David Robert Mitchell returns to the Detroit suburbs that were cruised by the young hopefuls that made up the cast of his charming debut, The Myth of the American Sleepover. But where a hot summer day lazily rolled through twilight and into a magical nightscape in that film, the tree-lined streets are now rusted with the yellow and orange brushes of autumn and they are inhabited by something quite sinister in It Follows, Mitchell’s second feature. Far from succumbing to a case of the sophomore slump, Mitchell elevates his universe of latchkey kids to edge-of-fall mystery hounds where the inevitable and natural slide into adulthood is an equal thing of beautiful mystery and abject terror.

Like The Myth of the American Sleepover before it, It Follows takes place in a world where the adults are just kind of around; they numbly day-drink and gossip across a formica table while the kids watch bad horror films or play Old Maid on the porch, sipping a cocktail mixed from their folks’ stolen booze and generic soda. The lack of parental supervision is exemplified by a week-old sandwich and juice that sits and festers in the room of our traumatized heroine as she hunkers down and tries to figure out how to survive. Claire Sloma, who portrayed incoming freshman Maggie in The Myth of the American Sleepover, pops up in a tiny moment as she shares a cigarette with the hot boy from across the street making It Follows the dark flip of Sleepover as it explores, with no small amount of horror, the dark journey of maturation.

When the film begins, we’re plopped into a homage of nostalgia porn as Detroit, Michigan does an amazing Pasadena-as-Haddonfield and we almost immediately witness a troubled teen named Annie, clad in a ridiculous ensemble of 80’s sleepwear and heels, flee a house right out of A Nightmare on Elm Street as she is fearfully running from… something. While this is unfolding in front of our eyes, it’s almost impossible to hear Disasterpeace’s minimalist, synth-driven, propulsive soundtrack and not recall the musical scores of John Carpenter or Charles Bernstein. Annie drives to the shores of Lake Michigan where she doesn’t last past dawn and ends up a perfectly posed beach corpse having befallen a terrible and malignant force nobody but she and a handful of others can see.

The opening meditation on the last swim of the season for Jay (Maika Monroe) our protagonist is a loaded metaphor as the kids all seem in that nebulous time where one by one, they lose their virginity and move toward adulthood, an inevitable horror they will never outrun. Jay is dating Hugh (Jake Weary) a boy from another school with whom she’s considering going all the way for the first time. And in clocking the rites of passage, fucking in a car among the urban decay of Detroit is what passes for parking in this day and age as Mitchell is deliberately expands his geographical universe as a metaphor for maturation; your neighborhood may be your world but there are a lot of scary things in that neighborhood on the other side of town. The further one travels away from the neighborhood, the more twisted and immoral and confusing things become.

“Imagine how cool that would be to have your whole life ahead of you,” says a 21 year old Hugh, speaking like he’s on the other side of the divide and, in this world, he is. For he will later deflower Jay and will pass the curse on to her; sexual activity being the stark tipping point between victim and innocent. Once the rules of the game are set up, the film mostly becomes an exercise in pure cinema in which more is shown and not told, leaving the audience to puzzle out how the differing embodiments of the lurking figure factor into the terror and the psyche of its victims. Simple, yet effective, stylistic choices right out of the John Carpenter playbook such as its drab suburban setting evoking a new kind of neighborhood folk tale where bold, center-framed compositions rule the day and negative space is utilized to an astonishing level.

And the more I examine It Follows, the more my eye catches the forever friend-zoned Paul (Kier Gilchrist) and can’t be sure if he’s not something of a sub-villain in the piece. Operating from a place where his motivations are kinda suspect and maybe a little less selflessly heroic, his nitwit idea utilized during the Scooby Doo’d climax in a derelict pool backfires so spectacularly and with such a quickness that, in the film’s beautifully clever denouement, Jay is correct in fucking him right into Troublesville.

