David Robert Mitchell has concocted a horror film of supreme style, scares, and surprising depth, and he does so in part by following the greats of classic horror cinema, John Carpenter chief among them. Mitchell might just be an auteur in the making, and “It Follows” his possible claim to fame when we look back many years from now. From casting mysterious faces who can actually act to employing the sort of long-take cinematography and tonal dread that made “The Conjuring” so effective, this ghost story (?) could easily pass for the best horror movie of the decade come 2020. As for your question regarding that question mark, chalk it up to the fact that “It Follows” never exactly explains what the titular “it” is other than a shape-shifting, malevolent other that doesn’t stop until it catches you. Mitchell’s film takes the typical story of terrorized young people and creates something masterful, something moving, something different. It’s a coming-of-age tale made nightmarish and mythic by the ingenious choices made behind the camera.
A plot where high school just-graduates run from a spiritual virus that can only be passed along through sexual intercourse sure does sound like an obvious allegory for the danger of STDs, but this isn’t an after-school special or a movie that rests on its metaphoric laurels. More intriguing are the myriad of remarks on growing up after such an identity-engrossing passage has passed. “It Follows” follows a group of disaffected kids stuck in the Detroit suburbs, surrounded by decay and a dearth of opportunity, only the future isn’t the only thing chasing them. As Jay, Maika Monroe is a true revelation, an actress from somewhere unknown that, judging from this, is headed somewhere great. Keir Gilchrist brings a lovelorn melancholy to the role of her first kiss who yearns for a first everything else with Jay. In fact, the entire enterprise is steeped in melancholy when it’s not trying to creep you out on a consistent basis. The rest of the cast fill out their archetypal characters with equal aplomb if not take-notice talent, but what truly calls back to the classics of yore is the electronic score by Disasterpiece. It’s rare that horror films attempt anything resembling a memorable theme these days, but Mitchell’s movie accomplishes this from the first moment, employing the sound of a serial killer’s favorite 80’s single, computer jingles and all. It’s an unnerving soundtrack, ratcheting the serious tension produced by every shot where one searches for that thing in the corner of the frame. Indeed, the cinematography here is beholding, an uncommon treat for horror fans who are often treated to shaky cam, sitcom lighting, and rapid-fire editing. Mitchell prefers a steady shot, a slow zoom, and that beautiful long take that reels you in and never lets go.
Where does adolescence end and adulthood begin? What do we do when we’re on our own with nowhere to go, the impending doom of mortality growing closer by the day? All pertinent questions at the fore of a pleasantly thoughtful horror film, omnipresent amid the literal threat of death lurking around every corner. David Robert Mitchell explores these universal themes while trying his damnedest to scare the bajeezus out of his audience. He succeeds on both fronts, delivering not just something that’s insured a spot in my year-end top ten, but one of the best of its genre period. High praise, I know, but in retrospect it’s no surprise given the quality of sources he’s pulling from. If Hollywood plays its cards right, we could be looking at the next John Carpenter. I usually loathe declaring anyone the “next” whatever, but that’s precisely why it’s so true.