***1/2 (out of five)
Let’s acknowledge that you may as well hope for a paisley moon as a truly original horror film; these days, the best horror films borrow tropes that work and give them an original spin. David Robert Mitchell’s truly creepy and excellently crafted It Follows takes Romero’s slow-moving zombies, combines them with the sexual metaphor of vampiric contagion, then removes the zombie, metaphor and vampiric elements, leaving us with a spooky sexually transmitted disease that follows you, in the guise of creepy, slow moving humans.
It works. Mitchell directs the slow walkers to have the most vacant of stares – the creepiness of the soulless, the walking dead without being dead – and (the conceit being that “it” changes forms) dresses them in creepy archetypes: the drowned female, the hugely tall or tiny thin guy, the old woman. They follow (well, it follows) a lovely young lass we can all root for – and boom!
Well, were it so simple. As I say, this movie is expertly crafted, with an intricate understanding of the language of the horror movie. In particular, Mitchell has collaborated with composer Rich Vreeland (here credited as Disasterpeace) to achieve a fantastic, spookily 80s synth score and matched it with supremely effective, off-beat cinematography by Mike Gioulakis, who subtly but incredibly creepily apes all the great spooky moves of the great horror films of the 70s and 80s, including the slow zoom in, the slow zoom out, the fish-eye lens, and – my favourite and deployed twice – the 360 degree pan. You can tell all these creatives – and boy are they creative! – spent an enormous amount of time talking about, and probably watching, their favourite horror films. Due diligence is in full evidence.
The film has style, has panache, and a strong vision. There’s nothing cookie-cutter about it, nor does it feel like a calling card. It’s got a sense of self, as The Babadook had, rather than a sense of “me too!” It plays weird cards, like a fractured sense of time: our young protagonists watch old black and white movies on old boxy televisions, but one of them has a reading device that is more advanced than any kindle. It has great performances from complete unknowns. It uses Detroit beautifully, evoking chilling foreboding from rows of deserted houses shot from the car’s POV in an autumnal dread.
But more than anything, the film is legitimately creepy. It uses all the tropes, but it’s not formulaic. It’s… okay, let’s say it: original. And if you’re a horror person, you’ve got to see it, as this is the arrival of a new, important voice on the scene.