Aside from the excellent performances from the young cast, much should be said about Mitchell’s attention to the kind of detail that barely even registers as detail. Check out the subtleties within the frame that don’t call attention to the fact that there is also a class struggle that is occurring in this nightmare scenario. Chain-linked fences and above-ground pools where the bottoms have become besotted with leaves and the standard, half-moon window cutouts on the garages clash with the rolling lushness of Hugh’s neighborhood. An uptight rich bro who lies in a neatly trimmed house that backs up to a bucolic soccer field, it becomes more than aware that Hugh has picked Jay to pass along this curse because, to him, she’s south side trash. Later, we’ll see a character travel below his station and to the outer boundaries of town where two prostitutes stand among the landscape that looks like a war zone. No matter how old we are, we seem to want to always drop our troubles onto poorer people.

It Follows is very smart about what it’s doing. Folding the natural angst into a horror framework is as old as movies itself so rare is the one that finds a way to explore its themes as cleanly and carefully as this. It’s a top to bottom examination of the invisible line into adulthood everyone must cross where boundless pleasures certainly await but that also comes equipped with a countdown clock; an emblematic place in everyone’s life where, as one character says, the city begins and the suburbs ends.

(C) Copyright 2021, Patrick Crain


There’s a weird moment in some adolescent boys’ lives in which they don’t know whether they’d rather watch Cinemax or teepee a house. It’s a period that lasts about six months but it feels like a whole other lifetime to live through. For in life, there exists both a very specific twilight between being a child and being an adolescent, and then another between and adolescent and adult. David Robert Mitchell’s debut film, The Myth of the American Sleepover, realizes both simultaneously. Set in a suburban world where adults are heard but almost never seen, the film moves through a 24 hour period in the lives of several teens as they navigate a night of discovery, adventure, and wonder. Like American Graffiti, it has an elusive blonde who is the unobtainable end to a noble, nocturnal quest by a lovelorn romantic boy. Like Dazed and Confused, it celebrates the fluidity of cliques and the elasticity of youth. But instead of setting the tale in the expanse of a town where having a set of wheels is required to play along, The Myth of the American Sleepover shrinks it all down to the less-than-perfect suburban neighborhoods with aluminum filigree and poorly patched streets where everything in one’s world is within walking distance. It’s a film that looks divorced from actual time as it both completely modern but without any amenities to cement it in any one specific era. Of course, this is the point as The Myth of the American Sleepover aims to show just how very little changes no matter how many generations of young people one will see cycle through that same period.

Admittedly, perhaps my coming out of the other side of a spirit crushing, seventeen-year, white collar day job hasn’t caused me to regain the passionate grip on life that teenagers naturally have, but it has put things in a certain kind of perspective to understand that memory is precious, experience is beauty, and, in the words of Michael Mann, time is luck. Even when I can see the age of 50 on the horizon, absolutely nothing about this film feels foreign though it’s definitely pitched to an audience that is about a third of my age. And, in fact, there was a time in which I did not have faith in what the director was doing, thinking he brought little to the subgenre of coming-of-age films and overly inflating the importance of the rituals that kind of film celebrates. Now I see that he brought something very specific to the genre; a timeless and almost spiritual testament to the two most pivotal times in one’s life that, unfortunately, aren’t spaced too far apart from each other. No, it’s not saying anything new. But it’s also not wrapping its nostalgia in something larger than it needs to be. As life goes on, we’re saddled with many woes both self-inflicted or accidental. Indulging in entertainment to draw a heavy allegory is likely not most people’s idea of a good time at the movies. In part, I agree. So here’s one that captures the best part of your youth, now likely sundowning in the better part of your memory. And as the weeks on the downslope become quicker-paced in my own life, this film has incrementally revealed itself as a truly beautiful and life-affirming thing.

