Sex and death are inextricably linked in David Robert Mitchell’s psycho-sexual horror film, It Follows. The plot set-up is devilishly simple and equally bizarre: after a night of casual sex with her current boyfriend, teenager Jay Height discovers that she has been infected with a curse which manifests itself in the form of a ghoulish apparition which will stalk her at a creepily slow pace until she meets a grisly end. Luckily, however, there is a way to avoid certain death – passing on the curse to another human through sexual intercourse.
Here, The “It” in question is a Sexually Transmitted Demon: a shape-shifting supernatural embodiment of death. With the slow and steady relentlessness of a George A Romero zombie, this unstoppable entity closes in on its cursed teenage victims, while the parents are utterly impotent or absent in the face of their child’s inevitable death.
Perhaps as a reaction to the torture porn tendencies and the over-use of jump-scares so depressingly prevalent in the horror genre today, Mitchell has returned to many of the familiar tropes found in the landmark horror movies of the 70s and 80s: terrorised teenagers in sleepy suburbia and a supernatural bogeyman who can be seen by its potential victim but remains invisible to those who are uninfected. It all evokes horror classics such as John Carpenter’s Halloween and Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street.
The eerie, synth-laden soundtrack and the urban dereliction of the film’s Detroit setting add intensity to the claustrophobic atmosphere of creeping menace and disorientation which permeates throughout the film.
Cleverly, the director keeps his camera looking over the characters’ shoulders, leaving the viewers on an unsure footing: is that slow-moving person we can spy in the background a malevolent supernatural entity, or simply a dawdling student, mother or child? Indeed, It Follows contains some genuinely scary set-pieces, though the film’s third act may frustrate some viewers, with an ambiguous ending which leaves certain questions unanswered.
At once retro-nostalgic and creepily original, It Follows will satisfy horror film aficionados and hopefully convince a younger generation of horror film enthusiasts to seek out those landmark movies of yesteryear rather than the umpteenth Insidious or Paranormal Activity movie the next time they log in to Netflix.
By Robin Davies