'It Follows'

'It Follows' has as much Joyce Carol Oates as it has John Carpenter in its DNA
TERRIFIC TERROR: It follows that some will be saying 'It Follows' has been overpraised—but director David Robert Mitchell's cleverness is clear from the opening grabber.

Few fans of terror consider terroir—how the mood of a place affects the mood of a film. David Robert Mitchell's It Follows uses 8 Mile Road as the borderline between the world of the rational and the irrational. On one side are suburbs; on the other is the Detroit of everyone's nightmares—the blasted factories, the long streets filled with empty houses, where the overgrown sycamores are beginning to look like a haunted wood.

Mitchell knows Michigan and filming there is not all about the tax breaks. His cinematographer, Mike Gioulakis, uses the uncertain local light and foreboding clouds for texture. When some lost kids flee to an empty summer place beside a flat blue lake, the thing that comes for them comes out of open ground and hot daylight.

Mitchell's craftiness is clear right from the opening grabber: a half-dressed girl racing out of her house, running into the street. It's an inversion of the usual horror film doom in an enclosed space. Later, after we discover the girl's mangled remains, the film reboots into pleasant suburban ennui. Jay (Maika Monroe) is floating in an above-ground pool, drowning an ant that crawled on her arm with a look of contented indifference.

It's something perfected by David Lynch in Blue Velvet: insist on the sweetness of life, hear the hissing of summer lawns; increase the sense of the natural, so that the supernatural will stand out in greater relief. Momentarily free of their jobs at the ice cream stand, Jay's pals and relations are hanging out on her sofa watching crap '50s sci-fi—Killers from Space and The Giant Claw. Later, Jay gets ready for a date. Jeff (Jake Weary) accompanies Jay to a classy old movie theater to see a revival of Charade. Something spooks them. They leave to make out by a lake, and then to make love in a car. We're beckoned to watch with a smooth dolly shot into the back window of the car—Mitchell seeks lyricism, not slut-shaming.

There is a penalty for this tryst, but it's not Jay's fault. Out in the night is something Jeff wants to feed—a kind of sexually transmitted specter. Invisible to all but its victims, unnamed like Ambrose Bierce's "The Damned Thing," it can be outrun for a time but not for good.

It Follows seems to have a literal turning point late: a 360-degree circular pan shot inside a beige-colored brick high school, revealing summer-school boredom. The figures standing in the hallways, immobile—are they alive or dead? The problem of the hunted Jay is clear—the beast could be anywhere, anything.

The film seems unstuck in time, because of the old movie references, old appliances and old cars—old even by Michigan standards. The synthesizer score by chiptune maestro Disasterpiece emulates John Carpenter's thrifty '70s soundtracks. With intelligence and sensitivity, Mitchell lays out a subplot romance about Paul (Keir Gilchrist), who is hanging around, having had a thing for Jay forever.

The film's mood of doom and guilt doesn't sweeten up into a story of two soul mates finding each other through ghost-fighting. Characters aren't there to provide clear-cut functions, the way they are in low-budget films—they make the story all the more rooted and alive. Jay's bespectacled pal Yara (Olivia Luccardi) reads Dostoyevsky on her pink scallop-shaped Kindle. She's interested, but not overwhelmed by the prose. She reads aloud from The Idiot with a mouthful of sandwich. We suspect she's the story's Velma, the person who is going to explain who this revenant is and what it wants.

But no one can explain, and that's the point. In the finale, Mitchell does as much with an indoor swimming pool as Val Lewton did in The Cat People (1942). If gorehounds say It Follows is slow, they'll have a point. But, as is said of the monster: it's slow, but it's not stupid. The makeup and the casting of the Damned Thing's various faces isn't perfect, (That's true of Carnival of Souls, too, as if that mattered.) These are minor things that money can fix in subsequent films. It Follows deserves to be a hit; it's the pearl you search through loads of home-brewed horror to find.

It Follows

R; 100 Min.

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