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by Jordan Canahai
David Robert Mitchell’s refreshing contemporary horror film It Follows seems to have emerged right out of a nightmare and onto the cinema screens. While more recent films of the genre might be more thoughtful (The Babadook) or innovative (Kill List) or down-right scary (Sinister) they all tend to fall back on jolting sensation. What makes It Follows unique among them is in the way it’s more creepy than thrilling, trading in a series of disturbing images which unfold slowly and create a cumulative effect, rather than the usual jump out your seat scares. It’s not a zombie film, slasher movie, or ghost story, though it contains elements of each. The menace stalking the teenagers in Mitchell’s film is both easy to explain yet difficult to effectively describe. Life many good horror films, It Follows is a symbolic and self-aware exercise, the curse here is a sexually transmitted disease in which the “infected” victim is haunted and pursued by horrific visions which often yield even more horrific consequences.
Our heroine is nineteen-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe), who is dating the older, troubled Hugh (Jake Weary) when the film begins. Their relationship initially proves uneasy, partly because Hugh always seems to be distracted by some inner demons. In these early scenes, Mitchell expertly conveys a sense of free-floating menace, emphasized by a hushed soundtrack and his loose yet deliberate camera work. The vague sense of impending doom is made concrete after the couple first has sex in the back of his car, but there’s little room for romance to follow, as Hugh proceeds to chloroform and kidnap a bewildered and terrified Jay and explain to her what he’s done, thus providing all the exposition the film is willing to give. She will now be followed by the monsters, and the only way to stop them is for her to have sex with someone else.
Taking a page from Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street, Mitchell and his cinematographer Michael Gioulakis do their high-concept justice with an unnerving aesthetic approach that makes the film’s idyllic suburban setting—a safely nestled community marked by a pervasive and unstoppable threat, as much a character as any of the terrified kids who populate it. Vividly captured by a smooth, roaming and panning camera and scored to the ethereal synth of Disasterpeace, the film is all atmospheric terror. Mitchell proves an intelligent filmmaker who understands cinematic fear is all about the movie frame: camera distance, motion or stillness, what’s shown and not shown. It’s remarkable the sorts of images that so effectively evoke dread depending on how he presents them. Visually, the fear the film elicits is one of proximity, the discomfort of something invading our space.
Still, as the subtext makes clear the real threat of the film is the lure of sex, specifically the single-minded sexual drive of teenagehood. It Follows could have employed sex simply as a cautionary device, but the film is smarter than that, neither pro-abstinence nor anti-abstinence because sexual intimacy (strictly heterosexual, one must note, a drawback of the film’s limited scope and exposition) can both infect and eradicate the disease. In Mitchell’s film, sex can function either as an expression of self-interest or an act of giving (or, in this case, taking) sacrifice, much like it does in real life.
Watch the trailer for It Follows
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