David Robert Mitchell's 2014 film "It Follows" appealed to an audience well beyond 'genre' fans (see the endless blog posts and Youtube clips interpreting the story as evidence).
But why did this particular film raise so much interest? And what can writers working in Horror (and other genres) learn from it?
In terms of genre, then, it's essentially a "Teen Slasher" film.
In these films, groups of young people are menaced by monsters, dying one by one in horrific circumstances. Characterisation is fairly thin, and the first to go is often a sexually active girl (the films tend to conform to a specific moral code).
Let's look at what opened this film up to a wider audience.
- The acting is strong, nuanced and naturalistic; characters relate to each other in believable ways.
- The shooting style is cinematically advanced and unashamedly 'artistic', with outstanding compositions, jump cuts, long takes, muted colours.
- The musical score is cool, low-key and electronic.
- The production design is a mixture of retro (1970s cars, vintage b&w programmes on the TV) and subtly futuristic touches, and makes great use of post-industrial Detroit.
- Many things go unexplained, other than via visual hints.
It's useful to think of films in terms of style and tone as well as genre, and these elements suggest that, as well as Horror, It Follows is an Arthouse film.
- Arthouse films tend to emphasise character over concept, and to be gritty, realistic and 'literary'.
- Lacking the resources to put a fully-realised fantasy world on screen, arthouse filmmakers often defy film conventions, or develop new ones to realise their vision on a limited budget.
- Arthouse filmmakers tend to use lesser-known and/or amateur actors, modest sets and real-world locations, and no large stunts or special effects.
- Because Arthouse is usually realistic we're immediately thrown off-balance when a film in this style has a supernatural or science fiction theme.
And maybe we're more ready to accept 'fantasy' storylines when they're presented in these terms?
Let The Right One In - a precursor
It Follows took its cue from Swedish arthouse vampire film Let The Right One In, acknowledging the debt by staging its climax in a swimming-pool, like the earlier film.
In both cases, the filmmakers took a long, hard look at their genre and asked which elements need to remain, and which have become stale conventions which should be ditched.
All filmmakers need to do something similar.
Conclusion - the Joys of Arthouse
Arthouse is cheap, intelligent, critically attractive, and can punch far above its weight in terms of international acclaim.
It actively embraces 'foreign' (non-English language) films, opening the door to recent Arthouse Horrors like A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Troll Hunter, Let The Right One In, etc.
Giving your story an Arthouse twist should make you think through its ingredients in a very rigorous way.
SPOILER ALERT: and, despite having early sex scene, Jay isn't singled out for narrative punishment - she's still alive at the end of the film.
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