Ever since leaving the cinema after seeing David Robert Mitchell's creative foray into horror, It Follows, I've been thinking: does a horror film need to be scary to be good? If a horror film isn't jump-out-of-your-seat terrifying then does that mean it's fundamentally failed as a movie, and does this mean the quality of a horror film is directly proportionate to the amount of times you watched it from the gaps between your fingers? Maybe. It's hard to say. A comedy can still be good if it isn't laugh-a-minute, so the same probably goes for a horror movie too, right? The reason this debate is coming up at all is because for all It Follows gets right with its lovingly imagined and astonishingly eerie set-pieces - it isn't really a scary film.

Taking more than a few cues from John Carpenter, It Follows brings horror back into the unassuming suburbs. While on the surface the trailers might suggest the film is in the same sub-genre as, say, something like last year's Ouija, Mitchell's provocative picture is more of an '80s horror flick in disguise. Taking a decidedly retro aesthetic, but not being too gimmicky with the way it pays homage to its influences, It Follows effortlessly draws you into its inescapable and intensely atmospheric nightmare. Perfectly blending the spot-on feel and flow of early Carpenter flicks with the grossly imagined body horror of any good Cronenberg film, It Follows does for crowds of people what Jaws did for the sea.

Less concerned with creating a cohesive narrative or setting up a series of murderous set-pieces, It Follows crafts its horrific cinemascape purely through its keen eye for effective and creepy imagery. Like the best horror films, the movie sets up and engages the audience in its tightly imagined reality, using a wide range of claustrophobic and alienating visual styles to create a world that on the surface looks familiar, but one that you can tell is rotten to its very core. It Follows achieves its dreamlike haze through the unwavering confidence of its own images and the uneasy imaginative feelings they conjure. Unlike less subtle horror movies that edit so much and never stop moving the camera around so you never have any idea what you're actually seeing, all in the hope that you might get a bit scared by it, It Follows is scary because it refuses to cut at all. The film traps the audience into the horror of its world and doesn't once give you permissions to leave.

But at times it feels like the film draws too heavily from its influences. Scenes of a quiet autumn suburbia and the slow stalking of a mute distant killer are ripped almost directly from Halloween, and I honestly had to double-check that Carpenter wasn't credited with at least a contribution credit for the film's score. This isn't bad in itself, because it does allow the film to create a genuinely fresh and striking old-school look, but it can be hard to decipher what ideas are unique to It Follows, and how much of its tonal success is owed to other movies in the genre. By incorporating its influences so heavily, it leaves you feeling that It Follows might be the best John Carpenter film John Carpenter never made.

Under all the gloss though, the best thing about It Follows is that at its core and away from all the affectations that come with its distinct style, the film still manages to be a deeply affecting and engaging experience. In the same vein as last year's The Babadook, the way It Follows photographs the mundane manages to be completely unnerving. The looming shots of an empty backyard or the long take of a character at school as something, maybe or maybe not, lurks in the crowd in the distance conjures a certain unease that will have you double-checking your room before you go to bed on a night. Because of this commitment to a sophisticated sense of atmosphere, It Follows probably won't make you jump out of your seat in the cinema (well, maybe it will once or twice), but it will have you looking over your shoulder for the whole week after you've seen it.

At the end of the day though, It Follows at least needs to be commended for being a mainstream hit that isn't just a pretty, or maybe more aptly, disgusting face. To see a popular horror film that's driven by genuine passion get such a wide release is something that everyone needs to cling on to and never let go. It's nothing radical to say that mainstream horror in 2015 is sterile - at this point it's kicking a dead horse - but when something as visually striking and as darkly fun as It Follows releases to such fanfair, it becomes a nagging reminder of how much Hollywood is lacking in its horror film slate.

But regardless of its huge aspirations and the film's lovely retro theme, we ultimately still need to come back to that eternal horror debate: is It Follows a good horror movie even though it doesn't have that many scares? Well, to put it succinctly - damn straight it is.