Few genres struggle with cliches quite like modern horror releases. Every year our screens are littered with a plethora of narratives laden with predictability and unoriginality that frequently fail to achieve the principal goal of this film format: to scare.
Somehow in 2014 however, a miracle happened.: two of the finest entries of recent times were created. UK audiences received one in the shape of Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, and the latter reaches our theatres on 27th February 2015: David Robert Mitchell’s future cult-classic It Follows.
By employing an array of cinematic techniques and enthusing a variety of styles, Mitchell straddles the narrow beam with such sure-footing that we witness a visual experience wholly unique and unexpected, and yet it is still jam-packed with odes to this seemingly exhausted category.
Aesthetically and thematically, there is nothing more important to the horror genre than sound. Whether this be a spine-tingling score or the ear-piercing screech of a door slowly opening, if you remove the noise, you deactivate the terror. Watch an infamous scene from a famed horror title on mute and you’ll realise just how vital its role is in building tension and rendering atmosphere. It Follows is a picture that understands the gravity of audio and it uses it to sublime effect.
The score composed by Disasterpeace is a work of genius in it’s own right; a hyper-blend of wobbling 80s electro-snyth and throbbing high-hats that evokes fondly fearful memories of John Carpenter’s Halloween, but the wider audio tracking is so skin-crawling that you’ll remain firmly perched on the edge of your seat throughout.
Having previously deconstructed the awkward notion of young adulthood in The Myth of the American Sleepover, this is an auteur who appreciates the complexities of youth, and more importantly, is able to showcase these in a intelligent, artful manner.
Unlike many movies which feature sex for zero reasoning, It Follows is actually about sex. For those unfamiliar with the film’s plot, here’s a brief synopsis: Jay (Maika Monroe) is a level-headed teenager currently dating salt-of-the-earth nice guy Hugh (Jake Weary), and after a few evenings out finds herself sleeping with him. What follows the act however is something of prolonged dread and psychological nightmare as she develops a ‘follower’; a prevalent being who can take any form, who furiously pursues her whilst remaining undetectable to those immune.
[pull_quote_right]It Follows succeeds in making audiences feel scared, and gives us a character we are invested in[/pull_quote_right]Horror lore usually suggests that those who partake in premarital sex will perish; the vast majority of teen films within the genre follow this formatting. Partially those who have sex in cars….that is just asking for death…and guess what, that happens here too. Rather than killing Jay however, her fate is significantly worse – and thankfully scarier – than dying. From her relations, she theoretically develops a sexually transmitted haunting which wreaks havoc on her mental state leading her to a state of relentless paranoia.
As the spectator, we journey Mitchell’s promiscuous nightmare with Jay; we live her anxiety, we sense her dread, we are immersed in her fear. All of these emotional responses prove two things: It Follows succeeds in actually making audiences feel scared, and that we finally have a character we are invested in. The writing and narrative progression is so perfectly fine-tuned that it never misses a beat, and consequently we are never released from the moment.
A recurrent obstacle many modern horrors fall at is the reveal; nothing is more dark and disturbed than the human mind. We can fathom the most terrifying entity to us personally and place such into the media we may be consuming (film, novels, television and so on). Therefore what it being unveiled as the focus of the horror needs to reach severe heights to actively spook the viewer.
To reference The Babadook again, Kent beautifully built a study of loss and mourning; emotions ever-so-close to fear on the spectrum, and used them to teeth-chattering effect. We barely see Mister Babadook which is why he is so damn scary, and when we do get a glimpse of his ghoulish facade, it sends shivers right down the spine.
Mitchell opts for a similar tactic. We never truly know who the ‘follower’ is. We know it exists, we know it’s relentless, but could we pick it out of a crowd? It could be the entire crowd. The decision to allow the haunting to take on any form is quite possibly the film’s masterstroke. Never does the same ‘follower’ appear either so absolutely anyone within the particular environment in question could be the maniacal presence.
[pull_quote_right]It Follows exquisitely breathes new life into tired, decrepit lungs [/pull_quote_right]This in turn leads to constant paranoia, doubt and restlessness, plus it adds layers of guilt to the infected who must pass on such psychological torment to an innocent other (much like an STI, this moves from person to person upon sexual engagement with the carrier).
The final ace up It Follows’ sleeve is the setting. Most horror movies have a core location and time-frame. It could be a Summer Camp upon a Minnesota Lake, it could be in the near future on a desolated island. Mitchell ensures his picture does not have the luxury of using any environments to it’s advantage.
The sets predominately showcased are 1980s suburbia; draped in sharp colours, dim lighting and retro objects, yet influences from the 50s and 60s are wholly present (fuzzy black and white televisions with dials, classic cars upon driveways), and even more bizarre modern-day technology is on offer – Jay’s friend has an e-reader device shaped like a seashell which she refers to frequently. This failure to lock the film into a particular region means audiences cannot imagine means to escape the dreaded fate of the infected which only further elevates the tension.
Although releases within any genre of this quality, thoughtfulness and originality seem like a rare treat, for horror this is actually more like a lifeline. It Follows exquisitely breathes new life into tired, decrepit lungs and gives it a second chance. It is the richest, most striking and compelling entry you are likely to witness all year and serves as a remarkable slice of teen cinema too.
Few films can truly live up to the hype, but trust us; David Robert Mitchell’s most certainly does, and boy is it means for celebration.