By Marshall Shaffer
In his soon-to-be classic modern horror film “It Follows,” David Robert Mitchell can even make a pronoun terrifying. The word “it,” when standing alone in American slang, has referred to an appealing aura of sexuality dating back to Clara Bow’s 1927 romantic comedy “It,” which popularized the phrase “It Girl.” But for Mitchell, “it” becomes practically a proper noun, one that refers to a haunting specter that stalks down a teenage victim after being passed on through sexual intercourse.
“It Follows” speaks the subtext that runs through a great number of films in the genre, turning implicit punishment for carnal impropriety into a tangible STD horror story. Maika Monroe’s college-aged protagonist (or, dare I say, the “final girl”) Jay Height gets the story going by swapping fluids with her older boyfriend, Hugh, and subsequently contracting his condition. Through this exchange, Jay becomes the main target of “it,” a spirit that can inhabit any body and is dead set on taking a victim, unless she passes the burden to someone else.
The story and premise almost sound comical when laid out in terms like those above, especially considering that Jay stubbornly and irrationally refuses to transfer the evil spirit. Yet Mitchell’s impeccable technique make laughter practically unthinkable in “It Follows.” The film is far too unnerving to allow for such sentiments to bubble to the surface. Mitchell puts the typical, derivative offerings of horror to shame as he creates a work that stands as one of the best executed films in recent memory irrespective of genre. He combines the psychological madness of “Martha Marcy May Marlene” with the all-out bodily terror of “Black Swan” for one bone-chilling experience.
As usual for horror films that exceed expectations, “It Follows” goes heavy on the suspense and light on the cheap gimmicks for quick scares. Mitchell, working with gorgeous images from DP Mike Gioulakis that are tautly reassembled by editor Julio Perez IV, builds a gentle, patient tension that always feels on the verge of breaking down into full-blown mayhem. This unceasing volatility is undeniably bolstered by the low, throbbing bass of Disasterpeace’s score. The synthesized rumbling suggests a coming earthquake bound to wreak havoc at any given second, making the fear of the characters audible as well as visible.
“It Follows” is not great simply for being good, though. Mitchell easily dwarfs his competitors in the same ilk of filmmaking, yet he does not stand tall simply because everyone around him is short. His film subtly speaks to the way teenage sexuality pokes up through the sterile surfaces of contemporary society like a weed through a concrete embankment. The action all unfolds in a nameless, nondescript suburb, where youth are sheltered from a decaying metropolis for their own safety. No matter where disapproving contemporary puritans try to avoid the deflowering forces, it comes back with a vengeance.
This film is now playing downtown at a/perture Cinemas. Find showtimes and tickets HERE.