Published Sep 12, 2014It Follows is the most impressive film to come out of the Midnight Madness program thus far. It's not necessarily what you'd expect from a follow up to 2010's The Myth of the American Sleepover, a soft-spoken love letter to the charms of suburban teenage life, but somehow, director David Robert Mitchell manages to transfer the sweetness and innocence of that film into a horror landscape quite seamlessly, in a way that makes the world of It Follows work where Myth fell a little flat.
Just as John Carpenter's Halloween rewarded virginity with survival, the sweet teenage suburbia of Mitchell's It Follows loses its innocence when sex on a first date results in a sexually transmitted haunting that, once contracted, causes a hallucinatory curse in which the infected becomes stalked by ghosts out for their blood. This happens to Jay (Maika Monroe), the prettiest girl in school, after she beds an anxious out-of-towner in the back seat of a car. Now Jay must outrun ghosts, who, although they don't travel very fast, nevertheless are somewhere out there, en route to kill.
The most unsettling feature of these ghosts is that they don't look especially different from anyone else — at least not at first glance — resulting in truly creepy wide frames that make it difficult to detect the threat of a ghastly assailant. Both Jay and the viewer can't help but scrutinize each shot for the appearance of lurking ghosts, vaguely distinguishable in a crowd until it's too late.
Nightmares are so eerie because they involve sensations more than concrete objects of fear. It Follows manages to evoke the viscerally haunting tone of a dark dream, with abject imagery that succeeds in getting under the skin. (Carnival of Souls is by no means considered one of horror's scariest films, but the shot of the tuxedoed ghoul slowly ascending from the water towards the camera is an image burned in the brains of cinephiles for a reason.)
What's perhaps most interesting about It Follows is that the film exists in a John Hughes atmosphere, without a hint of adult presence. Mitchell admirably avoids cell phones and other technological devices that cement the story in any given era, lending a timeless feel, unrestricted by the soon-to-be dated present. Like an '80s Amblin production, in the youth-centric world of It Follows, characters refreshingly connect with an authenticity uncontaminated by today's distracted, one-eye-on-a-mobile-device tendencies.
A stellar horror premise is great, but when that film also presents a cast of real teens who behave truthfully, you have a film that rises above convention and achieves something special. It Follows walks the line of honest teen drama and genuine horror, offering the best of both worlds in the process. (Mongrel Media)