Dispatches From Fantastic Fest: It Follows
Horror as a genre has become so self reflexive that it threatens to make itself obsolete out of love. I feel like with Cabin In The Woods the genre genuinely reached the point where the snake started eating not only its own tail but made it all the way up to the back of its own neck and started choking on it. Horror has always been the most resilient of genres because it is the most adaptable. You can do it on any budget, you can make your story about anybody, you are limited only by the strength of the story you create. If horror is in danger of dying as a viable creative force than the disease that is killing it is an auto immune one.
Which is why a film like It Follows does this old genre hound’s heart so much good. Here is a horror film that’s not a series of references and kitsch but succeeds simply because it is a carefully crafted story rooted in character that puts time and effort into making you care, is shot with a style that is careful and considered and between the two conjures a feeling of dread that is difficult to articulate. I doubt that there will be a better horror film before the end of the decade, considering how much I love It Follows if there is I will probably be ecstatic to the point of rapture.
It Follows is about a group of teens in the first year after high school. One of them attracts the attention of something. A kind of spirit that is sexually transmitted. No one but the afflicted can see it, the only way it can be gotten rid of is by passing it on to someone else, it moves slowly, it can be out run and it is absolutely relentless. The kids look like real kids, young and vulnerable and have the easy intimacy of real friends. Every time something bad happens to them it has real weight. And a lot of bad things happen.
Director David Robert Mitchell does devilishly clever things with perspective and weighted subjective gaze, while never resorting to cheap jump scare tactics. His style is carefully considered he layers his frames with competing planes of action, or leaves them ominously empty. Ensuring that his audience is always alert, either watching or feeling like they’re being watched. His big scare scenes build with the practiced intensity of a genre master and are intercut with interludes that are eerily beautiful, taking in the urban decay of Detroit in a way that bests Jim Jarmusch similar Only Lovers Left Alive. The film is enhanced by a superlative aural landscape that alternates between dreamy and aggressive. This is some of the best sound design I’ve ever heard in a horror film.
I don’t want to give away any of Mitchell’s tricks, suffice it to say that he has an excellent eye for casting, not merely the main characters, who are all great- but for the various forms the creature takes. The thing can change its form and each manifestation looks like a regular person who nonetheless strikes us as instinctually wrong.
In its sense of aimless youth and suburbia ruptured It Follows recalls works like Charles Burns Black Hole, or maybe a collaboration between Arcade Fire and Glen Hirschberg. And yet it’s uniquely, wonderfully itself, not because it seeks to “transcend” the genre through cleverness, or remind you constantly of other better movies you love. But because it understands just how good the genre can be, how much potential it’s “confines” really have. Simply put It Follows is as good as it gets. A nightmare during a daydream.