Something wicked this way comes...
Most of us spend our teenage years haunted by something – constant embarrassment, the crushing weight of expectation, our own excruciating haircuts. Perhaps it’s because, like ghosts, we’re trapped between two different worlds, the prisoners of feelings we can’t quite escape or express.
Often it’s the twin spectres of sex and death that hang the heaviest, and horror films aren’t shy in making this connection explicit. Often very explicit: “Sex equals death” being one of Scream’s cardinal rules.
Based on his own recurring nightmares, and spiked with a sense of what he terms “interactive anxiety”, writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s follow-up to debut drama The Myth Of The American Sleepover (2010) knows the work of Craven, Carpenter and Argento as surely as it knows what it’s like to be young and afraid.
The first girl we meet flees hysterically from her home, screeching off in her car to the beach. Something’s after her – that brilliant title a promise rather than a threat – but it’s only when we get to know suburban teen Jay (Maika Monroe, The Guest’s breakout star) and her Scooby gang of friends that the threat starts to take shape.
After Jay has sex with nervy boyfriend (Jake Weary), he chloroforms her, ties her to a chair in an abandoned building, and explains that he has passed on the eponymous curse; that ‘It’ will now follow her, instead of him. “It can look like anyone,” he warns. “Sometimes I think it looks like the people you love just to hurt you...”
The ensuing scenes of supernatural stalking reach The Grudge levels of intensity, the camera panning nervously through 360 degrees as it watches, waiting, for something to come and get Jay while she’s at school, at home, walking the silent, spooked Halloween-esque streets. Try as she might to shift it, the sense of unspeakable, unstoppable menace is relentless – almost as relentless as Rich Vreeland’s pounding electronic score, which power-drills Suspiria chords into the brain.
Bar a few Oedipal interludes, grown-ups are nowhere to be found in this dreamy teen hinterland, as if Mitchell has transplanted the metaphysical disquiet of M.R. James’ best ghost stories on to Stand By Me’s listless, adult-free summer.
The result is one of the most fearsomely original chillers of recent times, its central conceit a subtle, supple metaphor for all kinds of teenage angst, sexual trauma or any of the shadows that latch onto us when we’re young, and never quite pass.
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