Review: It Follows is a Specifically Suburban Nightmare

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What are the suburbs, but an in between? What is adolescence, but an in between? While It Follows is ostensibly about sex, conflating partners past with an everlasting curse—a sexually transmitted urban legend—it’s also, and perhaps more so, about a space between. It’s the fear of being unable to go back, but seeing absolutely nothing ahead. 

Filmmaker David Robert Mitchell has a way with youth. The Myth of the American Sleepover director is in touch with an authenticity not often captured on film, let alone in genre. His story is fantastical, but his Detroit-area setting is real; his haunted ensemble living where the promise of the suburbs meets the reality of the middle class. That’s where Jay (The Guest’s Maika Monroe) lives. A beautiful teenager, like many horror film leads, Jay’s existence is more tactile. The pool is above ground, the back screen door is a bit uneven. The neighbors watch her family get by, either through windows across the street, or swarming in front during emergencies.

Jay can touch a sort of cinematic ideal however. Preparing for a date, her hazy, dreamlike room swoons (as does a spectacular score from Disasterpeace). Her bra is a perfect pink. Her lipstick pops. Her new boyfriend Hugh can take her to a movie palace, with an usher that plays the organ before showtime. Hugh is hunky. His car is mint. He’s got something terrible to pass on.

Though it opens with a striking, expertly crafted and instantly unnerving sequence, It Follows’ true element of foreboding lies in a single shot just before the shit really hits. Parked in a secluded spot, like any grand pair of retro cinematic lovers, Hugh’s car sits, again in a middle. Behind it, the horrors of urban decay. Ahead, the mystery of the forest. This, It Follows says, is what the suburbs are. They are a middle point between more aggressive urban anxiety and otherworldly rural folklore. The burbs is where they converge.

How they converge is, brilliantly, in this aforementioned post-coital curse, one which carries the everlasting anxieties over where your lover’s been before, but pushes farther into all of life’s stresses. Where am I? Where will I go? Who will I become? There’s a deliberate dread in “It’s” rules. Once you’ve got “it,” there it is, walking slowly, assuredly your way. This is where Mitchell has fun composing wide, confident frames— your eyes engaged, always under attack, searching for “It.” At more reprieving moments, he acknowledges the absurdity of the accursed characters and elicits huge laughs. When more explicitly a threat, the director and cinematographer Mike Gioulakis still employ symmetrical, centered stunning visuals. This time, they’re less paranoid and more confrontational, immediately assaulting. Sometimes, “It” is in your face. Others, it’s throwing electrical appliances at it.

It’s said the supernatural stalker could be anyone or anything. That doesn’t mean it’s random. Jay sees a breadth of people coming for her, and though we spend little time with afflicted men in It Follows, her would-be attackers are most certainly gender-specific. Her wide array appear as a fully nude woman; an abuse victim; a sickly old lady—who and what and how she could end up. Meanwhile, she also sees distorted visions of male family members and the young boys next door who’re just starting to experience physical attraction. Jay is 19—as Britney Spears wisely noted, “Not a girl, not yet a woman”—and Mitchell is frighteningly realizing lifestyle and sexual pressures crowding young women from all sides.

Again, it’s the lifestyle fears that feel most pertinent. Twice, inside of cars, It Follows’ characters express a sentiment of going no place at all. Just before Jay is made aware of her unfortunate circumstance she sums up the new, sometimes uninspiring freedoms of adulthood. She reflects on the wants and desires of childhood, the yearning to be older, to get out. Now that she is, there seems to be nothing to do and the yearning is reversed. When under attack, she and friends make for places recognizable as childhood safe zones—a playground, a family’s beach house, sleepovers, friendships. Later, the terrifically funny Yara (Olivia Luccardi) asks Paul (Kier Gilchrist), “Know where to go?” It’s too matter-of-fact as a question however. It really sounds like, “nowhere to go.”

And so It Follows is endlessly scary, physicalizing its ideas as an unsettling, relentless, nagging presence, but one ambiguous enough to plug your own shoulder shudders into. In its tense finale, It Follows’ ensemble face the monster at a pool. Blood is shed and the blotchy red substance swirls and spreads in the water, taking the form of a floating Rorschach test. The characters stare down. If they can see their own fears in this thing, so can the audience. Does It Follows believe suburban existence to be scarier than sexual anxieties? Possibly. Do I? Definitely.

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Weekend: Jun. 20, 2019, Jun. 23, 2019

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