For as long as anyone can remember, horror movies have been punishing young people who have sex. If Christian Evangelicals want teenagers to abstain from it altogether until they’re married – shirts on, lights off and with as little enjoyment as possible – then they should consider signing up Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees rather than hand out pamphlets decrying intercourse as a gateway drug to crystal meth and suicide.
After hearing a brief description of the plot of It Follows you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was yet another clichéd teen slasher, where scantily-clad college girls and buff, shirtless jocks get hacked up by a sexually frustrated ghost for having the audacity to get it on, pick on a fat kid or drink a beer.
As STIs go, being plagued by a voiceless demon is probably one of the trickier ones to explain at the GUI clinic, but that is exactly what 19-year old Jay (Maika Monroe) has to deal with after a seemingly innocent sexual encounter with the slightly mysterious Hugh (Jake Weary).
After drugging and tying her to a wheelchair in an abandoned building it’s exposition o’clock, with Hugh explaining that he’s passed something on to Jay, something that will be walking towards her wherever she is until it catches up with and kills her. Unless she passes it on.
It sounds like the recipe for a by-numbers exploitation horror, which is why it was so refreshing to find that, rather than descend into a cliché and jump-scares, It Follows is one of the most interesting and original horror movies in recent years.
Starting strongly and building on it for the entirety of the 100 minute running time, the film delivers a level of tension and dread that is as relentless as the demon that stalks its main protagonist. Although ostensibly set in the present day – evidenced by the early sight of one of Jay’s friends using an e-reader – It Follows feels as though it is based in the 1970s in every other respect. From the classic cars owned by the main characters (there are modern vehicles occasionally visible in the background), to the black and white Sci-Fi B-movies the teenagers watch on old analogue television sets, the film suggests inspiration from Charles Burns’ graphic novel Black Hole – a similar exploration of teenage sex and relationships with more than a little monstrousness thrown in – rather than Halloween, Friday the 13th or any other Hollywood horror flick you’d care to mention. The performances are perfectly pitched too, with Maika Monroe in the lead role and Keir Gilchrist as Jay’s long-term admirer-from-afar Paul particularly good, both eluding to that very private but eminently relatable teenage suffering everyone goes through to some degree.
Like the sexual tension and anxiety between the young characters that is present in almost every scene, Rich Vreeland’s (aka Disasterpeace) original score hangs in the air throughout, dictating the mood and, in the same way as the soundtrack for Nicholas Refn’s Drive, does just as good a job of emphasising the suggested era of the film as it does the building of that perennial sense of dread.
Eerie, angsty and frequently terrifying, It Follows looks set to become a contemporary horror classic.