Cannes Film Review: ‘It Follows’

It Follows Cannes 2014

This horror movie from 'The Myth of the American Sleepover' helmer David Robert Mitchell capitalizes on his gift for atmosphere.

When director David Robert Mitchell appeared on the indie scene in 2010 with “The Myth of the American Sleepover,” few would have guessed that his next project might be a horror movie. And yet, as follow-ups go, “It Follows” makes perfect sense, applying what worked best about that debut — namely, its haunting evocation of adolescent anxiety and yearning, set against the backdrop of an atmospheric Michigan suburb — to a far more commercial genre. Starting off strong before losing its way in the end, this stylish, suspenseful chiller should significantly broaden Mitchell’s audience without disappointing his early supporters in the slightest.

From the opening scene, the pic feels different from typical genre fare: A disoriented young woman stumbles out into the street of an otherwise peaceful tree-lined neighborhood. The camera keeps its distance, slowly rotating as she runs up and down the block, trying to avoid a threat only she can see. The next morning, the girl’s corpse is found down by the lake, twisted beyond recognition.

Something scary is stalking the young people in this WASP-y Detroit suburb — the same environment where Mitchell grew up. If “Myth” was his John Hughes homage, then “It Follows” is the director’s best stab at doing John Carpenter. From the eerie electronic score to the suffocating sense of dread, the resemblance is uncanny: This is the kind of film that, if watched on VHS, might have kept the slumber-party teens wide awake in his last movie. Except that on video, they would have missed out on Mitchell’s expert use of widescreen, in which audiences are constantly looking over the character’s shoulder, scanning the frame to find the “follower.”

As bogeymen go, Mitchell’s monster is both intuitive (like something out of a bad dream) and impossible to comprehend (despite much discussion, no one seems to know how to beat it). The pic’s malevolent shape-shifter can take the form of anyone, from a beloved relative to a complete stranger. Sometimes it’s subtle enough to blend in with crowds. At others, it’s frighteningly conspicuous: a naked old man staring at you from a nearby rooftop, or a cheerleader leaking urine as she lurches across the living-room floor. The only certainty seems to be that it won’t stop until you’re dead. And once you’re dead, it will go after the person who “gave” it to you.

Judging strictly from a filmmaking p.o.v., “It Follows” is remarkably effective for most of its running time, ratcheting up the tension, then stinging the audience periodically with one of those jolts that sends everyone levitating a couple inches above their seats. But the excitement wears off after a point, once the kids realize they don’t really understand what they’re dealing with, resulting in a couple of badly staged setpieces, including a clunky lakeside attack and a virtually nonsensical climactic encounter at a public pool, where a plan that wasn’t clear to begin with goes awry.

Generally speaking, horror is only as potent as whatever fear it exploits, and “It Follows” relies a bit too heavily on a wobbly venereal-disease allegory. Instead of exploiting near-universal adolescent anxieties about virginity, Mitchell creates a situation where the infected are super-motivated to pass it on. All it takes is one ill-advised backseat tryst to turn carefree college-aged beauty Jay (“The Bling Ring’s” Maika Monroe) into a paranoid mess. As it is, the neighborhood kids are constantly spying on her, but after hooking up with the wrong guy (Jake Weary), she starts to notice all sorts of creepy people in her peripheral vision.

As Mitchell explained at the pic’s premiere in Cannes, “It Follows” marks his attempt to make a “beautiful horror movie” — equal parts gentle and aggressive. At times, his meticulous compositions rival Gregory Crewdson’s ethereal suburban-gothic photographs (sometimes staged at roughly the same budget as this admirably inexpensive feature). While “It Follows” isn’t a period piece per se, the incidents take place in a world of abandoned buildings, rusty old American automobiles and outdated landline telephones. Even without a supernatural stalker in the mix, one wants to advise these kids — who include plausible next-door types Olivia Luccardi and Lili Sepe, awkwardly shy Keir Gilchrist and faux-tough Daniel Zovatto — to run away from this dead-end existence as fast and as far as they can.

Cannes Film Review: 'It Follows'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Critics’ Week), May, 2014. Running time: 107 MIN.

Production

A Northern Lights Films presentation of a Animal Kingdom production in association with Two Flints. (International sales: Visit Films, New York.) Produced by Rebecca Green, Laura D. Smith, David Robert Mitchell, David Kaplan, Erik Rommesmo. Executive producers, Frederick W. Green, Joshua Astrachan, P. Jennifer Dana, Jeff Schlossman, Bill Wallwork, Alan Pao, Corey Large, Mia Chang. Co-producer, Robyn K. Bennett.

Crew

Directed, written by David Robert Mitchell. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Michael Gioulakis; editor, Julio C. Perez IV; music, Disasterpeace; production designer, Michael T. Perry; costume designer, Kimberly Leitz-McCauley; special makeup effects producer, Robert Kurtzman; casting, Mark Bennett.

With

Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe.

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  1. Nick says:

    Trick it to following you into the back of an armored truck, run out and lock it into the contained space.

    • wiles11 says:

      “It” takes on a variety of different human/humanoid forms. It wouldn’t sat locked in the truck forever, and besides, where would a bunch of teenagers get access to an armoured truck, let alone get inside of one long enough to lure the pursuer. Further to that, based on the beach scene, the followers have superhuman strength when necessary.

  2. Phil says:

    Perhaps to the simple minded this movie might have evaded their intellect, bur for the rest of us this was a truly tense and horrific film. It captured something that reminds me of a literal nightmare. Smart and refreshing, the film uses restraint to its advantange while witholding certain details thus allowing our imaginations to fill in the blanks. Absolutely terrifying

  3. Nat Lussier says:

    We probably didn’t see the same movie as it was one of the worst movie ever…no beginning, no middle, no ending… Made no sense… Lots of scene that didn’t go anywhere( the one with the boat and the three guys)….

    • Aaron says:

      Um, the scene with boat and the three guys made perfect sense… she needs to sleep with someone and she finds… three dumbos in a boat…

      You people need everything spooned to you, and in that case, sure, you saw the wrong movie.

      • Gom says:

        I saw this movie. I was able to follow along. I understood the director’s intent. The movie was a boring piece crap. The end.

    • That’s just the point. The story opens long after the beginning and it has no ending. The middle is what you saw.

  4. Robert says:

    Dumbs show I have seen this year. To me a waste of money.

  5. brianna says:

    this movie sucked . some good parts but others sucked. the ending sucked . the beginning really didnt make any sense . waist of money. DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE! im a big scary movie fan and this was one of the worst ive seen .

  6. Susan Redman says:

    Just saw this tonight and I have to say it did NOT live up to the hype. There were so many dull moments in the film that were not tension building. If you want to be scared by people walking up to you and stalking you from the yard, watch Halloween. It’s far far better at it. I really really wanted this to live up to the hyper and it was a complete let down. The music is kind of cool but it needed to be put together better and have far better scares in it than just naked people everywhere, even one up on the roof! What the EFF did I just watch I thought when I walked out. This movie also just leaves things way too vague which only leaves me to believe that they want you to make some sort of sense of it when none can really be made. DUMB>waste of 8 bucks.

  7. Ann Hoffman says:

    WORST. MOVIE. EVER. Worse than Spaceballs. Not scary, not funny, not suspenseful. I feel asleep twice. Who are these reviewers? OMG.

  8. Reblogged this on HORROR BOOM and commented:
    As bogeymen go, Mitchell’s monster is both intuitive (like something out of a bad dream) and impossible to comprehend (despite much discussion, no one seems to know how to beat it). The pic’s malevolent shape-shifter can take the form of anyone, from a beloved relative to a complete stranger. Sometimes it’s subtle enough to blend in with crowds. At others, it’s frighteningly conspicuous: a naked old man staring at you from a nearby rooftop, or a cheerleader leaking urine as she lurches across the living-room floor. The only certainty seems to be that it won’t stop until you’re dead. And once you’re dead, it will go after the person who “gave” it to you.
    This movie sounds pretty cool. Click on “View original” in the lower left to read the entire review by Peter Debruge on Variety.com.

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