It had been a very long time since a horror movie gave me nightmares. Years, even. It Follows broke that streak.
It Follows traces the story of Jay (Maika Monroe), a young woman growing up in the suburbs of Detroit who through a seemingly standard sexual encounter with a boy (Jake Weary) begins to experience strange and terrifying things happening around her – and to her. Driven to doubt her sanity and to fear for her life, she begins to take increasingly desperate steps to rid herself of the ‘curse’ that’s been placed upon her. What follows is a deeply unsettling, often terrifying trip into industrial Detroit and rural Michigan and deep into the psyche of middle America.
Possibly the best – and scariest – thing about It Follows is that writer/director David Robert Mitchell takes a whole bunch of classic, tried-and-tested horror tropes and plays around with them until they’re new again. The girl dying after having sex trope is examined and the ‘absent parents’ trope that was so prevalent in the big horror films of the 80s is played fairly straight until it’s given a truly terrifying spin towards the end.
The film also takes one of the oldest horror tropes we have – the idea of unstoppable, inescapable evil – and turns it up to 11: every fear you’ve ever had about Mike Myers, Freddie Krueger or shambling zombies is dragged out and paraded in front of you until you’re shaking with fear. But It Follows isn’t Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street or Night of the Living Dead – this is its own movie, and the sense of fear and anticipation is maintained way past any cheap jump scares.
To give some context of the tone the film takes: the Mitchell himself has said that the idea for the film came from a recurring nightmare he had, and that’s reflected in the film’s slow-burning, nightmarish quality. The surreal, dream-like feel is enhanced by a David Lynch-esque unsettling industrial soundtrack – something that fits well with the urban decay settings that large parts of the film takes place in. The soundtrack is also incredibly synth-heavy for a such a modern film, and it helps to not only keep the viewer unsettled and edgy but also serves as another shout-out to classic 80s horror, adding to the film’s slightly timeless feel.
The classic horror roots keep revealing themselves in the plot itself as well – the main character’s name, Jay, is short for Jamie in a homage to scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis; her little sister (Lili Sepe) is named after Curtis’s own little sister Kelly. The theatre two of the characters visit early in the film is The Redford Theatre in Detroit, the home of horror movies like The Evil Dead, a movie that the filmmakers clearly had firmly in mind while building this world of undying, ever-present monsters.
One thing that does set It Follows apart from its tribute to older horror films is that there’s almost no sense of black and white in the film – the characters are complex, real, and all have their moral grey areas. The steps that Jay takes to keep herself alive cross from desperate into their own kind of terrifying, and in some ways become just as unsettling as the titular ‘It’. What’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are heavily questioned, and unlike less subtle films, the answer isn’t shoved down your throat. It Follows, unlike many recent horror films, respects its craft and its audience and handles every moral issue with delicacy and skill.
Your mileage may vary, but for me, It Follows tapped into a really primal fear – probably the same one that leaves me sick with fear after zombie films, and one that had me literally shaking in my seat. If insidious psychological horror isn’t something that scares you, if you need gore or jump scares or over-the-top deaths to get your horror fix, then this probably isn’t the movie for you. But if you like horror that burns slowly, that crawls under your skin and stays there for days, then go see It Follows now.
Just maybe don’t walk home alone afterwards.
It Follows opens at Cinema Nova on the 16th of April. Tickets through cinemanova.com.au.