Streaming’s Hidden Treasures: It Follows

Image: Icon Film Distribution

Streaming has changed the way we view films. It is a change that has been welcomed by many and sniffed at by others. Like it or not, however, Netflix, Amazon and the like play a huge part in being a film-lover today. These platforms have vast amounts to offer, some of which is sorely overlooked. Streaming’s Hidden Treasures aims to pick out quality, different and lesser-known cinema from across the internet, offering a guide to a variety of entertainment with ease and affordability.

Director: David Robert Mitchell

Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Lili Sepe, Olivia Luccardi, Daniel Zovatto

Streaming Service: BBC iPlayer

For an opening article in an ongoing series about the many lesser-known delights to be found on online streaming platforms, it seems odd that I have not turned directly to Netflix. It seems even odder that failing that I have not immediately browsed the depths of Amazon Prime or Now TV. Make no mistake, there are an awful lot of great films on all of these streaming giants and I will be delving into them in this series in the future, but sometimes it is worth remembering that there are other options out there. My first choice is a reminder too that we do get rather a lot back for that pesky license fee we pay. For the next 11 days, David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, an indie horror success from 2014, will be available free of charge on BBC iPlayer.

The film is one of the most critically-acclaimed horrors of recent years, and it is easy to see why. Mitchell’s film is something of a treat for those looking for a slightly-arty approach to chills and thrills. The story centres on Jay (an excellent and very scared Maika Monroe), who is stalked for the majority of the film by the titular ‘It’, a supernatural nasty that takes the form of everyday people. ‘It’ is following Jay after her date passed it onto her through sex, and she can only stop being followed by passing it on herself. Left to suffer by her former lover, Jay is supported by her sister and friends, with their personal relationships and easy chemistry supporting much of the film.

The film has malevolent fun with the forms its monster takes, from the generally creepy-looking, to real people from the protagonists’ lives. Each version of ‘It’ walks at the same slow, steady pace, never stopping and never rushing. There is something cleverly unsettling about a terror that is never in a hurry; it does a superb job of conveying how it feels to be followed. No matter how far Jay and co. drive, the deadly being will keep on relentlessly following, keeping them plunged in perpetual fear.

It Follows is not a horror in the hide-behind-the-sofa terrifying mould, but in the creepy sense. It is a film that slowly works its way under your skin as you watch it. You don’t notice yourself become terrified at one point, reeling from a jump scare, but instead become slowly, almost unnoticeably on-edge so that you are gripped ever-tighter until its superb third-act. Closing off his characters inside one location, Mitchell wrings plenty of tension from the set-piece and makes good use of the fact that Jay is the only person who can see ‘It’, making it much harder for her friends to intervene in the nail-biting action. It is a shame that the film’s final resolution is not quite so satisfying, but it is a well-executed climax nonetheless.

Mitchell’s film is not without its flaws; the sexually transmitted ghoul idea is an intriguing one and may be intended to ‘say something’ about our culture’s association of sex with guilt and harm, and the use of sex as a weapon. It’s not clear what the film is trying to say, however, leaving the social commentary at surface level. Similarly, the ethical dilemmas of passing on the curse are not given the time to properly register.

This approach does have its upside, however. By suggesting, but not overtly exploring the depths of his premise writer-director Mitchell keeps the film’s focus tight and the pacing spot-on. At under 100 minutes, It Follows never drags, nor hurtles, towards its conclusion but instead proceeds at a stalk, proving never less than compelling. So if you fancy a scarier-than-average film night, look beyond Netflix’s first suggestions and try It Follows for a stylish, well-crafted thriller.

Andrew Young