It opens with an objective shot of a calm suburban neighbourhood. As the camera begins its 360-degree pan, a door opens, allowing a young girl to burst into the frame. She’s running in fear of something, constantly glancing behind her before eventually coming to a halt, her gaze fixed on this unknown entity. Both her neighbour and father question her behaviour, to which she responds calmly that she’s ‘fine’. After a reprieve, the camera follows her as she suddenly runs back towards the house in a circular manner, avoiding the entity presumably in the centre. Rejecting her father’s comfort, she enters the house. When she next emerges seconds later, she’s accompanied by another entity in itself - the shrill, discordant and eerie synth-laden score. This opening scene is notable for two reasons; it’s truly bravura filmmaking - with a dazzling one-shot approach, it highlights the helpless situation at hand by reminding us we are merely observers; and for the other, more important reason: it’s the only time a parental figure offers solace to a character in the film.
This is intended, of course; It Follows is a coming-of-age story, as much as it is a horror film. The premise is deftly simply: sleep with the wrong person, and ‘It’ will come after you. The narrative follows teenager Jay (Maika Monroe), who falls victim to the curse after being seduced by a mysterious out-of-towner Hugh. He explains that a relentless, shape-shifting entity will follow her, never ceasing yet never faster than a walk, until she either is caught, or passes the curse on to another sexual partner. If that partner then dies, it will once again come after you. It’s a terrifying thought – once you are inflicted, you’re never truly safe – it’s impossible to live a life with such heightened paranoia.
The synopsis suggests a terribly conceived, and likely poorly executed, concept; no one would dispute that. But under the hand of Mitchell, It Follows is a masterclass in technical filmmaking. The cinematography is breathtaking, transforming Detroit into a monotone, dreary, and dreamlike location. Wide-angle lenses and long shots create an expansive look, culminating in a retro, haunting visual aesthetic. He frequently toys with common horror conventions - it’s most genuine jump-scare stems from its criticism of the voyeuristic nature of modern horror. And observe the way he uses water as a symbolic motif; linking the idea seamlessly with the narrative.
The acting is generally excellent, with Monroe having the majority of the screen time. She perfectly manages to capture the aesthetic of the role; she’s always present, yet she’s rarely the focus of our attention. The score however, by Disasterpeace, is the hero of the film. It breathes life into the tale, constantly setting the mood with retro synths and heavy climaxes. The cinematography, in hand with the score, actually remain the main focus that Monroe concedes to. Mitchell has you avoiding the central figures, constantly scouring the background, always aware of the possible presence of ‘It’. There are an abundance of long shots, as well as the odd 720-degree pan of the camera. Look closely, and you may occasionally see a figure that appears closer than they were before. Are they ‘It’? Misdirection and subtle horror create a tense environment; an environment the film thrives in.
Though not laden with the jump-scares that made retro horror revivalist The Conjuring so popular, it’s far more terrifying, and long-lasting a film. It’s themes of maturity, and adolescence, are far more fully fledged ideas than last year’s critical favourite The Babadook. I can safely say It Follows expands on both of those films in every way – it’s the best horror film of the decade. The path to adulthood, and death itself, are central to the concept; they say, ‘It can take the form of a stranger, or someone you love’. Like the entity’s metaphorical counterparts, though it may approach at a slow pace, and though it may be delayed, it comes for them. It comes for you, too.