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Countdown to Cannes: Is the Hottest American Movie at Cannes a Teen Horror Story With No Big Stars?

Countdown to Cannes: Is the Hottest American Movie at Cannes a Teen Horror Story With No Big Stars?

Our Countdown to Cannes column will take a look at various movies and filmmakers at the upcoming festival in the south of France worthy of anticipation.

The Cannes Film Festival may represent a lot of national cinemas, but as usual, there will be plenty of names familiar to North American audiences crossing the red carpet at the Palais des Festivals this month: Tommy Lee Jones will unveil his first directing effort in nearly a decade, a western called “The Homesman” in which he stars alongside Hilary Swank; Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria” co-stars Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moretz; the Dardenne brothers’ “Two Days, One Night” co-stars Marion Cotillard; Ryan Gosling’s oddball directorial debut “Lost River” plays in the Un Certain Regard section; Ryan Reynolds toplines Atom Egoyan’s “The Captive”; and the opening night drama “Grace of Monaco” features Nicole Kidman. Expect lavish photos to circulate aplenty.

But while these faces may generate immediate attention, there’s a more curious property playing down the road at the small scale Critics’ Week sidebar that has already generate much anticipation among American distributors: David Robert Mitchell’s “It Follows.”

Mitchell’s name may not carry as much familiarity as the world-class auteur directors in Cannes’ main competition, but he already has a track record at the festival. In 2010, Mitchell’s debut, “The Myth of the American Sleepover,” made its international premiere at Critics’ Week following a strong response at the SXSW Film Festival.

Though it wasn’t a massive commercial hit, “Myth” found plenty of acclaim for its insightful portrait of romantically confused teens over the course of a single night in suburban Michigan. Mitchell’s ability to unite the experiences of his strong ensemble with an unassuming blend of moody characters and muted comedy generated comparisons ranging from John Hughes to Gus Van Sant. It was a fresh look at situations we’ve seen before, but never with such a peculiar blend of humor and ghostly lyricism.

For that reason, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that Mitchell’s new movie is, in fact, a ghost story with teenagers. While few details have been released so far about writer-director’s second effort, which is reportedly still in the final stages of post-production, it has been described as explicitly a horror movie with coming of age elements and includes some visual effects. Aside from Mitchell, the team behind the film has a good track record: Production company Animal Kingdom last produced the festival hit “Short Term 12.” But while that warm story of at-risk teens culled from reality, “It Follows” promises to depart from it. An early description for “It Follows” pegged it as as “a terrifying coming-of-age nightmare about sex, love and the unseen horrors that follow us,” but now we know a little more: Maika Monroe plays 19-year-old Jay, who experiences the ominous sensation of being tracked by a supernatural presence in the wake of a sexual experience. With 8-bit music by Disasterpeace and cinematography by Michael Gioulakis (“John Dies at the End”) that suggests — based on initial stills — the atmosphere of a dark fairy tale, “It Follows” has all the makings of a brooding ode to teen angst elevated by poetic ingredients. Expect something at once dreamlike and eerily familiar.

On paper, the project looks like a unique crossover of the director’s artier sensibilities with a commercial genre, which has already generated a fair amount of interest among distributors less likely to throw down big sums for Cannes’ higher profile titles. The festival’s main selection is generally not the best place to discover genre fare, considering that its midnight section holds just three titles, but there are certainly plenty of buyers looking to capitalize on the niche appeal of the horror genre  (particularly as it translates to the video-on-demand marketplace).

While “It Follows” doesn’t boast A-list talent, its cast isn’t entirely unknowns, either: Leading man Keir Gilchrist was undoubtedly the strongest ingredient of 2010’s “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” in which he played a depressed teenager — which sounds like the right fit for this latest credit. Monroe recently appeared in Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day” and has a starring role in the upcoming B-movie thriller “The Guest,” a hit at the latest Sundance midnight section. Needless to say, there’s a lot of talent associated with this project on the verge of gaining wider recognition, and while that’s a tough spot to occupy at a festival overrun by big stars, sometimes it helps to be the American underdog. When considering the intelligent, probing storyteller evident from “The Myth of American Sleepover,” it’s worth hoping that “It Follows” follows suit. 

Eric Kohn is the chief film critic and a senior editor for Indiewire.

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