Catherine Bray is full of praise for David Robert Mitchell’s second film, It Follows, which screens as part of Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival…

It’s day four of the festival and I’ve just seen my favourite film of Cannes so far. It could be the best teen horror pic to emerge since The Faculty, and I mean that as very high praise. The audiences at Cannes are not always there for the same reasons as a typical midnight movie crowd at a horror all-nighter, and yet in the screening I attended, the gasps, relieved giggles and en masse jumps effectively transported me out of the Miramar, away from the Croisette and into an astutely programmed Halloween weekend line-up of cult cinema.

One thing I’d like to clear up from the get go is what this film is not. It is not a Hostel or a Saw movie, but judging by the Cannes poster for the film, which depicts a young lady (lead Maika Monroe) in her underwear tied to a wheelchair, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in for some gruelling scenes of torture. This isn’t that type of film. It’s creepy as hell and certainly Monroe’s character Jay undergoes her fair share of psychological torment, but the gore is minimal. Think John Carpenter’s Halloween: the few instances of violence are more shocking because they are rare – it’s the atmosphere that counts.

The basic premise feels a lot like something out of J-horror in the vein of The Grudge or The Ring, filtered through the concerns of the modern teen movie. From the night that she sleeps with her new boyfriend, It is following Jay. It can appear in different forms – a family member, friend or loved one, say. It cannot run, It can only walk, zombie-like. It knows where Jay is and it will not stop following her. If she sleeps with someone else, the curse is passed on to them. If It catches her, It will kill her. If It kills her, It will revert back to the last person in the chain, and so on down the line. Nobody knows how It started.

Where It Follows most excels is in creating a sense of creeping dread that ratchets up into proper nail-biting tension during a number of eerie set-pieces. Director David Robert Mitchell professes an admiration for many greats (Kubrick, Lynch, Cronenberg), but the influence that most makes itself felt is John Carpenter’s use of steadicam and synth-heavy score (the score for It Follows is a delicious piece of work by Disasterpeace). Where Mitchell’s approach differs is in the affection he has for his characters, who are genuinely nice kids (remember how everyone in Halloween apart from Laurie was awful?). This is a movie that imagines what would happen if you took the sorts of characters featured in Mitchell’s amiable first film The Myth Of The American Sleepover and stuck them in a horror film scenario. In doing so, the film never loses its compassion – you’re willing them to get away, not get put through the meat-grinder.

Already acquired for distribution in the UK, this is fortunately not one of those festival films you read about and then can’t find in a cinema. I recommend making a point of seeing it when it comes out – it is intelligently in tune with everything a film like this should be: funny in places, skin-crawling in others, and a real pleasure to watch.

Read more updates from Cannes 2014 here, including Catherine Bray’s review of David Cronenberg’s Maps To The Stars.