I remember watching The Blair Witch Project at its world premiere. Walking out of the Yarrow Hotel press screening room and into an arctic night at the Sundance Film Festival with my wits rubbed raw by fear.
My memory of the premiere screening of Paranormal Activity at the Slamdance Film Festival is every bit as powerful. Sharing scares and chain smoking cigarettes with the Treasure Mountain Inn crowd; desperately trying to shake off the frights.
My first contact with filmmaker David Robert Mitchell’s coming-of-age horror It Follows perfectly syncs with our digital age. It’s the Midnight Hour. I’m at my desk and I’m streaming the movie between work assignments.
Yet, just like Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity, despite the comfort, safety and familiarity of my surroundings, I’m rattled to the point of fearing the shadows in my own office and the nighttime shapes outside my window and throughout my city neighborhood.
That’s what classic horror movies like It Follows do. Basically, they rip you from safe places and everyday spaces and make you feel, well, like you’re being followed by something sinister.
An ordinary date between 19-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe) and her crush Hugh (Jake Weary) becomes more than clumsy sex. Hugh reveals he’s burdened by a deadly curse; a dark shape he describes as “it,” one that he’s now passed to Jay.
Desperate to sever the curse and shake “it” from her trail, Jay and her friends seek shelter at a beach house. Of course, there are no geographic solutions for extinguishing curses or monsters in the shadows. Jay has some tough decisions to make.
It Follows is clever follow up to Mitchell’s 2010 teen drama Myth of the American Sleepover, another tale set in his hometown of Detroit, this time about teenage girls wrapping their last summer before starting college.
Mitchell reignites themes of teen drama, casual sex and disappointing love with an unnerving sense of something lurking from the corner of our eyes.
If Myth of the American Sleepover is Mitchell’s nod to American teen movies from Dazed and Confused to American Grafitti, then It Follows pays homage to smart, beautiful horror storytelling like Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now.
Maika Monroe, previously seen in blink roles in Labor Day and The Bling Ring, grounds the movie with an honest performance as a teenage girl determined to solve the paranormal consequences of her “bad decisions” with Hugh.
Disasterpeace a.k.a. musician Rich Vreeland heightens the mood with an eerie electronic score that makes each scare twice as impactful. Michael Gioulakis makes beautiful use of the Detroit setting; emphasizing the 8-Mile Road divide between Jay’s comfortable suburban neighborhood and the sinister abandoned streets of Detroit.
By its closing credits and its final surprises, It Follows clearly belongs to the heart and mind of Mitchell, who transforms a cultish horror plot into something both frightening and meaningful.
I hope Mitchell stays with horror for another movie or two. The genre needs more smart storytellers.
It Follows, from RADiUS-TWC, is currently in theaters nationwide.
Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi and Lili Sepe
Screenwriter: David Robert Mitchell
Cinematographer: Michael Gioulakis
Producers: Rebecca Green, Laura D. Smith, David Robert Mitchell, David Kaplan, Erik Rommersmo
Running time: 100 minutes