Film Review: It Follows

★★★★★
With It Follows (2014), director David Robert Mitchell has delivered one of the best horror films of the decade so far. A beautifully rendered vision of the teenage psyche in the 21st century, it's a stylish, intelligent and densely textured masterpiece. While there are traditional scares and a familiar antagonistic force, the fear at the heart of the picture is terrifyingly human. We not only see the fragility of our younger selves reflected in its myriad horrors, we are confronted with the realisation that the nightmare of our teenage years is not ephemeral - it will haunt us throughout our lives. It Follows is the very essence of horror; sex, death and the bruising shackles of youth.

It's a high-concept worthy of the great slashers of the late 70s. 19-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe) finds herself plagued by strange visions and a discomfiting sense that she is being followed after an unpleasant sexual encounter. The milieu will be familiar to any genre fan, yet the execution is strikingly singular. It Follows is not a film in submission to horror tradition; it excavates tropes simply to shape them in its own image. The promiscuity-punishing zeal of Halloween (1978) is approached from a fascinatingly revisionist angle. Sex maintains an uneasy duality; on the one hand, it's a form of connection and communion for the characters, but it's also the channel for the film's mysterious insidiousness. The seduction and repulsion of this primary element fits in beautifully with Mitchell's broader thesis on teenage life.

His characters appear to be in some kind of post-crash purgatory, somewhere between adulthood and childhood. The older characters may have graduated high school, but they are in stasis; no further in life than their younger, school-going friends. These are the ashes of Generation Y, immortalised by The Hold Steady: "Crushing one another with colossal expectations / Dependent, undisciplined and sleeping late." Parents are absent throughout the film, bar certain loaded signifiers like a half empty wine glass and a full ashtray that reflect the street light through carelessly opened curtains. These children are the sons and daughters of no one, bastards of everyone. Mitchell masters their mumbling, disaffected form of communication; their whispers and glances betray the intimacy of people bound by the prison of youth.

The teenagers are isolated in every sense; from their parents, themselves and even their city. Detroit lays on the edge of the horizon like a threat. These children were raised in post-urban affluence but, post-recession, they're damned to suburban obscurity. The city is where the demon sleeps, but it's also where it can be overcome. The antagonist takes the form of people the victims know; a savage, Freudian stylistic device that brilliantly accentuates the picture's thematic heft while staying true to its distinct strand of melancholia. As the manifestations get increasingly personal, the lack of backstory becomes a stroke of genius and we feel the weight of trauma in the victims' reactions. Its thematic textures run deep, but the picture retains real visceral force.

Craig Williams | @CraigFilm

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