It seems like there's always a hot new horror movie that's being touted by critics and promoters as being "the scariest of the year", "the most terrifying I've ever seen" or some other hyperbolic statement. As ordinary filmgoers like you and I discover them for ourselves, it's only natural that we want to share the experience with others. We want them to have the same exciting, adrenalised experience that we had sitting in that darkened theatre or living room. When you're younger it's driven by a sense of pride at having sat through a gruelling movie and survived. As you get older and more jaded it's about alerting friends to the fact that there's a new movie out that actually has the power to elicit fear beyond generic jump scares.
Word of mouth spreads, and things can get a little exaggerated. Case in point: a couple of posts below this one I wrote that the otherwise excellent The Babadook isn't as terrifying as its reputation might suggest. Of course this is all very subjective, as what is scary to one person may have little to no effect on another.
Last weekend I sat in a crowded theatre and felt genuine fear for the first time in years*. I wasn't alone either, as the audience around me nervously squirmed, squealed and shrieked throughout the whole movie. The film I was watching was David Robert Mitchell's It Follows, and for much of its running time it freaked me the fuck out.
As with all great movies of the genre, there's a provocative allegory buried under the surface of It Follows that gives it real depth and meaning beyond the horror. Its exploration of the often dark and troubling nature of teenage sexual politics is one that we can all relate to, and its metaphor for sexually transmitted disease is a potent one. Not everyone reading this has contracted an STD of course, but who among us hasn't at least once experienced the anxiety of thinking that maybe we have? If you've ever waited nervously for test results to come back, you know exactly what I mean.
That STD allegory is enough to induce feelings of discomfort and nervousness, but it's the film's surface level horrors that bring on the waves of dread and gut-level terror. The titular "It" of Mitchell's film sent shivers up my spine that I probably haven't felt since first seeing Romero's corpses walk in Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. There's an everyday familiarity to this film's supernatural antagonist that hits in a personal, visceral way. It's deeply unsettling.
Another technique that It Follows uses to scare the shit out of you is in very effectively exploiting the sheer panic of being unable to escape from a relentlessly pursuing menace while enclosed in a confined space. Honestly this is probably the gnarliest element of the movie and in a few sequences had me literally cringing and groaning under my breath. There's a claustrophobic, nightmare logic to these scenes that made me tense up and wince every time the action would move into a building. It's a fantastic device for building dread.
The other thing that really drives the fear in this movie is the killer, no-holds-barred electronic score, courtesy of Disasterpeace (aka Rich Vreeland). Fans of retro synth horror scores are being absolutely spoiled at the moment (thanks to movies like Maniac, The Guest etc), and Vreeland has delivered one of the best here. A piercing, throbbing, loud score that blatantly references some of the greatest horror soundtracks, most notably Halloween, The Shining and Alien. There's no doubt as to the extent to which It Follows' score wants to manipulate the viewer. Its sole purpose is to to jangle the nerves, pound the senses and railroad you into a feeling of panic and impending doom.
All this, combined with some of the most stunning cinematography** seen in a horror movie in a while, as well as a fine set of performances from the young cast (especially from The Guest's Maika Monroe) make this a horror movie not to be missed. Original, terrifying, beautiful and haunting, It Follows is an instant classic. Watch it late at night, in the dark with the sound cranked up loud.
*at a movie that is, the real world terrifies me constantly.
**the lighting of outdoor locations is very inventive and striking.