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New Release Review - It Follows

Following a sexual encounter, a teenage girl is stalked by malevolent spirits.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: David Robert Mitchell

Starring: Maika Monroe, Jake Weary, Linda Boston, Caitlin Burt, Heather Fairbanks


The phrase 'teen horror' carries a host of negative connotations. Thanks to the breakout genre hit Scream, Hollywood, and indie filmmakers, have churned out a series of cookie-cutter fright flicks aimed at grabbing the teen dollar. With the exception of the Final Destination series, little effort has been made to imbue these movies with anything beyond attractive teens (more often than not played by actors well into their 20s) being slaughtered in a series of unimaginative set-pieces by a series of unimaginative villains. Thank the horror gods then for It Follows, a teen horror with actual teen actors, imaginative set-pieces and villains, and even plenty of subtext to chew on without detracting from its more explicit thrills. This is a horror movie that stimulates your synapses while sending shivers down your spine.
Maika Monroe is quickly establishing herself as the most interesting actress of her generation, impressing last year in another throwback genre flick, Adam Wingard's The Guest. Here she plays Jay (short for Jamie, one of many Halloween references), a 19-year-old drifting through a sheltered life in a sleepy middle class Detroit suburb. Her boyfriend Hugh isn't so innocent - he's a little older and comes from 'the wrong side of the tracks'. During a cinema date, Hugh has a sudden panic attack and insists on leaving, driving Jay to one of Detroit's many patches of industrial wasteland. There they indulge in an affectionate bout of lovemaking, but afterwards Hugh knocks out Jay with chloroform. She wakes tied to a wheelchair in an abandoned warehouse, where, in the one scene in which the movie unfortunately gets bogged down in exposition, Hugh explains that by having sex, he has passed onto Jay a strange condition whereby she will be stalked by a series of malevolent spirits, some strangers, some passed on loved ones. The only way to remove the curse is by having sex with someone else, thus passing it on.
From the opening frame - a fetishised, autumnal, midwest suburban street - the movie proudly wears its John Carpenter influence on its sleeve, and when the pounding score by synth outfit Disasterpeace kicks in, there's no doubt as to the master's influence. Director David Robert Mitchell, who explored a similar milieu sans genre trappings in his 2010 debut The Myth of the American Sleepover, draws on the history of American horror, setting his film in something of an alternate reality where teens watch '50s B-movies on old clunky tube sets and movie theatres still have organists. It's very much David Lynch territory, and an image of a naked girl walking across train tracks is straight out of Twin Peaks, as is the central theme of teens discovering the down and dark side of maturity. The ghouls stalking Jay seem to be inspired by those of Herk Harvey's cult 1962 chiller Carnival of Souls, itself a huge influence on Lynch, though thankfully Mitchell doesn't borrow its now clich├ęd twist. While It Follows nods to its lineage, the movie never winks at the audience. Mitchell clearly knows he's making a horror movie, but his protagonists don't know they're taking part in one - Kevin Williamson he ain't!
The concept of class is something rarely seen in American cinema, but Mitchell's film is laden with allusions to class division. The suburban teen protagonists have grown up sheltered from the grim realities of urban Detroit, but are forced to cross into the '8 Mile' district - something their parents forbade them as children - in order to get to the bottom of Jay's condition, one she contracted from her world weary, working class boyfriend. In an early scene, Hugh and Jay play a game in a cinema queue whereby each picks a member of the queue they'd happily swap their life with; Hugh picks a young boy. Jay fails to comprehend his choice, as she's led a life that hasn't yet asked her to mature in the way Hugh has had to, but those of with bills to pay know exactly what he means. As the movie progresses, and Jay finds herself burdened with her own all too real demons, forced to wrestle with the morality of transferring her monkey to someone else's back, she finds herself faced with accountability, the bane of adulthood, for the first time in her cloistered existence. Now that's real horror!




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