It Follows

(David Robert Mitchell, USA, 2014)


There is at least one sign of rigorous discipline in contemporary horror cinema: David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows. This clever, well-directed, minimalistic piece swaps the traditional device of Todorovian hesitation (between two readings of a strange situation) for one of slow unveiling of an initial, supernatural premise.


The film begins right inside this premise, without any explanation of the frankly puzzling scene it shows: a very scared person runs inside a house (the camera remains outside), then re-emerges, more scared; then dives into another house opposite (same camera strategy), then flees that dwelling as well. What can be going on?


Like in the Final Destination franchise (2000-2011), the characters in this narrative daisy-chain are beset by a murderous malaise – a mysterious presence, spirit or entity – that they progressively attempt to understand, unveil and combat. Eventually, they figure out that it is a kind of curse that can (sometimes) be passed on to someone else – especially via sexual contact.


Mitchell achieves something modest but quite satisfying here. On the one hand, the supernatural plot device functions rather like Alfred Hitchcock’s attacking birds: it works as an open allegory onto which spectators (and characters within the fiction) can project any number of interpretations (such as – probably the most popular in this case – sex phobia in the era of AIDS). It is pinned down neither to a rational or an irrational grid by the usual hesitation game.


On another hand, the film evokes the wise phantom of Jacques Tourneur: like Cat People or Curse of the Demon (1957), or indeed the non-horror but religion-based Stars in My Crown (1950), It Follows skilfully identifies the “stalking presence” with the camera itself – and hence the very apparatus of cinema. And so, in the final frames, no matter what we or the teenagers in the film think we have figured out, that ever-floating presence insists, in all its ghostly, disquieting reverberations …


Postscript August 2019: Enjoying It Follows prompted me to catch up with Mitchell’s other work. Its predecessor, The Myth of the American Sleepover (2010) is a delightful teen movie. But the ambitious Under the Silver Lake (2018) is an overstuffed, pretentious, unbearable neo-noir extravaganza, aiming for the cleverness, formalism and grace of P.T. Anderson at his best, but landing in the backyard of Richard Kelly or Darren Aronofsky at their worst.

© Adrian Martin September 2015

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
home    reviews    essays    search