she continue to try to pass it on? Is it out of desperation, spite, or just lust? The metaphor loses some mileage in the final quarter of the film; it morphs from thought-provoking to mildly confusing, and some of the nerve-shredding terror is lost along the way.

Still, the film's retooling of a backwards-looking generic tendency proves interesting. Is the monster some kind of psychosexual teenage creation, borne of hormonal terror at one's own body? Or could it be representative of the irrevocable change brought on by sex - the way it comes to inescapably define and rule our adult lives?

Even if you don't want to tap into the film's muddled exploration of teenage sex - It Follows is unusually clever, and its atmospherics are hard to beat. It's a film where space itself - and the potentialities for who and what can move into that space -- become frightening. School courtyards, kitchens, playgrounds and backyards seethe with hidden danger. In this way, the film plumbs a deep well of primal dread - tapping into the sharpened sense of prey being stalked. Being pursued by an inescapable, mysterious force is the basis for countless nightmares; and Mitchell's film conjures the same blind, incoherent panic of a bad dream. For that feeling alone, it's worth seeing.

Now showing at Broadway Cinema Nottingham


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