Maika Monroe at Cannes 2014
IT FOLLOWS C+
USA (107 mi) 2014 ‘Scope d: Robert David Mitchell
From the director of THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER (2010), a film that magnifies the adolescent experience of teens in search of love and sex, this Michigan native has shot a campy teen horror film set in the lavish Detroit suburbs. Borrowing from other horror classics, including an 80’s sounding synth score right out of John Carpenter, the creep master of low budget horror films, none more influential than HALLOWEEN (1978), which reinvented the slasher film set in the safe suburban communities, introducing the idea that “you couldn’t kill evil,” Mitchell opens the film in the undisturbed quiet of a suburban setting when a young girl dressed only in underwear bursts from a front door racing down the street in terror. Porch lights turn on as onlookers curiously peer out wondering what’s going on. The girl runs back inside her own home (street address 1492, which coincides with the discovery of America) where her father asks if she’s all right before bolting out the door again without a word, hopping into a car and driving away. In no time, however, we see her dead and mutilated body left on the beach. Cut to the screen titles. This is a film that enjoys doing riffs on other horror films, where it’s largely an homage to the horror genre itself, as the playful spirit throughout is meant for pure enjoyment, using sex as the trigger for the sheer terror that follows. While this is a low budget, no frills effort that doesn’t rely upon special effects, instead it uses old-fashioned cutting and editing to heighten the element of surprise, using almost entirely unknown actors to leverage the story while recalling the paranoia established from early 1950’s sci-fi B-movies like the original THE THING (1951), a flying saucer ghost story where military experts are unable to eradicate the worldwide threat by this extraterrestrial creature from outer space, leaving the audience hanging on the final warning, “Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!” Here the same message is translated to looking over your shoulder as something is following you.
19-year old Jay, Maika Monroe from Labor Day (2013), is your typical teenage suburban girl, where her natural good looks attract plenty of male attention, as she’s used to being the object of desire, where normally she’d be fending off flirtatious advances. Her first sexual encounter, however, with a guy named Hugh (Jake Weary) takes a strange turn for the worse. Hopping into the back seat of Hugh’s car, she allows him to have sex with her, going into the trunk afterwards to get something, bringing back a chloroform-soaked rag where he drugs her unconscious. Next thing you know she’s strapped to a wheelchair dressed in her undies where she’s forced to look upon a slowly approaching creature, where Hugh informs her that no one else can see this entity except her, but it will continually follow her until she has sex with someone else and passes this ghostly curse onto them. Should she allow this creature to touch her, she will die, where the creature will then follow the previous host. Having diligently informed her, he helps her escape and drops her home afterwards, relieved of the overriding tension he’d been carrying around with him. For Jay, however, she begins to see phantom figures approaching her, terrifying, half-naked bodies that resemble ghoulish zombies, causing her to continually flee from unseen forces. These creatures can only walk, however, while she can run or drive away from them, buying some time before they catch up to her. With the help of her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), along with a handful of friends, they attempt to comprehend her nightmarish visions, keeping her surrounded by their constant presence, trying to protect her from forces they can’t even see. Her male friends are intrigued by the idea that she needs to have sex with someone else, scoffing at the idea that this could present problems, volunteering their services, exhibiting a kind of fake macho courage in the face of her rising fear, where eventually she is literally petrified. Continually interchanging the viewer perspective, occasionally the audience can see the creatures (yes, there are more than one), while at other times they remain invisible, equally creepy either way, but also humorous in the way this continually pokes fun at the horror genre.
Deliberately paced, infused with an ominous atmosphere of inescapable dread, using 360 degree pans to recreate the unsettling feeling of a continual presence of some invisible force lurking nearby, her friends drive her to a nearby lake where they curiously attempt to avoid the approaching terror while also having a little party fun of their own. The mood quickly changes when Jay’s hair is mysteriously lifted up into the air, and when a friend attempts to intervene he is knocked silly, where they run and take cover in a nearby shed, but the forces attempt to batter the door down while the others can’t see anything. In this way, the director reminds us of a similar apparition attacking Barbara Hershey in The Entity (1982), based on actual reported events where her son admitted to seeing his mother tossed around the room, and when he attempted to intervene, he was thrown across the room as well by an unseen force. Like CHRISTINE (1983), these films are inspired by the effects of demonic possession continually haunting their helpless victims, where off-balanced camera angles reflect the victim’s deteriorating mental state. Immersed in an atmosphere of teenage sexual confusion, where of course there are no adults anywhere to be seen, they are not only forced to confront their fears, but also face the hideous consequences of sex. Like many horror films, however, the looming presence of panic is much scarier than actually showing a threatening monster, where it all leads up to a climactic swimming pool sequence where they inexplicably attempt to lure these threatening invisible spirits. In a mix of Jacques Tourneur’s CAT PEOPLE (1942) and THE THING (1951), with a bit of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) thrown in for good measure, it all grows a bit ridiculous by the end when Jay’s friends devise a plan to eliminate the monster at a dilapidated indoor swimming pool on the other side of the tracks, an area in stark contrast to the sanitized suburbia of their homes. While it’s obvious the director is throwing everything but the kitchen sink into this mix of the macabre and the terrifying, creating a demonic ghost story that is more about ghoulish vampires and the power of suggestion, but it’s always the kids themselves left to their own devices that must restore balance and order into their world after it’s been turned upside down. Much of this Carpenteresque parody is a pale imitation of the real thing, where sex and horror have always been an unhealthy mix onscreen, though the idea of a girl trying to avoid having sex altogether is a novel approach, nonetheless while this has its moments, it never adds up to much, failing to get below the surface and feels more like a bunch of sequences thrown together.