It Follows (2015) Preview & Curzon Soho Q&A
Halloween has come early this year with a freshly wounded take on the horror genre, as just when you thought the most cannibalistic of genres was exhausting its powers a new director comes along and shreds a new scream of life into the category of chills with It Follows. Pushing aside my disappointment with last years The Babadook we seem to get roughly one good scare picture a year these days, recent cycles have seen me elect Let The Right One In, Excission and Occulous to my exalted best films of the year list, movies which join the pantheon of atrocities, monsters and massacres of cinemas charnel house, in fact here is superb list collating the best horror pictures of the 21st century thus far. It Follows arrives on a crimson crest of fevered expectation following North American festival frights, with its unusual STD infected idiom and wickedly original premise piquing my petrifying curiosity, so the news of a special preview screening and post Q&A with director David Robert Mitchell and star Maika Monroe over at the Curzon Soho couldn’t be missed.
The films secret weapon lies coiled within its unique premise, as we all know in horror movies if you are a teenager and you have sex then you will die, usually from a machete to the skull or a maniac wielded chainsaw to the guts. It Follows elongates this curse out to equally painful yet existential dimensions, as a cold opening sees a terrified young woman fleeing from unseen assailants to a remote beach. Shivering in terror she calls her parents to apologize for her behavior, before being found in a grotesquely twisted mess by bemused paramedics the next morning. Meanwhile in a muted suburban precinct nineteen year old Jay (Maika Monroe) is idly sitting around the house and paddling in the pool, before going on a date with her mysterious new boyfriend. After a knee trembling incident of intercourse in the back of his car Jay is chloroformed by her suitor and awakes bound to a chair, her terrified partner frantically explaining the rules of some grotesque game.
Like all infected she will be stalked by a ruthlessly relentless, single-purposed parade of atrocity aligned apparitions, both male and female, old and young, all striving to sweep her up in an onyx eyed bear-hug and give her a sweet embrace, a………hungry………embrace. From that synopsis you could be forgiven for anticipating just another body horror picture, but It Follows actualizes an interior fear with a tangible threat, less interested in some social malaise in the body politic than it is with the fear of other bodies and their lurching, insatiable and intruding appetites. Also unlike the gory preponderance of discharges, excretions and infections the film is aligned to an existential terror which crucially only the cursed can see, a complication which makes for some deliciously distressing little moments of gnawing dread and panic on-screen, as director Mitchell mines these petrifying possibilities with an expert engineering of the widescreen plane. The escape clause gives the film a moral compass and complexity due to the possible antidote offered to the doomed – have sex with other partners and you might be able to pass it on like some poltergeist plundered lethal game of pass-the-parcel.
I loved the hermetically sealed nature of It Follows, as well as the obvious touchstones (early Carpenter in particular Halloween for the suburban uncertainty, Invasion of The Body Snatchers, a smattering of Twin Peaks and a sneaky little howl out to Cat People) it also draws upon more recent other age-closeted worlds, such as Donnie Darko or Brick. Like the latter the film barely has an adult speaking part within it, parents are remote, distant creatures barely existing on the perimeter of these teenagers lives, an alienation aligned with an urban decay which the Michigan locations palpably project. The tension and execution of the chills and spills have clearly been carefully formulated and executed, so we can forgive Mitchell for some rather ostentatious camera work in other sections of the film. As a horror connoisseur this was an intellectual delight in gleefully following and speculating on the rules of the curse, infection or whatever it may be within the in-film universe, as it’s these revelations which slowly build the increasing sense of corporeal coalescing and inevitable dread, of dealing with the inevitable consequences of your actions in a horror universe more attuned to Hume than Herschell Gordon Lewis.
What is also refreshing was the relationship between Jay and her friends of both genders, instead of being the bunch of shrieking idiot archetypes usually seen in horror movies (the jock, the nerd, the prom queen etc.) they feel like a much more rounded crew of realistically disaffected teens, a pulsating core of raging hormones trapped in a decaying and decrepit suburban wasteland. With her measured performance Maika Monroe might be the 21st centuries new scream queen given this and her turn in The Guest, she anchors the film with her muted affectations, bursting into terrified bursts of adrenaline as the apparitions begin to hunt – you can sense the terror in her eyes. There’s also no escaping the gnawing and gnashing electronica score from Disasterpeace, yet another addition to the heavily stolen John Carpenter musical pantheon, his influence on modern genre movies seems to clasp talon-tense stronger with each passing bloodbath. Are there more terrifying films in the shadowy halls of cinemas graveyard? Yes, of course, but It Follows is a worthy addition to the abattoir, marking Mitchell as a provocative purveyor of peril – I’ll be keeping my spectral eye on him;