Last year’s The Guest suggests there’s a resurgence in retro 80s thrills, a trend into which It Follows fits neatly. It’s presumably to do with the current crop of film directors and screenwriters having come of age in that era of straight-to-video exploitation and ‘video nasties’ (as the more risqué ones were known over here in the UK). To be honest, horror isn’t a genre I follow very much these days (it’s nice that the few I’ve seen have been so good), though I too grew up watching a lot of the films that are being drawn upon by the current cycle. In the case of It Follows, the key horror-exploitation trope being referenced is the victimisation of sexually-active teenagers, though this new film doesn’t just deploy it for leery thrills (there’s relatively little skin on show) but rather in a knowing and canny manner. Its protagonists aren’t simply punished for having sex, but can in a sense be saved by this act, as the unseen zombie-like stalking evil can be passed on to others this way. If that were the extent of it, though, the film would count as little more than an enjoyably stylish retro romp (like The Guest, which also stars Maika Monroe in the lead role), but instead the director/writer David Robert Mitchell has a little twist in the tail that complicates any simple moral schema — though obviously I shan’t go into that here. However, it’s all very well put together, and the central conceit allows for quite a few bold camera manoeuvres that could be dismissed elsewhere as the height of alienated artiness were it not for the way we as viewers are made to pay close attention to the mise-en-scène and the murky background depths of each frame, as much as to the protagonists and their dialogue. This suggests a certain film-school knowingness, but it’s not just a tiresome affectation of joky reflexivity (like Scream, say). Nor is It Follows a po-faced dissertation in rote horror-movie mechanics, as there’s still plenty of genre silliness at play — whether big setpieces that strain credulity, or characters who stretch our expectations (my favourite being the girl who is glued to her cute shell-shaped electronic device, who actually turns out to be raptly reading a series of existentialist novels from which she quotes at length). Whether it scares you as much as The Babadook, it’s still a fine film that should appeal to a wider range of cinemagoers than the crude poster image of a lingerie-clad girl in a chair might suggest.
Director/Writer David Robert Mitchell; Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis; Starring Maika Monroe; Length 100 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Haymarket, London, Monday 2 March 2015.