Written and Directed by David Robert Mitchell | 101 min | Amazon Prime, On Demand
The last time I was so pleasantly perplexed by a genre picture it was Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin, which came out last May. This is another puzzler with powerful undercurrents of sex and death, both an indie teen movie and a horror, often deeply weird. Whatever you want to call it, it’s probably the most interesting new film I’ve seen this year.
Mitchell directed a picture back in 2010, the Sundance-styled The Myth of the American Sleepover. What I remember most about it wasn’t character or plot but its sun-dappled mood. His new film has some of that mood, but dampened, overcast, suffused with dread.
I see the influence of Kubrick, Carpenter, Linklater, and Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In, which, like It Follows, contains an important third-act scene at a swimming pool. The characters seem to exist in a world with very little adult presence, maybe as much as the teens in Rian Johnson’s Brick, another hard-to-categorize genre amalgam.
Maika Monroe (so good in The Guest last year) is Jay, a college student living in late 70s/early 80s suburban Detroit.
Or is that really the era? The fashions, colours, cars, and televisions all are of that vintage, but Jay’s friend Yara (Olivia Luccardi) carries a compact that’s also an e-reader, on which she’s enjoying Dostoevsky. In a preamble a character uses a cellphone and we see a more modern minivan. But maybe that portion takes place at a time closer to our own? It’s unclear.
I think, in fact, that Mitchell has amalgamated cultural artifacts from different times, to create a more surreal landscape, overlapping elements to provide a familiarity to more than one audience.
Jay enjoys swimming, and the peace of her suburban life. The movie has time for her to enjoy squirrels on wires and ants crawling on her arm. She dates a guy named Hugh. After she has sex with him, he says he’s passed on something to her, a curse: From now on she will see strange people following her. Dangerous people. He tells her she’s got to stay away from them. No one else will be able to see these demonic presences, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
Jay bands together with her sister, Kelly (Lili Sepe), Paul (Keir Gilchrist), a junior high chum with a deep unrequited passion for Jay, Yara, and the boy next door, Greg (Daniel Zovatto), to come up with a solution to these threatening spectres. In order to escape the creatures, it takes them away from their suburban nests out to a Lake Michigan cottage, and, finally, towards the city.
Is the curse an analogy for sexually transmitted infections? You could probably read it as such, but then there are plenty of layers to what’s going on in this film.
There’s a gorgeous, deliberate quality to the picture, in the gradual camera moves, including 360 degree pans putting us in the middle of the scenes more than once. We often find ourselves looking into the background of scenes, over the shoulders of our leads, for characters that might be threatening to them.
Yes, it’s deeply creepy throughout, but I found the moments that are supposed to scare the pants off us feel the most obvious, and perhaps the least effective. That’s not to say my pants didn’t virtually come off, but It Follows isn’t at its best when it brings the shocks, rather when it’s taking time to gradually unsettle, offering a collection of compelling characters living in a world of mysteries and, to some of them, invisible and deadly strangers.