In most cases, fevered hype surrounding early festival screenings – and the accompanying best-horror-of-the-year tweets – is just ill-judged internet hyperbole among critics; and, as time reveals, completely unjustified. It’s extremely rare to find myself nodding in agreement with critics' wild claims when the film finally emerges from the festival fog.
But this time, thankfully, they were right. David Robert Mitchell’s indie slasher, It Follows, really is the best teen horror since 1996's Scream, the best slasher movie since 1978's Halloween. It's unarguable. The facts are there, glowing on screen. And if you're not convinced, let me spin it for you real quick in a listicle. Here are five reasons why It Follows is a five-star masterpiece, instant genre classic, etc., etc.
Minor spoilers ahead...
REVOLUTIONISING THE SLASHER IS NO EASY TASK
It Follows’ influences are clear enough. You’ll namecheck as you go along: Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Ring. There’s even a whiff of The Terminator and early David Cronenberg emanating from the pot. But writer-director Mitchell deftly sidesteps direct imitation and homage; it’s more about the flavour of the piece. No, this isn’t a postmodernist-film-studies movie with a 21st century-hipster-twist à la Cabin in the Woods. It’s charmingly old-school. And yet, It Follows tears up the hallowed teachings of Slasher Movies 101 and scatters said rules of the game like confetti. It’s tantamount to revolution.
Sometimes, it takes a filmmaker with no previous experience of making fright flicks – Mitchell’s debut was the comedy drama The Myth of the American Sleepover – to deliver genre innovation. It Follows is a horror film that's audacious, emotionally engaging and packs a mean metaphor. The majority of slashers, as I'm sure you'll agree, are dumb, same-y and utterly disposable.
GETTING LAID IS NOT THE END
Friday the 13th (1980)
Slasher movies are famous for their conservative clichés. Sex before marriage is a big no-no, for example; in the deadly world of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, getting it on with your girlfriend or boyfriend is a prelude to being carved and skewered by said psycho killer.
In It Follows, Mitchell essentially pulls what Edgar Frog from The Lost Boys would call a ‘mind scramble’ on us. It Follows sticks two fingers up to the genre’s ruling that sex equals an automatic death sentence. In fact, pre-marital sex is something of a necessity, dealt with realistically, can be enjoyable and might even save you. Take that, conservative-promise-ring-Twilight-freaks.
THE ASSORTMENT OF SHOCKS
The film is partly based on a reoccurring nightmare that the director suffered throughout his childhood. Of course, we get served common-or-garden jump scares – and they hit the horror G-spot every time – but the best shocks are truly WTF moments that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
As well as the carefully plotted eerie atmosphere, surrealist irrationality – and in one mad scene downright transgression – slaps the audience around the chops, making for an unnerving and super-weird experience. It Follows is the very epitome of what Shelley, the Romantic poet, once described as the ‘tempestuous loveliness of terror’.
IT CAPTURES THE POETRY OF SUBURBIA
It Follows contains gorgeously composed shots and scenes that capture the poetry of everyday life in suburbia. You know, just walking around the neighbourhood with a mate, chilling out in the backyard, hanging out with your best friends and talking crap, or casually letting one rip in front of your pals who'll likely not bat an eyelid. The cast of young actors here is excellent, with Maika Monroe’s doomed college student, Jay, the stand-out.
Slashers and lyricism are usually incompatible. But here, these strange bedfellows proffer spine-chilling jolts, thematic poignancy and characters you easily identify with, because you are – or were once – exactly like them. The positive portrayal of teenage life and friendship dynamics is rewarding. So, forget torture porn idiots to be laughed at as they’re maimed and murdered for our viewing pleasure. And irony-drenched banter à la Scream and its armada of imitators is entirely absent. What you get is a bunch of close siblings and buddies rallying around their troubled sister/friend in her hour of desperate need. It Follows doesn’t have a mean-spirited bone in its body.
IT DEPLOYS STEADICAM AND HANDHELD CAMERA WORK IN A CONSIDERED WAY
Plenty of horror movies go for prowling Steadicam shots or gnarly one-take sequences. Handheld camera, too, can be deployed to mimic the presence of a person and their POV. Heck, scares can even be mined from stillness. Knowing this, Mitchell and his DOP Mike Gioulakis blur the distinction to wondrous effect. At certain junctures, you can’t really tell if the killer is watching or not. It screws with your head and mirrors the unease felt by poor Jay. At any moment, an attack could be mounted. From this, a febrile paranoia develops and squeezes every ounce of discomfort from the scenario. It’s deeply oppressive.
Follow Martyn on Twitter: @cinemartyn
We caught 'It Follows' at the London Film Festival. The film will be released in 2015.