It’s that time of the year again. Leaves are in crunchy piles at the side of the road. There’s a chill in the air, which makes my nose run every time I leave the house. And we’re gearing up for one of my favourite holidays; All Hallows’ Eve. Halloween to you and me.
I’m a horror movie obsessive; I’ll watch them all, no matter how potentially awful the trailers make them look. 90% will be disappointing on multiple levels: too ambitious on too little budget, too formulaic, too mindlessly gory. To generate that genuine tingle of fear, that vague unease that makes you look over your shoulder when you pause the movie and get up to go to the bathroom…well, it’s tougher than it looks. You can’t just throw a bucket of blood at the set and hope for the best.
There’s a whole sub-genre devoted to the ‘so bad it’s good’ kind of horror, and I’m not one to frown on a B-movie. I laughed my ass off at Sharknado just like everyone else, and I’ve seen Piranha: 3DD twice. Watching Paris Hilton get skewered with a metal pipe in House of Wax* was pretty much the highlight of that decade for me. But still, I get excited when something comes along that promises a few genuine scares. Something that will stick with you for the next few days, rearing up from the depths of your subconscious when you find yourself alone in the dark.
That’s why I think you should watch It Follows this Halloween. If you’re not going out dressed only in your underwear and a pair of cat ears to get wasted and make out with a zombie, then order yourself some delicious takeout and load this up on Netflix. If you did decide to be sociable, then pop this on November 1st while you curl up and nurse your hangover.
You’ll find many of the familiar tropes; a bunch of high school kids, white picket fence neighbourhood of New England cul-de-sacs, parents that don’t seem to be home all that much. But there’s something of a Virgin Suicides vibe, right down to the vintage-y fashions and the washed out colour palette. A girl is found horribly mutilated on a grey, windswept beach, and there are echoes of Hannibal**. Though the technology is up to date, it’s hard to place which decade is in the background; this is timeless suburbia, where nothing ever changes.
Our likeable blonde every-girl has a new love interest, but he’s acting strangely. Probably nothing a little car nookie can’t fix, right? So far so Terror at Make Out Point, but things are about to take a sudden and infinitely more interesting turn. I won’t spoil it, but as in every tragedy since man first put stylus to tablet; sex can get you into trouble.
Many horror films start to fall apart once you see the ‘monster’. The suspense skilfully built over the opening scenes crumbles when the source of all your fears is far less frightening than your imaginings. It’s why shaky-camera classics like Blair Witch and Cloverfield work so well: you never get a good look. The threat of It Follows steps right into the open — it’s more solid than most — but it can still never truly be known. It has the unnerving presence of the shapeshifter and the slow, focused movement of the revenant. It takes a leaf from the Japanese tradition of the vengeful demon, and a haunting that can be passed on like a virus.
All this adds up to something that feels fresh and understated, but nonetheless chilling. And the ending is the perfect dramatic question mark, an ode to the classic ‘Happy Ever After…or is it?’ For a horror fan, it’s thrilling to find a film that so thoroughly understands the framework of the genre, but can elevate it to something more challenging. There’s an ethical dilemma at the heart of the movie that creates just as much tension as the looming menace of a curse. If you’re looking for a slightly smarter kind of scare, then this is for you. Just be careful. You might not be able to shake it off.
*Um…spoiler alert? In case that’s not the only thing you know about this movie.
**The TV version, that is. And if you haven’t seen this, and you love all things Gothic, add it to your list.