There’s something out there

A throwback horror flick that makes good on its scary promise

It Follows
Opens Friday, May 1. Starring Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist and Olivia Luccardi. Directed by David Robert Mitchell. Pageant Theatre. Rated R.
Rated 4.0

In a genre dominated of late by unimaginative factory knock-offs, It Follows is a breath of fresh air for horror fans. Granted, it gets a lot of mileage from nostalgia for early 1980s horror (arguably not the best vintage) and in particular wears its admiration for John Carpenter like a bespectacled bed sheet. (What? You’ve never heard of John Carpenter? Halloween? The Thing? The Fog? And you call yourself a horror fan? Jeebus, kids today.)

It turns out that, for once, the hype is well-deserved; It Follows delivers. Quietly it delivers, eschewing jump scares and other tired tricks of the genre practiced by studio hacks, focusing instead on deliberate pacing that relentlessly builds into an uneasy puddle of dread. With a retro-synth sound bed that throbs like bad blood and a prowling camera that glides through quiet suburbia with voyeuristic menace, writer-director David Robert Mitchell isn’t shy about where he’s coming from. Taking notes on Carpenter, he recognizes silence as a powerful tool. You don’t get that in horror much anymore. If at all.

It also helps that under all the homage there’s also a simple, yet potent, premise: There’s something out there. Something awful. Something awful preying on the last participant of a chain of accursed hook-ups, like an STD version of casting the runes. That awful something is a shambling, shape-shifting dreadful menace that no one but you can see as it moves inexorably closer … closer … closer. And if it catches you, you’re dead. And it’s not a going-gently-into-the-night exit. Nope. And the only way to distract it is to find some other poor hook-up on whom to lay the whammy.

It Follows takes a premise as old as the genre (the creaky mummy always manages to catch the girl) but gooses it with a bit of Japanese-horror treatment. There’s more than a li’l of The Ring (wherein a cursed VHS is passed along in a deadly game of tag) in its DNA crossed with a creepy and distinctly Cronenbergian sense of body-horror unease. And the aforementioned Carpenter atmospherics, of course.

It’s refreshing to ride along with a horror filmmaker who obviously respects his audience. His sophomore effort is assured, a sheer pleasure to watch and the cast members (including the pursued lead, Maika Monroe) are comfortably naturalistic in their skin, cultivating a rare empathy in a genre that usually implicitly invites the audience to anticipate each loathsome character’s demise.

The world-building of Mitchell is also a neo-nostalgic pleasure. It Follows takes place in a deliberately vague era, irony-free and full of rumbling 1970s Detroit iron, and fleeting impressions of rabbit-eared 1980s chased away by incoming cellphone calls. It’s a dark coming-of-age story filtered through memories as elusive as quicksilver. Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, but It Follows sure is a swell surrogate.