Crafting a truly original horror film concept in the found footage-obsessed, post-Blair Witch era is harder than it seems. Especially in Hollywood, where every genre-busting smash like Paranormal Activity, The Conjuring and Insidious spawn so many cheesy sequels and/or knockoffs that even the freshest ideas grow stale and lifeless quicker than you can say Freddy vs. Jason.
That’s probably why so many of the best scary movies these days come from other countries. France reinvented the psycho killer on a rampage flick with 2003’s brutally awesome High Tension, Sweden upended the vampire genre entirely with 2008’s Let the Right One In and I personally haven’t slept the same since watching last year’s truly nightmarish monster under the bed epic The Babadook From New Zealand.
And though there have been a few noteworthy exceptions to this trend stateside – not to mention scads of English-language remakes of far superior foreign efforts over the last decade or so – I would argue that there hasn’t been a classically great American horror film since 2009’s satanic panic screamer The House of the Devil. And that’s why writer-director David Robert Mitchell’s retro cool, art house/horror hybrid It Follows is such a welcome change of pace.
Already a massive underground hit in Europe where it opened last year after premiering to sell-out crowds at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, Follows opened in the US and Canada earlier this year and has been stalking its way into horror and film geek’s twisted little hearts ever since. Creepy, stylish, original, and far deeper and more sophisticated than it appears at first glance, Follows – like Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs or Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights before it – heralds the arrival of a major new talent on the indie scene and leaves you literally breathless with excitement at what Mitchell will bring us next.
Set in a grey, strangely indeterminate time period that seems at once familiar and also vaguely 1980’s-ish, Follows is a slow build chiller that worms its way under your skin and infects your psyche like a virus. Which is sort of perfect considering that the film’s supernatural stalker is “transmitted” from one victim to the next via sexual contact. Yep, even the requisite horror movie sex scenes have a double meaning in Mitchell’s world.
Beautifully shot in and around the decaying all-American suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, Follows stars up-and-coming “scream queen” Maika Monroe in the type of soulful, star-making performance that recalls the early slasher film classics of Jamie Lee Curtis and big-screen bad girl Nancy Allen.
Follows also features a stellar supporting cast of fresh-faced indie newcomers like Kier Gilchrist, Lili Sepe, and Olivia Luccardi, and a haunting, synth-pop soundtrack to die for from “chiptune” pioneer Disasterpeace, aka Richard Vreeland. Pulsing eerily in the background of almost every scene, Disasterpeace’s unnerving electronic score adds immeasurably to the creep out factor onscreen.
While critics and fans alike have had a field day pondering the deeper meaning of Follows – with some seeing it as a parable about HIV and AIDS or the fear of intimacy in the digital age and others claiming it’s just a really clever scary movie with ideas – Mitchell says what he finds most refreshing about the concept is the duality of it all. For while casual sex is the thing that unleashes the menacing, shape-shifting follower upon you, the only way to rid oneself of the creature is to take ownership of your body and your life and have sex again to pass it on. Sort of like The Ring with STDs and a really killer soundtrack.
Now playing on select American Airlines flight worldwide, It Follows is also available via streaming at Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, VUDU and iTunes.