The title of American director David Robert Mitchell's film is a literal summary of its simple premise: "it" is an invisible supernatural force of unexplained origin and motive, and "it" "follows", ie, "it" doesn't let go of those "it" touches until they either pass "it" on or "it" kills them. But "it follows" can also be seen as a literal description of the film's own inscription in, and reflection of, the canon of modern American horror cinema.
Mr. Mitchell's sophomore feature works both as a piece of no-nonsense, "lowbrow" genre entertainment within a classic framework, à la John Carpenter, and as a meticulously thought-out, stylishly shot exercise in mise en scène, à la Stanley Kubrick - Halloween meets The Shining, if you'd like. And both influences are visible all over the film: Mr. Carpenter's use of fluid camera movements and pulsing, minimalist electronic soundtracks, Mr. Kubrick's perfectly geometric camera setups and implacable sense of a vise tightening around the characters, married to Mr. Mitchell's determination to leave entirely unexplained where and how this indefatigable, supernatural force comes from.
It Follows thus become a sleek, streamlined missile of a film that, in a third possible meaning of its title, emulates its own villain by dispassionately "following" its characters - suburban Detroit high-schooler Jay (Maika Monroe), who "catches" "it" through sex with a casual acquaintance, along with her sister and their best friend neighbours - through a purposely opaque thrill ride entirely composed of impeccably staged set pieces. Behind all of that, the film also works as a meta-commentary of horror movies themselves, by using all the standard elements of a modern-day teen-oriented genre entry and stripping them down to the essence of tension and atmosphere, in a continuous, ominous loop of tension and release.
The sexually transmitted curse of "it" is no surrogate for any sort of disease or contamination, but instead a metaphor for coming of age, for growing up, losing your innocence and freedom once the threshold of adulthood is crossed and responsibility rears its ugly head. Not for nothing is the film's suburban setting straight out of classic mid-eighties Spielberg (and shot with the same combination of dread and possibility).
But, in fact, It Follows opens as many interpretations as you want to read, without ever losing touch of what makes a horror film truly scary: the sense that you can relate to the characters, that it could be you dealing with all this (and, in some way, it is you). Add the fact that Mr. Mitchell refuses to have his teenagers behave stupidly just for the sake of plot development - quite the contrary, in fact - and shoots everything with an overarching, if occasionally glib and clinical, sense of style. It's a breathtakingly packaged exercise in horror style that may be a bit too abstract to please everyone but that shows real talent and real intelligence.
Cast Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe
Director and screenwriter David Robert Mitchell; cinematographer Michael Gioulakis (widescreen); composer Disasterpeace (aka Richard Vreeland); designer Michael T. Perry; costumes Kimberly Leitz-McCauley; make-up effects Robert Kurtzman; editor Julio C. Perez IV; producers Rebecca Green, Laura D. Smith, Mr. Mitchell, David Kaplan and Erik Rommesmo; production companies Northern Lights Films and Animal Kingdom Films in association with Two Flints
Screened August 20th 2015, Lisbon, distributor screener