What’s it About?
A young woman is followed by an unknown supernatural force after getting involved in a sexual confrontation.
Written and Directed by David Robert Mitchell
The meaningful, coming of age sleeper hit, “The Myth of the American sleepover,” was directed by Florida State University Grad and film-maker, David Robert Mitchell in 2010. Now, four years later, Mitchell brings us another coming of age story but one of horrific consequences and insight that is the anthithesis of an innocent summer filled with frolic and fun.
The film, named simply, “It Follows” is a dynamically crafted supernatural thriller that is a quiet, moody and significant piece of urban horror that hits home on many levels, especially the theme of sex, fear, responsibility and promiscuity. All of the familiar aesthestics are here in this ghostly sexual tale. What Mitchell smartly concocts, using a minimalist and modern indie vibe, is another very engaging throwback film in a dream-like visual and audio panorama. Using flourishes straight from John carpenter’s playbook, like a constantly moving camera, dollies and steadicams galore, stunning wide shots with smoky and dim environments, “It Follows” is a unique film to get lost in.
Mitchell uses these tried and true methods to create a disorienting world full of phantasms, dilapidated and abandoned homes (rows of them that appear haunted as well) and streets full of decay and of course, sexual encounters gone wrong. Actress Maika Monroe, last seen in Adam Wingard’s brilliant “The Guest,” plays Jay, a beautiful Detroit teen who fancies the handsome boy next door – like, Hugh. Hugh, played by Jake Weary (Altitude), while on a date with Jay, starts to display strange behaviors apparently seeing people that are not there. In his fright, they both leave the movie theater they were in and Hugh starts his rapid seduction of Jay. After they have sex in his car, Hugh knocks Jay out and takes her to an abandoned parking garage (more elements of urban decay and dereliction) where the horror for Jay begins.
Hugh proceeds to tie her to a chair and claims that he he “passed” something on to Jay as a result of their copulation. An entity that will “Follow” her and appear as someone she may have known or know except that they are not living but instead ghostly apparitons that haunt and eliminate the next person in the ghostly STD line. Using sex as the springboard for the horror taps brilliantly into primal fears of sexual sickness and weakness. It is a weighty and high concept, indeed, but “It Follows” can stumble a bit, trying to retain too much style and not enough substance in it’s third act.
But restraint, here, is the objective and with a very emphatic and effctual start to the film (we watch with despair as another young girl falls prey to the entity with drastic results), Mitchell’s film tries to be be much more slick than it should really be, but whatever reservations that arise from this is very fleeting. Along with Jay’s sister Kelly (Lili Spepe), her long time family friend, Paul (Keir Gilchrist), friend Yara (Olivia Luccardi) and bad boy neighbor Greg (Daniel Zovatto from Agents of Shield) try to come up with ways to thwart the demon from claiming Jay. Ways that may not involve actual sexual encounters. What continues is more close calls, more promiscuity, confrontations and terrifying revelations as to what the entity may be and it’s powers and weaknesses. All the gang needed was The Mystery Machine.
Mitchell knows how to get his characters to feel despair, regret and abashment. Regret is central to the story for the characters and even sacrifices too (Gilchrist brilliantly emotes his willing-ness to help Jay in any way without ever saying a word). Also abundant is the ever growing tension and impending doom that practically saturates every frame. (In another Carpenter-esque scene, Jay watches for phantoms outside her classroom window). The film’s look helps to establish this as well. The film in spots appears very 70’s and 80’s and even a bit timeless, much like the look Ti West gives to his films. The cinematography of DP Mike Gioulakis (John Dies at the End) is amazing to behold. The fluid pans, dollies and wide shots are very enveloping and stately with just the right amount of lighting to perpetuate fear.
The score, which seems to have been dropped in from The Twilight Zone, is what knocks this film into the stratosphere. Disasterpeace, who is actually Rich Vreeland from Staten Island, New York, whips up an amazing synth score full of thrashes, throngs, thrilling electronic tones, noises and harmonies. It carpets every tense scene, confrontation and scare successfully, building so much fright and dread like a pressure cooker about to blow. The score is another entity all together and Mitchell makes the music a character of the movie much like Carpenter did with “Halloween” or Goldsmith with “The Omen.”
If I have any qualms it’s that the movie never realizes the potential it starts off with. Monroe, unlike her turn in “The Guest,” is often morose, bland and occasionally lazy as Jay and too much time is spent with very measured and gradual scenes of her doing mundane things. There is a flatness to her performance at times that comes across as either dull or aloofness. Take your pick. When the characters do not appear to have much left to do or react to, them Mitchell injects more stylistic flourishes that could appear as a last minute ditch to retain the spook factor without the people element. Even when some sequences reek of Wes Craven (NoES comes to mind) and even Tobe Hooper, we simply like what we are witnessing, though. The straight forward scares are even pretty well done and none too distracting even though they may seem cliché.
“It Follows” was a fun affair and with a solid (for the most part) cast, great visual flow and style, the movie is a very astute indie horror with it’s heart in the right place and showing it’s influences in it’s sleeve. In lesser hands, the movie may have been a very big mess with it’s ludicrous subject matter but Mitchell, bless him, makes it work for the most part.
“It Follows” is enigmatic and opaque and can leave much to the imagination. Sex and responsibility are hot buttons in the film as is regret and the choices we make in our lives and things we take for granted. It is a dark, sexual fable in an urban setting that Mitchell successfully establishes with nice touches of cinematography and a loud and cryptic score. There is much to like in “It Follows” and I am nit picking when I say that at times it feels a bit unexplored and rote in places.
Mitchell supplies great ghost action, even in the daytime and some very cool ghostly encounters in cars, cabins, roads, cornfields, streets, rooftops and swimming pools. This “coming together to smash evil” aesthestic is appealling and even rewarding giving the movie a nice boost in the horror action element, if one longs for it. When the film seems slow, just hang in there for a nailbiting ending that is both un-nerving and tranquil. It allows the viewer to piece everything together.
“It Follows” is re-inventive, sometimes sublime and reverential with a slight detour into stylized pretension in places. It is a little cautionary tale that uses the metaphor of sex (sometimes a bit too overtly) to tell an ostentatious story and remain a decently crafted thriller. What counts in the end, for most horrors, is presentation and Mitchell does really well with that with “It Follows.”