SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ Films on the Seat at the Back playlist right now: KIDS IN LOVE; JUNE; CURVE; WILD, BARELY LETHAL; GODDESS OF LOVE; THE VATICAN TAPES .. What a night in!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

'IT FOLLOWS' (2014) ~ Maika Monroe, Lili Sepe, Olivia Luccardi and Keir Gilchrist star in a horror movie "so perfect that nothing could be done to improve it" // + Q&A with director David Robert Mitchell at the London Film Festival


This is the kind of horror movie you don't need to know too much about. You should probably just watch the movie first and come back and read this review later, even though I will do my best, in a report on the film's screening at the 2014 London Film Festival below, to only give you the basic facts. Just be warned that IT FOLLOWS is one of the most neck whiplash-inducing, popcorn-scattering, medium-sized cola-dropping scariest films I have seen in a long time. Hey - possibly ever. That could be the only review you'll need. So go and watch it - and I'll see you back here later!


After an introductory demonic attack on a girl running around the neighbourhood in her nightwear as she tries to escape an unseen 'thing', we then follow college girl Jay (Maika Monroe) and her friends into a worsening nightmare as she becomes the stalker's intended next victim.

Jay has a new boyfriend - Hugh (Jake Weary) and after a romantic one on one in his 4x4 (and a touch of light bondage in an abandoned shed instead of the usual post-coital sweet talk) Jay finds herself stuck with a nasty STI (supernaturally transmitted infection). The curse that comes with it (if that's what it is) is passed on after any sexual contact, and takes the shape of - well, whatever it wants to. It could be someone you know - someone who you may recognise. Or could be a complete stranger (wearing clothes - or not wearing any). To anyone else, except for the victim, it's invisible.

Hugh knew what he was doing. Now the infection is passed on, he is free. Unless Jay is killed that is, because the curse can go backwards as well as forwards - so he offers the girl he has infected some advice (what a gent!) on how to stay alert and avoid the bogeyman (or bogey old woman or sweet little boy - whatever).
Jay seeks the help of her friends: there's Paul (Keir Gilchrist) - her favourite geek pal of all and who has secretly fancied her since they were both in short trousers. It's Paul who offers to take the virus away from his best friend through some unprotected infection - well what half-decent virgin boy wouldn't? Then there's Jay's sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) who just wants to kick some ass on her sister's behalf and friend Yara (an outstanding supporting turn from Olivia Luccardi) who features, unknowingly, in one of the film's scariest moments.

Oh, and then there's annoying but good-looking (and knows it) Greg (Daniel Zovatto) who also offers his protection (and body - OF COURSE!) to Jay - another sudden knight in shining armour coming out of the woodwork. The trouble is - the thing that follows isn't fast; it's seriously slow. It often walks with crutches or a stick to blend in. But it is smart, relentless - and deadly. Just like Michael Myers in John Carpenter's classic Halloween - but without the build-up; just that bit at the end where (however many times you shoot him) the bogeyman keeps getting up for more. That bit - but all of the time. 

All the scares take place in the present day, but could (if you remove any giveaway gadgets) be any decade since the 1950s. At times it feels like we are on the set of the original Halloween with long tracking shots from behind neat hedgerows accompanied by a jabbing, rhythmic synth soundtrack. Or a grindhouse horror from the 70s. Or a slick, horny smart teens in peril potboiler from the 90s or noughties such as Cherry Falls (2000), Valentine (2001), Urban Legend (1998), Idle Hands (1999) or Cry_Wolf (2005) that often come with teen horror today's more obligatory, more commercial, '15' rating.
This is a nightmarish landscape out of time. The kids here exist in a world with parents, but also without - the parents are there, but when the frights kick in, they become irrelevant and exit the script. There are very few fully-realised characters over the age of twenty-something here, giving the film a surreal, but also very energised, edge. The curse of the stalking stranger, passed on by sexual contact, could also have started a couple of screws back - or right back to the Stone Age. We just don't know.



Director David Robert Mitchell, appearing on stage in the tightest jeans I've ever seen (that almost look uncomfortable and not quite right - like some of the identities and costumes taken by the stalker in the man's own movie!) is at the London Film Festival with only his second feature length film - but what a corker he's brought with him!

