"A simple but compelling dynamic... the execution is superb."

The pains of growing up and the tremors of teen sexual awakening have long served as thematic fuel for horror movies. Myth Of The American Sleepover director David Robert Mitchell takes up these raw materials for his new film, It Follows. Thanks to a superbly executed visual approach, a simple but gripping underlying mythology and excellent performances, the result is one of the most impressive tension-delivery vehicles I've seen in years.

At the heart of Mitchell's film is teenager Jay (Maika Monroe, who also starred in The Guest), growing up in a boringly safe Detroit suburb in the present day. Surrounded as she is by a tight group of friends and new boyfriend Hugh, things seem on a pretty even keel. But on the date where she plans to let Hugh move up to next base with her, things take a bizarre and disturbing twist. Chloroforming her in his car and taping her to a wheelchair in a floodlit deserted building (one of the many beautifully crumbling Detroit buildings that Mitchell and cinematographer Michael Gioulakis use so effectively) Hugh spells out to the shocked Jay her what is going to happen and why he is doing this.

Copy picture

He tells her that now they have had sex, he has passed his "curse" to her. This curse involves being stalked by a force, a human-like figure, that is invisible to everybody except those who have been cursed themselves. The curse affects only one person at one time, and the ghostly figure will stalk that person to the ends of the earth. To be accosted by the presence is to die - but here is the kicker: though the ghost can assume the appearance of anyone, even friends and family members, it can only walk. Thus the victim can run, can drive, can buy themselves some time by putting distance between them. But inevitably, the ghost will catch up. In that time, the only thing the hunted can do is pass the curse on by having sex with another victim. But simply sleeping with an unsuspecting partner and running off without warning them won't work, as once a victim dies, the ghost defaults to the previous curse holder. As a naked, silent middle-aged woman strides towards them, a trembling Hugh warns Jay that this is the spectre, and drives her away with a warning that she needs to keep moving, keep running, and always have an escape route ready.

With this, a simple but compelling dynamic is established which plays on themes of teen desire and the associated guilt and risks of sex and STDs. The execution is superb. Mitchell packs his film with wide-angle shots and keeps much of the action outside, instead of going down the tried-and-trusted claustrophobia route. This leaves the viewer frantically scanning the screen trying to spot where the next attack will come from. Given the ghost can look like anybody travelling at a walking pace, and that the background is often cluttered with passers-by, there is never any opportunity for Jay - or the viewer- to rest their eyes. Mitchell has delicious fun with this conceit, with Jay and her friends often not realising there is a threat until a passing individual/potential threat is right on top of them, the group then frantically have to try to identify if this really is the supernatural force by checking they can all see it.

A set of fine performances match the arresting visuals. Monroe and her young co-stars are all completely convincing as everyday teens caught up in a nightmare that, though it certainly tests them all, doesn't automatically result in them losing their essential teen-ness. This movie, despite the spikes into moments of razor-sharp tension, has something of that languid, dreamy teen-movie quality which was captured in another recent youth-focused feature, Palo Alto. Despite the insanity Jay is exposed to, she and her posse still have sleepovers and hang together in parks, and her friends quickly accept her story and agree to help her. Mitchell captures in an interesting way this one facet of youth that adults lose: the ability to believe the extraordinary and carry on without cracking up. Desire doesn't go away just because there is a ghost out there, with Jay being the object of lust for her perpetually frustrated one-time childhood crush Paul, who now ironically has the best shot he ever could hope for to sleep with Jay, if only he is prepared to be hunted for the rest of his life by a poltergeist.

Mitchell's ghostly chase film, set against the backdrop of the majestically haunted ruins of the once-great motor city, will be perfect for fans of Ringu and Halloween and those countless slow-dread zombie films, and those who like their teen movies on the smart side.

Reviewed on: 11 Oct 2014
Share this with others on...
It Follows packshot
A teenager finds herself having strange visions and becomes convinced that something dangerous is following her.
Amazon link

Read more It Follows reviews:

Richard Mowe ***1/2

Director: David Robert Mitchell

Writer: David Robert Mitchell

Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Jake Weary, Daniel Zovatto, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe

Year: 2014

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Search database:

If you like this, try: