It Follows (2014) Sundance Review

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What: Film Review
Written and Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Produced by: Erik Rommesmo, Laura D. Smith, Rebecca Green, David Kaplan
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Lili Sepe, Olivia Luccardi, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary
Language: English
Running Time (in min.): 100 minutes
Rating: R
Official Selection of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival

****

The first things one should expect to feel in the immediate aftermath of David Robert Mitchell’s newest feature are the bends. Not just the kind where you can’t find your footing, your case of vertigo is severe, and you have been nauseated to the point when warm acidic saliva is starting to build up in your mouth; nor only those bends that apply to one’s mind and general living philosophies. The most pronounced bending taking place in It Follows, one of the scariest and most stylistically interesting horror films in memory, is that of genre.

It Follows is Mitchell’s second film as writer and director after the widely-beloved The Myth of the American Sleepover. Both films are set in Detroit in periods of hazy summer loving and pre-bankruptcy Metro-suburban bliss. Similarly, they both had their World Premieres at the Cannes Film Festival, the first in 2010 and the most recent in 2014. After only these two features, we can see that the French festival is appropriate for Mitchell’s films for several reasons: because he is a composer of the moving image; because he is a gifted director of actors; and because he is a general multihyphenate who has also edited the Academy Awards and helped to produce the work of other filmmakers. One can only imagine seeing such work in the shoes of the Cahiers du Cinema on the Croisette in 1955.

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Mitchell’s latest, however, is a period piece set sometime in the mid-to-late 1980s when neither crappy convertibles nor a lack of smartphones could keep randy teenagers from getting together. One such young woman, Jay (in a star-making lead by Maika Monroe, At Any Price [2012]) is enjoying the summer by hooking up with the hunky Hugh (Jake Weary), and neither wants to wear the proper protection. The result is far more frightening than unplanned pregnancy: as Hugh tells Jay one late, moody night, he has inseminated her with a demonic STD that he inherited from another partner. The creature, or whatever it is, will appear as a shapeshifting humanoid until it manages to successfully murder the most recent victim by way of aggressive intercourse.

Into this high-concept mix gets thrown Jay’s gaggle of stereotypical buddies. Her more innocent sister, Kelly (Lili Sepe, as likely as Monroe to break big); the secretly sexy nerd, Yara (Olivia Luccardi); and Paul, a fawning former boyfriend played with buried sadness and intensity by the great Keir Gilchrist (It’s Kind of a Funny Story [2011]). Slender and emotionally transparent, Paul is no competition for the kinds of guys Jay longs to be with, like the tough next-door-neighbor, Greg (Daniel Zovatto), and the pain of being in her inner circle inscribes itself perennially on Gilchrist’s emotive face.

Suffice it to say that as the creature from “below” starts to haunt the group, the kids do their best to avoid capture while the virus’s carrier seeks to pass the plague along to other unwitting victims. Where the story goes is best left to viewers, of which there should be a great many when the film opens in theaters and On Demand in late March 2015.

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Mitchell, working with the cinematographer Mike Gioulakis and the editor Julio Perez IV, renders the story in extremely rigorous and lovely audiovisual choreography. Rarely do horror films, much less any kind of psychological thriller or action film (neither of which fully gets at what It Follows actually is), utilize so few cuts to such overwhelming, upsetting effect. The long takes, replete with stunning 360-degree shots and gruelingly slow zooms, take over for rapid-paced editing and the shaking camera that have come to rule our screens in such movies. The wrenching score, a Moroder-like electronica dirge composed by Rich Vreeland (under the moniker Disasterpeace), hits the same buttons Halloween and Friday the 13th, clear touchstones for Mitchell, once did.

Since its premiere internationally, the new flick has also had its North American Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in their Midnight screenings, and continues to tour the international festival circuit. Audiences are in for the kind of fear of which I only have sense memory. When I was four years old, my father showed me William Friedkin’s The Exorcist [1973] and chanted, as I quaked in fear and nearly urinated in my pants, that “It’s not real, son. It’s not real. It’s a movie.” Watching Mitchell’s film summoned another memory, similar in its effect on my jeans, of Autumn 2009 when a friend brought me to see Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity in San Francisco with absolutely no clue what the film was about: “I just heard it makes living with other people hard.”

It Follows recalls these experiences while also operating on the level of metaphor and homage. By setting the film in the 80s and making overt references to the horror of yore, one recalls the fear of unprotected sex and the damage it wrought on metropolitan America as the AIDS crisis came to a head. Gone were the days of free love and immediate, easy intimacy, replaced by a plague and a great fear of intimacy. The film seems to be sending out, in parallel to its themes, its own self-referential warning: don’t get too close – because you may not be able to shake this one.

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One response to “It Follows (2014) Sundance Review

  1. Pingback: Sundance Interview with Dan Romer | CineMalin: Film Commentary and Criticism·

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