I’m working my way backwards through writer-director David Robert Mitchell’s brief filmography, starting with 2019’s Under the Silver Lake, which I fell in love with—a movie where you can’t blink or you’ll miss something. The themes are so ambiguous, making the interpretation all the more fun. So I had high hopes coming into his breakthrough feature, It Follows. Let the comparisons fly:

Horror victims have long been associated with sexual promiscuity, and David Robert Mitchell’s breakthrough feature It Follows takes that concept in the most literal sense. With clear influences from John Carpenter’s Halloween and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, which both often view sex as a death sentence, It Follows doubles down on those notions. Here, death and sex are supernaturally linked. If sex gives you the curse, it’s also the thing that helps you get rid of it.

Much like in his latest film Under the Silver Lake, Mitchell injects retro pop culture curios into the background and hires Disasterpiece to compose the high-synth pop score underneath. There’s a focus on ambiance and mise-en-scène, which the writer-director definitely excels at, but the narrative in It Follows isn’t quite as perfect as his 2019 follow-up.

The story is about a girl, Jay (Maika Monroe), who is the latest victim of a supernatural entity that has been passed to her following a sexual encounter. She’s dating a guy named Hugh and after they have sex for the first (and only) time, he informs her that she has now been cursed. From now on, she will be forever stalked by a mysterious figure, unless she can pass it on to another person. The entity only ever moves at a walking pace, so Jay can drive hundreds of miles away to buy herself some time, but she would have to continuously be on the move, otherwise it will eventually catch up to her and kill her.

She enlists the help of her sister and friends, who all go along with her story and believe her craziness, almost unrealistically so, perhaps because she was very well-respected and revered among them—which can help a lot in life, especially when trying to convince your friends that you’re not insane. It also helps if you’re a girl surrounded by horny guys. Despite all the support she has, Jay still feels more alone than ever.

It Follows plays as a great allegory, albeit with an unbiased view, for sexual promiscuity and delivers well on the intriguing premise, but Mitchell’s desire not to over-explain falls apart when he creates a world with such specific and clear rules. His next film, Under the Silver Lake, revolves around decoding and symbolism, so ambiguity works in its favor. But here, that only works for so long. Eventually, the audience wants some sort of resolution or explanation. At the core of Silver Lake, there are answers to the mysteries, but it also leaves itself open to interpretation on some level. Here, no mystery gets solved, when it’s the very thing that strings us along.

A development of the mystery would have benefited the plot as well. As it is, the formula becomes repetitive with Jay just constantly running away from the entity, not really discovering more about it or herself in the process. Perhaps if there were more mythology to the mystery, the story would have felt fuller.

Mitchell does well to keep up anticipation without relying solely on jump scares, but unlike his influence, Halloween, there are hardly any other victims, and unlike Elm Street, there isn’t really a plan to defeat this entity, only a plan to run away (and not very far, either). The characters don’t apply math and estimations as to how long it would take the creature to reach them if they were X miles away. They also don’t ponder the different hypotheticals, such as, “What would happen if I flew across the ocean to another country?” or “What would happen if I just lived on a boat in the middle of the ocean?”

Mitchell conflicts the audience by toying with his unique premise in order to subvert normal storytelling conventions. Jay’s friend, Paul (Keir Gilchrist), has been in love with her since they were young, and we want him to get the girl. But then we realize that this would mean he would also contract the curse as well. Mitchell makes sure he’s the most likable character in the film to better mess with our emotions.

It Follows has a classic horror feel in its minimalism and stark aesthetic, ultimately using the themes as tone rather than a straightforward allegory or story, which can be appreciated only up to a point. The movie utilizes sex as its character’s way to cope with the pain of losing her innocence, rather than looking at it as the reason for it. The characters have a “reason” to have sex instead of the more instinctual, passion-based motives in every other movie. That aspect is intriguing, but the filmmaker never fully formulates the idea.

One of the more urgent horror movies in recent years, It Follows is relentless by nature, and creates an intrigue, yet doesn’t quite deliver a satisfying enough conclusion. I understand Mitchell’s point in the ambiguity, but it neither fully satisfies our expectations nor does it answer any what-ifs we may have along the way, focusing more on the suspense than on having intelligence and incisiveness. It would have also been interesting to spend some time with Jay and company going backwards to figure out the root of the “disease” and who contracted it first. However, there is an obvious lack of curiosity and mystery, or at least less of one than the audience has.

About the Author: Petunio Johnners

Petunio Johnners

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