Directed by David Robert Mitchell
Opens March 13
It’s like John Hughes has become John Carpenter. Those who saw writer-director David Robert Mitchell’s 2010 debut, The Myth of the American Sleepover, a portrait of adolescent hesitation whose romantic imagery belied its textual cynicism, might be surprised to see his byline on this creepy-as-fuck supernatural horror movie. But then again, maybe not. Myth’s depiction of lite pubescent debauchery—kissing, junk food, beer ‘n’ wine—played like a slasher movie with the killer edited out, leaving behind just the sensitive and wistful observations of suburban end-of-summer rituals, from skinny dipping to egging houses. It Follows opens on a suburban street similar to those wandered in the previous film—both were shot around Detroit—as though it were set in a neighboring house. Mitchell emerges not as the nostalgic chronicler of youth he might have seemed, the second coming of a Sixteen Candles maker, but as a documenter of suburban life and the variety of tales contained therein: the innocent and the awful, from Colonial Street to Elm Street.
Maika Monroe plays a coed at Wayne State who has sex one evening with her new, seemingly nice boyfriend; he cums, chloroforms her, ties her to a chair, and explains something very serious when she wakes up. Now she has It—a unique curse involving a supernatural menace, a slow-moving stalker who will always be coming after her until it kills her or she has sex with someone else and passes it on. This “Follower” can take any form it wants, usually something eldritch, like an elderly person in a hospital robe, identifiable by its undistracted, direct-line approach; oh, also, no one else can see it. Good luck!
Myth felt relatively chaste, even a little slut-shamey, and It Follows adheres to a similar if intensified morality: these characters are a few years older, graduated from making out to doing it, and thus the stakes are higher. The worst thing that could happen to Myth’s heroes? Their love could go unrequited. The worst thing that could happen to Monroe is she’ll be brutally killed, her body bent and broken. It’s easy to want to interpret this venereal hex as a personification of AIDS—the lead user-review on IMDb calls the movie “a game of psychosexual-tag-you’re-it featuring the most sinister STD ever”—but the details complicate such a reading. (You don’t get to get rid of HIV by having more sex.) Instead, it’s more about the fucked up relationship between Eros and Thanatos; the movie is so terrifying because the long takes, circular pans and goosefleshing musical cues expose something more fundamental than sexual anxiety: the persistent terror of dying, of never feeling safe, never being able to just go home and lock the door, never being able to stand still or fall asleep. The Follower is inescapable, always approaching, bound to catch up eventually—it’s certain, like taxes and that other thing. Mitchell transforms our usually abstract fears into a menace more distressing than most boogeymen. It Follows is as scary as a serious consideration of your own death.