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It Follows Review: Go Away, Death, Nobody Likes You

Friday, March 27, 2015 Rob Samuelson

It Follows

Director: David Robert Mitchell
Writer: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary
Rating: Four Stars out of Five

Death is inevitable. It may take its time getting to you, but it will get you. You can fight it all you like, avoid key developmental moments along the way, stick your head in the sand, try to prolong the good – or at least endurable – parts of youth, but you will never get away.

That is the central conceit of It Follows. For all the sexually transmitted infection allegory on its surface, it's really about the fear of death, and more specifically, the fear of aging that signifies the impending nature of the end of one's life.

Maika Monroe (co-star of last year's phenomenal The Guest) plays Jay, a girl in her late teens on the outskirts of Detroit who is seeing a guy she likes. Things aren't great at home. Her father is gone, either because he's a deadbeat or because he was also unable to head off death's encroachment, and her mom is more interested in leaving empty wine bottles around the house than in her kids. But this boy, Hugh (Jake Weary), likes her and takes her places. He's nice to her. He represents a space between childhood – Jay's sister and her friends are always laying on the couch, literally farting away their time – and adulthood – her mother is too busy with work and drinking away her pain to have any free time. It's a precarious position, having one foot in each world, and Jay feels it every second. Monroe plays her as tentative, a quiet and meek person, not quite ready for the transition yet.

As part of her attachment to her childhood, Jay invites Hugh to play a game with her while on a date, a people-watching challenge that involves scanning the crowd to guess which stranger Jay and Hugh would like to switch places with in that moment. Tellingly, Hugh chooses a young boy “with [his] whole life ahead of him.” Beyond that pregnant acknowledgement, it's mostly fun until Jay can't see the “girl in the yellow dress” Hugh points to. Upon realizing she's oblivious, he becomes petrified and they leave rapidly. Unfortunately for Jay, he's not petrified enough to put off their first time having sex. There's a reason for this, one that exposes human ugliness and self-preservation, but not necessarily the one you'd expect from a 21-year-old male.

After their first sexual encounter, things go haywire. Hugh explains the deal they made without her knowledge or consent: this thing, the “It” of the title, is now following her, and will get her, if she does not pass it along to someone else, and soon. Then comes the sound of footsteps. Hugh makes sure Jay sees what he's talking about, this hugely unsettling grotesquerie, and quickly gets her to the car so he can dump her in her front yard with a reminder to get rid of this curse as soon as possible.

As far as narrative propulsion goes, this is some compelling stuff. It would be perfectly serviceable as a schlocky horror flick if it stuck to this level, but It Follows gets deeper. Mitchell uses every tool in his cinematic tool belt to explore the themes he sets forth. This is a movie about isolation and the steadiness of doom, so he keeps the camera calm. It's not static, because life isn't motionless. To depict this, Mitchell uses a handful of 360-degree pans, at a hauntingly deliberate pace, to show the decreasing space between Jay and “It” during several scenes, all while a John Carpenter-inspired score, complete with doom-laden electronic bleeps and bloops, rises from almost nothing to terrorizing levels. It's so clear that “It” is always there that Mitchell has no need to get jumpy with camera trickery and quick cuts to artificially heighten things. The tension is always present and growing, like “It” patiently working its way toward Jay.

Mitchell keeps the fear of aging at the corner of every frame. Jay's mother is never fully seen. You get glimpses of her feet, her forehead, her hands, from behind, but never a solid shot of her face, like a sad version of the housekeeper in Tom and Jerry. She has faded away already, sunk in a pool of wine, never to return. She is an example of what adulthood means to Jay, embracing theoretical death before the physical version takes place. The dilapidated nature of their house – the carpets are the color of used cigarettes, the televisions are all of 1980s or earlier vintage, the above-ground pool is teetering on the edge of collapse – and their larger surroundings of Detroit are constant reminders of the impermanence of things, always deteriorating into nothingness. Despite some hints of modernity, like the occasional new car and an e-reader, the ratty clothes and almost total lack of cell phones would signify this as a period piece. The fact that it takes place in the modern day only serves as a frightening reminder that the end for this part of the world is coming. These characters will try to outrun that fate, but they cannot. They may fight it or they may accept that it will happen.

Where It Follows takes an optimistic turn, if you close one eye and cock your head, is its ending. It is in the spirit of horror movie fake-outs of old, but there's a mature acceptance that, while death is always on its way, there are some nice things you get to enjoy beforehand.

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