Sean K. Cureton

Detroit Follows

In Movie Reviews: 2015 on April 4, 2015 at 12:02 pm
Theatrical Poster

Theatrical Poster

It Follows
Directed by David Robert Mitchell
4 out of 4 stars

Set against the backdrop of urban decay, David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is a punishing horror film debut from an American director possessed of an impeccable eye for detail, the film’s Detroit teeming with a history better left unexamined, though its reverberations of unspoken economic desperation physically manifest in the film’s supernatural terror. While the premise of the film’s teen drama is more obviously couched in a genre conceit metaphorically concerned with the promotion of safe sex, the film’s titular pronoun associated with the loss of virginity and its attendant STDs, Mitchell is decidedly engaged with something far more sinister than the dispersal of venereal disease. When the presence that proceeds to stalk Maika Monroe’s Jay Height and her coterie of friends and paramours emerges, the very fabric of Mitchell’s film becomes imbued with a familial sense of guilt that goes beyond mere sexual innocence. In It Follows, the ethereal menace that pervades is never entirely quantifiable, its quality changing to best suit its environment, until it goes in for the kill, becoming the manifestation of the most intimately familiar of carnal knowledge. It’s impossible to come away from Mitchell’s feature film debut without feeling existentially violated, the film’s invasive extrapolations on teen sex and adolescent innocence pointedly incisive, peeling away layers of personal irony and self-deprecation in its determination to capture its victim, a personal intimacy as persistent as Mitchell’s grip on the investment of the viewer, ensuring that It Follows will linger with you long after you’ve left the theatre, leaving you looking over your shoulder for weeks to come.

In Mitchell’s film, sex is as physically invasive as it is psychologically deconstructive. In first time actor Maika Monroe’s stunning, starring role as the film’s central female victim, virginity is imbued with a certain complicity in its ultimate dissolution. When Monroe’s Jay becomes physically intimate with the boy who will pass on the film’s terrific presence, there is a brief moment of post coital tenderness that is evocative of the sort of romantic connection and independent triumph associated with teen sex from the perspective of those inclusively involved in the immediacy of the act. The film very quickly affirms the presence of something sinister attached to pre-marital physical intimacy, however, and this scene hyper accelerates into a tableau of presumed abduction, rape, and torture, the means and context by which police and concerned parents deconstruct and misconstrue the privacy of the initial action. In It Follows, sex comes laden with the trappings of an emotional maturity ill defined, its pursuit communally felt and desired by the film’s protagonists who are simultaneously stimulated and repulsed by its attendant socio-cultural fallout. There’s a sense of social responsibility that comes with physical intimacy in Mitchell’s film that echoes the film’s supernatural element’s association with an immaturity fundamentally irresponsible, turning the act of copulation into something that is personally defining of those who casually engage in its implied social contract.

The very indefinable nature of this communal shame, regret, and remorse thus becomes the film’s key source of shadowy menace and terror, the horror genre conceit that the film engages in as intimate as the act of pre-marital sex that is the film’s central thematic motif. In Mitchell’s film, the ambiguous pronoun that follows is as all pervasive as the film’s interrogation into sex and gender politics in suburban America, the loss of innocence physically manifested in the relative domesticity of the suburbs being encroached upon by the decay of larger metropolitan Detroit. The economic incongruity between urban Detroit and the suburban pastoral of Maika Monroe’s home becomes another source of social menace, that of the city in socio-economic decay, abandoned by a surrounding community of sequestered innocents living in relative economic stability and social safety. At the film’s climax, when Maika and her friends enter into the city proper, the menacing ethereal presence takes on its final form, Detroit the true site of horror and source of cultural unease, Mitchell’s film just as much a horror genre feature as its is a drama set against the American urban landscape in a state of rapid decline. In this way, the dissolution of Detroit as a thriving center of commercial commerce becomes the film’s central focus, sexual innocence a metaphor by which the film may go about aesthetically examining and redefining a bureaucratically opaque concept within the context of private social discourse.

Urban economic disparity aside, however, Robert David Mitchell’s It Follows is first and foremost one of the very best American genre features of the past ten plus years, reminiscent in tone, style, and musical accompaniment to the very best works of John Carpenter in the 1980’s. The film’s implementation of suspense and delayed gratification keep you one the edge of your seat, in awe of the various genre clichés and tools by which Mitchell is able to masterfully manipulate your emotions into a state of sheer terror and paranoia. Like England’s masterful genre director Edgar Wright, Mitchell is able to pull off some genuinely compelling horror genre scares and tableau through self-conscious repetition of what has come before, It Follows imbued with a self-assured concentration and focus that make it work so well despite the audience’s awareness of all of its various cinematic influences and creative debts. It’s unlikely that we’ll be seeing another American genre feature quite so brilliantly conceived and executed again anytime soon, given the fact that this year’s slate of horror films include such potential disappointments and redundant retreads as Insidious: Chapter Three and the Poltergeist remake. Regardless, It Follows is the best film to come out in 2015 so far, its originality and intense focus helmed by Mitchell’s inestimable sense of direction, making him a debut writer and director to watch in the years to come.

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