It Follows

It Follows ★★★★

It's become a common lament that modern American cinema isn't concerned enough with modern American problems, though I think critics of the future will look back and see something deeply significant in how many 21st-century movies are shot in New Orleans or Detroit. At the moment, we see these things as an economic necessity - these cities get a little financial stimulation from having a movie shot there, the movies get an affordable location. The effect, though, is this ruined landscape, destroyed by natural disaster, bureaucratic incompetence, greed or all three, hanging around the edges of even the most apolitical genre cheapie.

David Robert Mitchell's second film, It Follows, is shot in Detroit, and for a moment I thought the twist was going to be that it was a post-apocalyptic film. Whatever the cause of the apocalypse, the main symptom was obvious; all the adults had vanished. Eventually one of the kids' parents turned up and disabused me of this notion. But that was fifty minutes in! For the rest of the film, this is an entirely teenage world, reminiscent of Charles Burns's graphic novel Black Hole or Leslie Thornton's Peggy and Fred in Hell in how it makes the teenage fantasy of a life without parental supervision into something that is out of control and deeply worrying.

There are an awful lot of horror movies about teenagers, of course, and most of the time it's as much of an economic necessity as shooting in an economically depressed city. But Mitchell, coming off the back of a well-received teen movie debut, seems to really care about these kids. He plays cleverly with the infamously puritanical morality of the slasher film. The curse that sees people pursued by the stalking ghoul alluded to in the title is sexually transmitted, yes - but that means Jay, the heroine, can get rid of it in the same way.

There's a nice gag buried deep in the film's structure here; all of Jay's male friends seem keen to help her out by having sex with her, even though they know it'll mean death for them. It's an authentically teenage morality, where getting laid is - to misquote Homer Simpson - the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. That's the nearest the film gets to humour, though. The tone of the film is dour and controlled, an implicit reassurance that Mitchell understands the ideas he's playing with here, full of long, ominous tracking shots and overlaid with an incredible score by Disasterpeace that sounds like John Carpenter covering Boards of Canada.

Even knowing that the aim is to create a bristling, sexualised atmosphere, I was still a bit skeptical about scenes that seemed designed to get Maika Monroe in the skimpiest outfits possible. The irony of the movie's take on teen sex seemed to fade away a bit whenever her legs got in shot, like that old Onion headline 'Ironic Porn Purchase Leads to Unironic Ejaculation'. I'm also not entirely sure about the ending, though part of that is because there is just so much to chew on in the movie's subtext, it seems almost a shame that it has to bend towards any kind of a conclusion. There is, reportedly, a sequel in the works. If Mitchell can be kept on board, this could be another example of how he turns a commercial necessity into an artistic triumph.

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