One of the key achievements of Paul Greengrass’ excellent The Bourne Ultimatum was that it felt, from beginning to end, like a non-stop chase movie. On rewatching it, there are clearly moments where the action slows down, but it never felt like it did when I watched it for the first time.
It Follows achieves something similar. There’s something unerringly simple at its heart, but it finds and commits to a surprisingly creepy tone very early on, and I can’t think of a point where it lets its focus grip.
What’s interesting is that writer/director David Robert Mitchell is playing with conventions that have tripped so many in the horror genre up before. His film is led by a teen ensemble, there’s something coming for at least one of them, there’s the matter of teenage sex, there are red herrings, and there’s a young lead in Maika Monroe who in the early stages seems to be being put through the horror movie motions.
Furthermore, the opening scene – a young woman in her underattire, pegging it down the street from some unseen foe – did not leave me with the early impression that It Follows had much special about it. As it turns out, it’s the weakest part of the movie.
Where it really starts to turn is in an early scene where Monroe’s Jay goes on a date and plays a game of ‘who would you swap places with’ while waiting in the queue for the movies with her boyfriend. It didn’t strike me until later just how effective this scene was, not least because it introduces the key driving horror mechanic of the film: that if you’re the chosen one, something that mixes a Romero zombie and a James Cameron Terminator will keep coming for you. It won’t run, but it’ll just keep coming.
Mitchell’s trump card, though, proves not to be his idea, but his quite brilliant execution of it. His camera moves slowly. Oftentimes, it’s fixed, forcing us to stare at the film, looking for the tiniest hint of movement in the background. Those who watched The Strangers may recall a particularly chilly scene in the midst of that movie, that tends to get talked about more than the feature entire. It Follows maintains that kind of tone for the whole movie.
Furthermore, Mitchell never cheats, either. He has many moments where you think something is going to happen, certainly, but at no stage in the movie does he go for the cheap jump, or the quick scare. He builds and builds and builds and builds, and when he decides he’s going to release some of that tension, it’s genuinely chilling, very creepy and just a little bit scary. In truth, I haven’t felt so unnerved watching a horror film of this ilk in a long time.
For this isn’t taking the approach of The Babadook, last year’s best horror movie, that works on many levels. It Follows has things going on, but it’s a slightly more straightforward narrative beast. Which means that for the film to work, pretty much everything within it has to hold together.
The details matter. Mitchell’s use of sound is exquisite. On the way out of the screening, the people in front of me described the film as “weird”. I don’t think it is, but by moving the camera so little, and deploying Rich Vreeland’s score so stunningly, it suddenly feels like all the other movies are weird. This is the way horror of this ilk can and should be done. Even the ending is really well done, and not in a cheap way. How often can you say that?
Maika Monroe’s performance in particular is superb here, giving one of the most convincing screen performances of abject fright we’ve seen in a long time. But it’s more than that: she’s believable, she has a circle of friends and family who are both fleshed and convincingly support her, and when she’s faced with difficult decisions that in other hands may feel cheap, it all feels utterly logical.
As with most good horrors, the less you know about It Follows before seeing it the better. It also demands to be seen in a cinema, where it can be devoured in one sitting, without interruption. It’s not even just that you need to see it that way because of the manner of which Mitchell builds his film. Rather that, within 10 minutes or so, he’s get his hands to your neck, and he ain’t letting go until the end credits.
It Follows in out in UK cinemas on February 27th
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