Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Teen trauma and horror haunt David Robert Mitchell's nightmarish follow-up, IT FOLLOWS

Despite its title sounding a bit like what you'd hear during a lecture in your course on logic, IT FOLLOWS -- the follow-up film to David Robert Mitchell's very well-regarded first feature, The Myth of the American Sleepover -- is actually a horror movie in which the "it" does indeed "follow," while wreaking quite a bit of havoc along the way. Whether or not Mr. Mitchell, shown below, and his quiet, naturalistic tone work as well in this genre as they did in in his teens-come-of-age movie is another matter.

There are some marvelous moments and a few genuine and surprising scares in It Follows, but the film works best as a rather pushy metaphor for the fear of sex. Think of "it" as the worst STD of all time: Herpes, Syphilis, even AIDS are pikers compared to this one. If sex as the harbinger of fear and loss, decay and death seems especially appealing, you're gonna love this movie. Even if your tastes run to the lighter and brighter, I suspect you'll be impressed with what Mr. Mitchell, as writer and director, can ferret out of his strange concoction.

After an opening designed to let us know that something truly foul and frightening is afoot (and to give us a good taste of screams and gore, which the filmmaker then does not have to repeat, which allows him to concentrate on suspense and atmosphere instead), our pretty blond teen gal Jay (Maika Monroe, above, center, and below) and her friends sit around and kibbitz. Then Jay goes out on a date with an "older guy," in which a couple of odd (but not awful) things happen. After which comes the "sex scene " --  rather lush but distanced and quite nicely done, followed by a few moments of post-coital semi-bliss (below). Be grateful for these because they're the last that either we viewers or Jay herself are allowed to experience.

In the twinkling of an eye, as it were, all turns horrific, beginning with a ream of exposition that, in most movies, we would never tolerate. Here, however, both we and our heroine must hear this explanation in order to know what's going on. From there onwards, the movie crests and falls, builds then slows until, at the end of a too-long 100 minutes, we arrive at a certain point that hits us somewhere between annoying and satisfying, depending on what you demand of your "scare" movies. As usual, the set-up is much better than the play-out, and there's a scene in a swimming pool toward the finale that is more ridiculous than frightening.

Performances are naturalistic to a fault, with the idea being, I guess, to show us what our typical teens might do when confronted by something alien or supernatural. They don't quite rise to the occasion. But maybe that's the point. And Ms Monroe, whom I've now seen in leading roles here and in The Guest, does not strike me as an actress who holds the screen very well. Her face is pretty but empty and she is not given to much variation. After a time her blank look begins to pall. The rest of the cast do better, actually, bringing some liveliness to the proceedings.

Filmed in Michigan (the Detroit area, I think) and with a production design that seems not to be occurring in any specific time, the film is always visually interesting. It has something of the feel of a nightmare in which logic doesn't much matter and from which you would dearly like to waken. Overall, I'd call it a mixed bag, but with enough good things to warrant a visit if you're an aficionado of this genre.

From RadiusTWC, It Follows opens this Friday, March 13, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and in the L.A. area at the Arclight Hollywood. It will also open at Laemmle's Playhouse 7 on March 20. Click here to learn if and when it's playing in your neck of the woods.

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