With only his second feature, It Follows (2014), writer-director David Robert Mitchell has exhibited an enviable grasp of the qualities needed to elevate genre cinema. When Jay (Maika Monroe) allows her latest date with Hugh (Jake Weary) to progress to the next level, she has no idea how terrifying a turn her life will take. After a post-coital gagging she wakes bound and disoriented in a remote location. Hugh tells her that he’s passed a terrifying curse onto her through sex, one that will see her pursued by a relentless, unstoppable entity that can take the seemingly human form of a stranger or even a loved one. Her only hope of survival is to pass the curse onto somebody else via the same means.
A wonderful, often daring, aspect of Mitchell’s direction is how unafraid he is of using silence or pregnant pauses in the most unlikely moments. His forms of manipulation are used to unsettling affect, turning perception into a terrifying game that leaves you unprepared for some of the best jolts. Then there’s his subtly sly dialogue – smart, funny and yet used with a rare economy that ensures you’ll need to see the film all over again to appreciate the best lines.
Clearly the film’s budget was low – the few effects shots aren’t wholly convincing – but this fact never hampers the overall effectiveness or puts a dent in the sense of dread that continues to grow throughout. A standout sequence, which sees a single take through the lens of a continually revolving camera as Jay and friends enter a school building, is a masterclass in physical distortion and suspense building.
Other than Monroe and Keir Gilchrist as Paul, Jay’s slightly geeky, former childhood flirtation who still harbours an almost embarrassing crush, the acting isn’t first grade. But it’s rock solid across the board and proves no hindrance to Mitchell’s end goal with this, his very assured follow-up to 2010’s The Myth of the American Sleepover. Clearly he understands the grammar of horror and a subtle infectious-disease-as-metaphor undertone offers an additional layer of appreciation.
Another canny aesthetic choice is his decision to beef up the entire production up with a retro vibe in terms of the feel of a decaying Detroit and sound of the film. The electronic score by Disasterpeace (Rich Vreeland) means that a very real John Carpenter/Halloween vibe is evoked, though a couple of cues do cut gratingly against the tone of the scenes in which they’re used. This employment of Vreeland however sees the director following in the footsteps of other recent films like Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac (2012) remake, with a score by Robin Coudert, and Jim Mickle’s Cold in July (2014) in which composer Jeff Grace also dug into a suddenly attractive bag of retro musical tricks to pervasive effect.