Mitchell tells a stunned and still-clearly shocked (but excited that we've just seen something actually great) audience after the film's screening that the idea for 'It Follows' came from a recurring dream (or a sensation) of his: that of being followed (by someone he knows, or a stranger - but always the same 'person', in whatever guise). This feeling of being followed around by something taking on various identities is still with the director today. The idea for a curse linked to sex and caught like a disease was an afterthought to this original story concept, but so good that he went with it. It's an afterthought that could be the most original idea in horror since Mary Shelley came up with Frankenstein.

There's nothing to fault a movie like this - it's critic proof. It's the perfect horror film and nothing could be done to improve it. It's scary, sexy, natural, unnerving and exhilarating. With each new following shadow comes a brand new nightmare - making the film almost a series of vignettes. The director's previous film The Myth of the American Sleepover (2010) followed a group of young people looking for love and meaning of life along the suburban streets of Detroit and we are told that It Follows is the same setup but with horror added. Almost like an experiment to see how it alters the earlier film's basic premise. Consequently the supernatural stuff could almost be incidental (but isn't - it's integral and joyous) to the lush and disarmingly intoxicating visuals and there are long periods where nothing much happens that are almost as unnerving as the moments when something does happen.

Watch out for excellent frights in a swimming pool where the kids on the run try something almost ridiculous yet wonderful to kill the demon and that backfires on them all when brute strength takes the wind out of their sails (and their young lungs). You'll never want to go in a swimming pool again. Also a masterpiece of supernatural fright on a lonely shoreline and in a beach house that puts other horror films and some of the greatest horror directors to shame.

The 'thing that follows' has all the scariest guises (usually of the kind you wouldn't expect to be scary - the one that appears at Jay's school mid-lesson being the best, or maybe the one up on the roof) and has a strength that few evil incarnates have ever displayed so convincingly - or as surprisingly - in a movie before. Hair-pulling has also never been as frightening and a ghost wearing a sheet quite as chilling - this is a horror film full of 'movie bests'.

The cast is flawless all round. Maika Monroe as Jay is just mesmerising and never less than appealingly resourceful to survive despite her vulnerability (even when using random males to selfishly prolong her own life - we still can't stop being on her side). Lili Sepe as Kelly also hugely impresses; oozes sophisticated teen cool and spark and a kick-ass heroism. Add to the mix Keir Gilchrist and Olivia Luccardi and you couldn't get a more stylish, energised dream cast on board. These are all massive stars of the future in action here, along with their director - absolutely no doubt about it.

For a film so entwined with sex there is also little in the way of exploitation here. Nothing feels unnatural. Sex feels like sex - not an ageing film director's stylised idea of what everyone thinks it should be like. Director Mitchell tells us he wanted to add the sex element to the script as (much like being followed around by a demon perhaps) sex can be a shared memory that will affect your life, and often those of others around you, to some extent - forever.

Cinematography by Michael Gioulakis makes a simple sit down in the park look like the greatest American landscape on Earth. Soundtrack - quiet synth melodies or all-out aural assault from Disasterpeace (Rich Vreeland) is hypnotic and thrilling. But most of all - It Follows explores the life of 'the young outsider' on the suburban backstreets of Detroit (that the director states he is deliberately exploring here, if only by scraping the surface - the swimming pool 'escape' after dark chosen to represent a place of childhood memories and carefree adventure; the kind of place that makes a safer battlefield and that many of us will also recognise sneaking into when we shouldn't have when young and with our friends).

One last comment on a sequel from David Robert Mitchell sees him admit that, like other genre horror movies, there is freedom to explore ideas from the plot further but as yet, there are no direct plans to do so. In other words - you'll have to wait and see!


'It Follows' was a triumph at this year's London Film Festival. It's a film that scares the last remaining breaths away and one of the select gang of great horror movies whose members know what it takes to make us shriek out loud. How can a second feature director so effortlessly achieve scares that other, more experienced masters of the craft took years to perfect?

There's no need to list the other movies across the decades that also know this secret of being authentically scary - but think about watching The Exorcist for the first time and how you knew that something up on screen wasn't right and wasn't good (I mean in terms of good and evil - not accomplishment) and you will understand why It Follows chills to the bone. 

This feels like a movie that has actually gone and captured that secret of what makes something rotten to the core - maybe even actually evil, and served it up to us on a screen, for our entertainment. I only hope it knows what it's doing by sharing it with us. It's a film so full of scenes of authentic dread and unbearable tension that at one point I actually considered heading for the exit door early (when the handle of a bedroom door rattles and something so scary steps out that it's properly blood-chilling). I can't remember feeling that way in a cinema before.


words: mark gordon palmer

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