I first met David Robert Mitchell at Cannes 2010 when his first film “The Myth of the American Sleepover” played Critics’ Week, after earning raves at SXSW and ahead of its 2011 opening via IFC. Well, the Cannes programmers still like his movies, screening his sophomore effort “It Follows” as well. The film has played fests including Toronto, Fantastic Fest, AFI Fest and plays the Park City at Midnight section of 2015 Sundance. RADiUS-TWC opens the film stateside in 2015.
Shot again near his hometown of Detroit, Michigan, Mitchell brings the same dreamy tone to a horror tale, taking full advantage of the destroyed Michigan landscape (as does Ryan Gosling’s Cannes entry “Lost River”). Mitchell wants to scare us, pulling us into his likable characters’ romantic entanglements and then puts us on edge as we wonder who’s following who. His greatest skill as a filmmaker is immersing us in his characters’ points-of-view–we’re bobbing in a backyard pool, watching an ant crawl on a wet arm. And we’re scared.
For the past four years he has been writing, “putting this film together,” he told me at a Cannes seaside after party. He tried to finance another project, but there was “no money for it,” he says, so “I put my energy into ‘It Follows.'” He wrote it in 2011 and quickly did some rewrites on it before taking it to financiers Animal Kingdom and Northern Lights.
The movie sprang from a childhood nightmare of someone following him, coming at him in different forms. Mitchell pours his love of Carpenter, Welles, Polanski, Cronenberg, Kubrick and both “Body Snatcher” flicks into his careful compositions.
In this movie he turns the 80s sex-gets-punished trope on its ear. This STD anxiety concept taps into the fear surrounding sex, but in this case the idea is to pass it on. “In this film you get this terrible thing happening, it happens to you because of sex,” he says, “but you can get rid of it.”
He keeps the rules deliberately vague. Basically, you get the virus via sex and then a ghostlike morphing creature stalks you on foot and will kill you– unless you pass on the virus to someone else. BUT–if they then succumb to the creature, it will come back to you again. “The rules trickle in throughout the film,” he says. “They’re not deliberate in the same clear way as some films. They exist, but some are harder to decipher than others.”
The film’s 20-year-old lead Maika Monroe (“The Bling Ring”) landed the role because there was a “vulnerability to her that went beyond what I had put on the page,” Mitchell says.
Mitchell is sophisticated with his use of a John Carpenter frame, into which bad people can enter. We just don’t know exactly when. He uses some steadicam. Compositionally he shot with a 2 x 4 frame like his first film. “The first was much more subjective, with a lot more POV shots,” he says. “This is a colder, more objective movie. But we put a lot of energy into planning, our goal was to try to create a larger quieter frame, and make the audience stay in frame. I kept the camera distant. I’m not pointing things out. There’s a sense of general unease.”