Cannes 2014: It Follows

Cannes 2014: It Follows film still

David Robert Mitchell serves up the perfect Cannes palate cleanser with this gripping teen horror.

Writer/director David Robert Mitchell introduced his second feature to open during Critics' Week — following his cracking 2010 debut, The Myth of the American Sleepover — as an artful independent horror movie.  Well, Let the Right One In this isn't, but it is stylistically rich and smart enough to distinguish it from lesser teensploitation fare.

It Follows opens, as all good horror movies should, on a quiet, leafy suburban avenue. The silence is quickly broken when the camera tracks a girl, dressed in nothing but her nightwear, bursting from her home onto the street in a state of visible panic. She briefly returns inside before jumping in a car and driving to the nearby beach, where she tearfully yet calmly calls her father just to tell him she loves him. In the very next shot, the same girl's horribly mutilated corpse brings the intriguing premise into focus.

We meet the next pretty young victim-in-waiting, Jay (Maika Monroe), floating in a garden pool, carefree and typically innocent. After a consensual backseat fumble with the boy she's recently started dating, Jay is warned of the nightmarish fate she has unwittingly brought upon herself. Through the act of intercourse, Hugh (Jake Weary) has quite literally passed on a terrible affliction to Jay — a death sentence which takes on a frightening human form, visible only to its given prey and relentless in its pursuit. In the grand old tradition, Jay is duly punished for her sexual promiscuity.

From the speaker-shaking Carpenter-esque score, to the macabre irony of Dario Argento, to the allegorical candour of Wes Craven, this is a movie that wears its influences on its sleeve while boldly embracing the myriad tricks and tropes of the genre. Car sex, creaky swingsets, cornfields, eerie winds, it's all here. Though familiar, however, the iconography and motifs Mitchell infuses his film with never feels trite or out of place. When, for example, Jay dashes upstairs in a desperate attempt to evade the mysterious force that's broken into her house, it seems a perfectly decision rational given the circumstance.

And again, when Jay's friends set a trap for the 'It' in question in the local swimming pool, using her as bait, it doesn't seem like such a dumb move. It's all because they behave like normal kids, not the crude stereotypes we've become conditioned to. The threat might be supernatural, but in respecting the intelligence of both his characters and the audience, Mitchell sustains a degree of authenticity that allows him to manipulate both without the need to resort to cheap thrills.

Adhering to the Ti West school of post-modern horror, with its reverently retro sensibilities and steadily mounting sense of dread, It Follows is a sure-footed and, most importantly, chilling cautionary tale for today's STI-riddled youth. But more than this, it's a film about the unavoidable nature of death, something most of us aren't forced to live in fear of, but an eventuality we must all face some day. Whether you curl up and surrender or stand up and fight, the truth is we're all headed for the same destination.

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