Sporting the best movie title of 2015, David Robert Mitchell's It Follows fiddles around with the conventions of late 1970's/ early 1980's slashers and turns them upside down on their head, the old switcharoo: if you haven't had it, you've had it! Not only does the movie deliver in terms of horror, but delves deeper into something more poignant.
Set in a timeless Detroit, void of any parental guidance, Jay (Maika Monroe) is a coming of age teen dating a guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). She is surrounded by her two sisters and an old friend Paul (Keir Gilchrist), who is hopelessly in love with her. Inevitably, Jay gets frisky with Hugh one night and after the deed is done she is drugged, brought to one of many of Detroit's abandoned buildings and tied to a chair. Her lover lays down the law of the "Thing" that will now follow her relentlessly due to the fact that she had sex with him. He explains to her the ground rules:
-It follows you
-It can take any form
-It doesn't run, but walks step by step slowly
-The only way to pass it on is to have sex with someone else
-Must now let it kill you or it will re-track its steps to those before her.
Gulp...essentially, fuck the pain away. Obviously nobody believes her after this ordeal, but her friends are willing to help her.
Already Mitchell has scrapped the rule of the virginal heroin, which has been a staple in the slasher genre ever since John Carpenter ended the sexual revolution with his landmark film Halloween. Carpenter's work evidently has a major stylistic influence, visually and sonically. Another clear influence is Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street, whose protagonists also had no real parental support and had to work together in order to survive.
Except for two instances, the movie doesn't rely on cheap scares to make the audience jump, rather it creates a sense of foreboding dread and tension, which seldom results in a big scare. This is demonstrated through the brooding soundtrack and magnificent tracking and pan shots. The fun things about It Follows is the manipulation of the audiences expectations of being scared. As Hugh at the beginning of the movie provides the rules of the antagonist, the audience have to shift gears in order to look out and prepare for the jumpy bits. Since the "evil" follows slowly and from any direction, we find ourselves examining every inch of the screen in the dark attempting to spot the follower. It's the Where's Wally of the slasher film.
Since we are not witnessing big jumps or a bunch of teenagers getting slaughtered every few minutes, we are given time to care for the characters and their relationships, which makes It Follows not one of your run of the mill slasher flicks. We laugh at how pathetic Paul is when he gives Jay those puppy dog eyes and offers to help her with her situation while she's off banging half of Detroit to rid herself of the curse. A few times he insinuates offering his services to help cure her, which is funny at the time, but we later realise there's actually true sincerity underneath the surface.
The most harrowing part of the movie isn't a Saviniesque blood splatter, but a simple sad scene that brilliantly portrays the subtext of the film. Jay, while on the run from her burden is hiding out at the beach. She notices three men oozing with machismo fist pumping to music on a boat. She removes her clothes and walks into the water slowly with a solemn expression on her face.
David Robert Mitchell toyed with the conventions of the slasher without a distaste for the genre, but with an admiration and dedication to the form as we can see from his visual style and countless references throughout the movie. He raised all the sexual and gender themes that where buried underneath all the gore to the surface of the plot and has delivered a very interesting horror that will keep audiences alert and inquisitive throughout.