Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe
Written & Directed by David Robert Mitchell (The Myth of the American Sleepover)
2011's The Myth of the American Sleepover is the best movie you've probably never seen. That film, the feature-length debut for Michigan-native writer/director, David Robert Mitchell, was as independent as a movie can get, shot on a shoe-string budget and featuring a cast of unknown, inexperienced actors. Mitchell's minimalist approach helped create what should have been a pretty familiar "coming-of-age" story, and instead he birthed a genre re-defining modern classic. Mitchell's second writing and directorial effort comes out today, the low-budget horror film, It Follows (opening locally at Cinema Detroit and at the Main Art Theater), and once again he re-defines a genre...or perhaps more accurately, re-discovers one.
There is a strong sense of nostaligia that is palpable in both of these David Robert Mitchell films. Where Mythharkened back to some classic John Hughes-style films of the 1980s, or raised comparisons to films like Dazed and Confused, It Follows channels classic horror films of the past such as The Thing, or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Like Myth, It Follows takes very simplistic story elements and turns them on their head, with Mitchell again choosing a very minimalist approach. He takes what we know about a particular genre - in this case the horror genre - and then somehow is able to churn out something fresh and new. And incredibly effective.
It Follows was shot and takes place in Michigan, and that fact alone gives its characters a different sensibility and the film itself a different look and feel. Jay (the fabulous, stunningly beautiful Scream-Queen-in-the-making, Maika Monroe) is just your average teenager when we meet her: She dates boys, hangs out with her friends and lives a pretty normal life. After a night out with a boy (Jake Weary), they wind up having sex in the back of his car and all seems calm...until she wakes up bound and tied up to a wheelchair in an abandoned building. In the distance, a mysterious, horrific and creepy lady is slowly walking directly towards her. The boy frantically explains to her that he had to "pass on" whatever curse he had been afflicted with by sleeping with her. He then quickly explains the rules of the game: You must have sex as quick as you can, because this..."thing"....will continue to follow you and will kill you if it catches you. It can take on the form of anyone, so you never know when it is getting close. If you can successfully "pass it on" to someone else, you are not completely in the clear...because if this "thing" catches and kills a person, it continues to target the next person in line, perhaps onward and onward to infinity. Nobody else can see this being but you.
So with that, we are off. Jay is obviously shaken to her core and soon after she starts seeing these menacing people walking straight towards her. Her friends and sister are there to help, but there isn't much that can be done. This being is relentless, unstoppable and imminent. Who would have thought that a slow-moving stranger simply walking towards the camera could be so nightmarish and frightening?
It Follows successfully taps into a very primal fear that we all have: That someone is following you. Like many other great horror movies, it benefits from its low-budget, as Mitchell must find other ways to creep us out other than elaborate special-effects. The scares come because there is no way out...Jay is not going to find a cure, or somehow win, although her and her friends do try. It also doesn't try to explain or make sense of things...once we understand the premise, it is what it is.
It's unique also in that the evil is coming just for Jay. Usually we are introduced to a peripheral cast who will all meet their ends along the way as the monster continues to seek out the main character. Here, this thing could not be less interested in everyone else...it is just coming for YOU and you alone.
Not only does Mitchell have an amazing sense of timing (a crucial quality necessary to horror films), but the mood is helped along greatly by the bone-chilling score by Disasterpeace (Rich Vreeland), whose synthesizer-heavy choices helps to create even more of a Giorgio Moroder, 1980s vibe.
There is definitely a strong sexual element to It Follows, and maybe someone, somewhere might mistake this as one of the most clever public-service announcements in favor of teenage abstinence ever created (don't ever have premarital sex kids, or you will be haunted and eventually killed!). Again, the film leaves these deeper meanings up to the viewer to decipher.
Through two films (and ten stars given out by me between them), David Robert Mitchell is slowly building quite the resume. As he continues to create high-caliber films, he will eventually be gifted with a larger and larger budget. May he never lose his gift for story-telling. As they say, if Jaws would have been made today, it wouldn't be a classic...it was only scary because of what we weren't able to see...the lack of available technology only made the movie better. It Follows is great because of what doesn't happen, and because of the mysteries surrounding what we don't know. One would not think that it would be a natural leap to go from a coming-of-age drama to a thought-provoking horror movie, but Mitchell successfully navigates the jump. I didn't consciously just compare Mitchell to Spielberg, but Spielberg is a director capable of effectively working within numerous genres, and Mitchell's early career work surely showcases a unique ability to do just that.
It Follows, in a strange way, can be seen as a sort-of companion piece to The Myth of the American Sleepover. Both films barely feature any adults. They both exist exclusively in the teenage mind, where there is an uneasiness of spirit, where things aren't easily defined, where dreams are still possible and where change is still mercilessly, inevitably coming. Run from it as you may try...adulthood is coming for you and there is no escape.
And that's the beauty of a faceless, unexplained menace such as the one in It Follows. What scares you? The viewer is free to attach whatever fears they have onto the being, as we universally know that we all are racing from something...and its unthinkable to imagine what happens when it finally catches up with us.
Who knows if it was a conscious effort on the part of David Robert Mitchell to examine this common ground. The only thing I know for sure is that at this point in his career, I'd follow David Robert Mitchell anywhere.
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