(David Robert Mitchell, 2014)
The American suburbs. Daytime. Synthesisers.
Why this particular combination of elements should be so creepy I have no idea, but it undeniably is. And it's just the starting point for David Robert Mitchell's chilling It Follows.
The story follows Jay (Maika Monroe, excellent), a teen in the Northern suburbs of Detroit. Early on, she sleeps with a guy, and afterwards, he changes instantly. Not just being distant and never calling her; no - he drugs her and ties her to a wheelchair, the better to demonstrate exactly what he means to tell her. He tells her that he has passed something onto her, a curse of sorts. It means that she is now being followed by something undefinable, a shape-shifting creature which is always walking directly towards her, wherever she is, wherever it is. It never runs and it never stops. And if it touches her, she is dead. Sometimes it will take the form of a perfect stranger, sometimes a loved one. Only she can see it.
Her anguished, desperate attempts to escape compose the film, as she and her friends run away, then try to destroy the creature. If that bogeyman sounds a little lame, it becomes quickly apparent that it instead has more or less unlimited potential for frights. Every shot of a doorway becomes drenched with tension. Every window. Every exterior with figures walking in the background. Mitchell knows well enough that if he features enough of these shots then the rise in tension gives his actual scares more impact when they eventually do come. And come they do, in a series of beautifully mounted set-pieces, which inventively play on the specific terror of this implacable, blank-eyed shape-shifter.
The tone is sober and muted throughout. Like Mitchell's terrific debut, The Myth of the American Sleepover, It Follows is set in a strangely timeless sort of suburban world, all big lawns and wide streets. The characters are earnest, serious, lacking the flip cynicism of the teens in most modern horror cinema. But then this is nothing like most modern horror cinema, being artier and far more ambiguous, the moody synth score by Disasterpiece helping maintain that feeling of low, sickly dread throughout. There is also ample, obvious subtext here, themes of teenage alienation running alongside the key ideas of sexually transmitted disease and social stigma.
But they never get in the way of the chief aim: to frighten the audience, which is something It Follows does tremendously well.