It FollowsThe brilliant stand-up comedian Richard Pryor had a routine about venereal disease in which he expressed his concern that drug-resistant STDs were becoming so worrisome that soon, a man would begin the act, and his junk would immediately explode. Until the day Brother Richard’s prophecy comes true, we have David Robert Mitchell’s new horror film, It Follows, which centers around a particularly virulent form of VD. To wit, have sex just one time – particularly if you are a teenage female – and an evil spirit, that may or not take the shape of someone you know, will track you down and bend you like a pretzel until you snap, penicillin or industrial-strength Trojans notwithstanding. The film works as social satire and horror flick until it doesn’t, which is to say that it never pushes past its initial premise to develop into a story greater than its log line.

Teenage sexual anxiety is a ripe target for filmmakers, and it’s refreshing to see director/screenwriter Mitchell take it on in a genre other than comedy. The connection between the loss of virginity and the death of childhood works well at the outset as the film’s first victim tearfully says goodbye to her father. Sex as taboo with unforeseeable consequences is a recurring message as well along with an, at times, uncomfortable preoccupation with the Oedipal complex. Even if Freud would have approved, it’s hard to characterize a Mommy Monster dry humping her son to death on the floor of his bedroom as therapeutic.

Our heroine is young Jay (Maika Monroe), one of two sisters living in the suburbs of Detroit with a single mom. Jay’s life seems a predictable blend of school and sleepovers with longtime friends and dates with newbie boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary), who turns out to be a bit kinkier than expected. After doing the deed in the back of his car, Hugh chloroforms Jay, drives her to a deserted location and ties her to a chair in what could only be considered as the worst possible way to tell someone to soon expect a burning or itching sensation. It is one example of the Mitchell’s willingness to sacrifice narrative sense for effective imagery.

Jay is soon convinced that the creepy old guy (and her spirit manifests itself disproportionately into a lecherous senior citizen) means to do her greater harm than the average elderly crazed sex maniac might inflict, and the race is on, but it’s an odd race as the spirit simply walks toward her, not a zombie shuffle and not a sprint, but at a steady pace. A strategy becomes clear: drive far away, have sex, and then get back in the car. Certain clarifications concerning the efficacy of gay encounters, oral sex, and/or a good old fashioned hand job will have to wait until the sequel.

Monroe is fine as Jay, and the rest of the cast is more than adequate, if not particularly memorable. It’s a world in which teenage girls are yummy and teenage boys are hunky. The collaborative work of director Mitchell, film editor Julio Perez IV, and cinematographer Mike Gioulakis deserves a fair amount of praise for creating terror out of s0mething as simple as a lone figure walking forward or an individual waiting and watching, like the naked man on the roof of Jay’s house.

It is also great to see Detroit used as the primary location, and if this film and others can contribute to the renaissance of that city, so much the better. That said, the “plan” to draw the spirit to a particular Detroit location and destroy it merits a special place in the annals of stupid horror movie strategies. The idea is so unsupported by anything that occurs to that point in the movie that you almost belief it’s a spoof, especially when someone throws a sheet over the evil entity.

Yeah, who you gonna call?

Two and a half stars.

 

 

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