It Follows

US | 2014 | Directed by David Robert Mitchell

Logline: After having sex a teenager is stalked by a relentless, malevolent presence, and she seeks the solace and support of her friends whom try to aid her in stopping it. 

The retro vibe is so hip right now. And I love it. I love the old school feel, but I don’t necessarily like that everyone else loves it, but that’s just the cynic in me fighting for cool detachment. My favourite nightmare movies of the past few years have all channeled a particular retro atmosphere. Some filmmakers have deliberately had their movies take place in a period setting (The House of the Devil), while others have immersed the narrative with an 80s-influenced electronic score (Starry Eyes) or 70s-style languid pace (Honeymoon).

It Follows breaks numerous rules and unfolds in some kind of alternate reality that mirrors the real world, albeit with cracks spreading across its surface. The sensational score is definitely of the old school horror pulse, but while the characters’ fashion (clothes/hairstyles) echoes the 80s and 90s, the technology and production design is here, there, and everywhere (nowhere). Contemporary and classic cars pepper the streets, a prologue character uses a mobile phone, but they never feature again. Another character reads a book from a tiny clam-design electronic book invented entirely for the movie.

The movie is set in the desolate suburban streets of Detroit, with abandoned abodes and derelict apartment buildings littering the landscape. It is this haunted dome of existence that hangs over the movie providing a most distinct tone and mood. Along with Starry Eyes, it is one of the most atmospheric and curious horror movies of recent years. It straddles an uneasy relationship with the audience, pulling them in to the plight of its lead Jay (Maika Monroe), but never allowing the viewer to completely empathise with her. There is an aloofness that permeates the movie, a stain that lingers long after the last ambiguous image fades.

It is this ambiguity that gives It Follows much of its edge. There is frustration too, lots of it. But this is a movie about trust and betrayal, about sex and death, about the spectre of disease; a plight we understand as STDs, an epidemic we know as AIDS. The monster of It Follows, the creeping unknown, the evil that stalks, is manifest as naked hideous flesh, both strangers and loved ones. It is a nightmare most immediate.

Jay and her friends have no idea what is terrorising them, but the modern audience does. It infuses It Follows with a deep-rooted allegory, but at the same time Mitchell’s mise-en-scene weaves out of any pigeonhole clasp, out of any academic treatise. Of the cast Maika Monroe and Lili Sepe deliver the stand-out performances. But the real star of the movie is the darkly throbbing, oneiric soundtrack from Rich Vreeland (credited as Disasterpeace).

Continuity is a hot mess, and while I didn't find the movie frightening, I did find it undeniably creepy, especially in the first half when Jay is coming to grips with her terrible predicament. It possesses some genuinely grotesque imagery, and the resonant nightmare vibe overrides most of my quibbles. Jay's neighbourhood reminds horror fans of fictional Haddonfield, but this is Detroit, the crumbling infected and terminally afflicted. Any horror movie set here is home and hosed. It Follows owns the nightmarish loneliness of Detroit.