‘It Follows’ is fun and gorgeously moody

it_followsIt Follows
Directed by David Robert Mitchell
USA, 2014

Is David Robert Mitchell’s atmospheric horror film It Follows parody? Its ambiguous decade could be the heyday of ‘80s American horror, replete with tube TVs, a very retro-looking aboveground pool, and costuming that’s very Blue Velvet. But then there’s a reading device that looks like a rather chic Kindle

There’s the slow-walking, silent killer, and the equation famously satirized in Scream: sex = death (and also, counter-intuitively to that trope, sex = life). But there’s also a prevailing sense of loneliness and characters that play everything straight-faced and never for a laugh.

Much of Mitchell’s gorgeously staged, formalist film plays out both ways: it’s at once satire (or homage) and new-school, serious-minded horror.

19 year-old Jay (Maika Monroe) has a great new boyfriend in Hugh (Jake Weary). They take things slow, but finally sleep together on a lazy fall night. Immediately, Jay is plunged into a nightmare world, stalked by killers at every turn. The only way to shake them, Hugh tells her, is to have sex and pass it on.

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There are a lot of themes that surface in the first 15 minutes of It Follows. Could this be an STD parable? Such a read is hard to entirely avoid when a character tells another that, post-coitus, she’s got what he had…and what he had isn’t good. It’s also hard to avoid when Jay spends part of a scene looking at her genitals.

Or maybe It Follows is about abstinence. After all, there’s no better way to not get followed than to not have sex.

Maybe the best light in which to look at the film is coming-of-age, sexual awakening, and the responsibility and anxiety of becoming an adult. Under that lens It Follows certainly succeeds. Each decision is treated with gravity: easy to understand when running for one’s life, but also applicable to nearly any adolescent decision, the smallest of which still feels life-or-death for the decider.

Moralizing aside, It Follows is fun and gorgeously moody. Sure, there are some questionable character decisions (‘Don’t go anywhere without two exits’, a character is told, so of course soon thereafter she does just that), but the film is lush, ominous, and striking.

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There’s a fantastic opening sequence that hooks from the beginning. This scene suspensefully elides much of the action to get to a grotesque tableaux-vivant that ends the prologue and leads into the main narrative. It’s almost a shame then to see this action (and fill in the “oh, so maybe something kind of like that happened”) in two later scenes, particularly the climactic one, which plays out very much like a Cat People reference. It’s at once silly and mysterious.

Mitchell and cinematographer Mike Gioulakis shoot in a lot of deep focus, eschewing jump scares for creeping on-screen dread. The camera moves constantly, slowly pushing, or easing in long pans. There’s an emphasis on tight overheads, including a very pretty one of Jay’s hands as she plays with a flower. For a shot so innocent it packs a punch, true of all of the visual language here.

– Neal Dhand

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