The Myth of the American Sleepover covers the spectrum of incoming freshman to the high school graduate floundering in his first year of college, but they’re used in a much more pointed way than in other coming-of-age films of its kind. This is a movie where the value is broken down into millions of pennies instead of banking on big money moments that are quote-ready and riotous. For this is a movie that remembers how fast you could put out a cigarette when you heard your parents roll up. It remembers how much an object as insignificant as a lighter could possess endless possibilities of meaning. It identifies the exact moment where you could sneak a quick kiss on the cheek and then giggle down the street about it with your friend. It recalls the pain of a breakup that would make you do a silly thing like take literally a “call me sometime” message in your senior yearbook after a couple of beers and go on a nocturnal quest for romantic companionship. It remembers how magical the smell of a crush’s shampoo could be. It remembers what it is to be of an age when a whole other epic sleepover was but two streets over. It remembers what it was to fuck with an Ouija board and think you were really getting away from something. It knows what a hazy, overcast “morning after” feels like and, better yet, dares to dream about the break in the clouds and the tomorrows to come. And, above everything else, it knows the crush of exhaustion that occurs after such a monumental and life-shifting evening. This is a rare film that wants to celebrate in all of the joy of youth even if it wants to gloss over those moments where memory might reveal a low time that you would certainly avoid or do over if given the chance to repeat it.

Maybe this feels like a G-rated Kids but that’s quite ok with me. Where sex is generally the ultimate goal of any post-pubescent creature, that doesn’t mean that every encounter and house party is like Fellini Satyricon with a Bugsy Malone cast. Near the beginning, there is a sweet and knowing juxtaposition between a freshman’s story of what happened with a girl and her story with what really happened between the two of them that puts the filmmaker squarely in the corner of both camps insofar as understanding how boys and girls function within their respective social cliques. But it flips convention a bit by not only showing the boy as having done much less than what he claims, it simultaneously shows that girls are likely quicker at sexually maturing than are boys. This is revealed again in a moment between the same freshman and his friend’s older sister who beckons him away from his buddies who are situated in the living room and into the bathroom. It’s a scene charged with some light sexual tension that she quickly gets defused by her as she senses just how out of his depth he is and, regardless of his pursuit, he wouldn’t know what to do with her if he caught her. “Can I kiss you?” he asks her after she’s pretty much thrown herself at him without explicitly articulating it and he’s missed every signal pitched in his direction. It’s a Mrs. Robinson moment he’s not ready for which again shows this as a universe not governed by adults but by kids who have to feel their way around life.

Sometimes, the dialogue given to the kids is a little pointed. Either my memory is faulty or there were high school juniors who would have rather waxed poetically about the good old days of playing a board game when they were carefree and younger instead of trying to make out with the girl who was obviously interested in them and sitting mere inches away. I mean, I just don’t recall that being how it went down in Del City, Oklahoma, but I do recognize it as a kind of creative license that, in pressing a point already made by the sheer mood of the film, it hits a rare false note. From a performance standpoint, the kids are something of a mixed bag but, on the other hand, I also think that is what lends to the film’s authenticity and the natural ease and sometimes awkwardness of the young cast never falls into distracting mediocrity.

More than just remembering, The Myth of the American Sleepover is a film that actually understands its characters, what happens to them, and how it affects them. It understands how you can end up in a car with strangers even though it’s a roll of the dice as to whether or not it’s a good idea to do so. It understands how the second banana can come along and, instead of being a third wheel or a stick in the mud, can find their own adventurous path. It understands how a letter revealing that the girl with whom you’re in love on only wants to be friends can create the mythical “Girlfriend in Canada” situation. It understands sneaking into the basement with an illicit crush even knowing it’s going to start static in the other room with his girlfriend. It understands the awkwardness of not knowing how you feel about your readiness to go to first base. It may even understand, in an opaque way, how confusing this might be for those not yet sure or comfortable with their sexuality. It understands a closed universe of benign fuck ups where forgiveness is much easier obtained than in one’s later years. It understands the fine line between creepy and sincere. It’s a film that understands, in the words of the tune from Streets of Fire, that tonight is what it means to be young and, doubling down on that, also poignantly and purposefully misunderstands that one will never run out of tonights. The Myth of the American Sleepover is, in a nutshell, Jim Steinman by way of Whit Stillman and an absolute treasure to behold.

(C) Copyright 2021, Patrick Crain

David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows

Have sex with the wrong person and It will follow you around, until It kills you. ‘It’ is very obviously a metaphor for STI’s but also could be seen as many different things. David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is a high concept, slow burn, atmosphere smoked, synth saturated piece of sheer simultaneous beauty and terror, one of the finest and most influential pieces of horror filmmaking of the last few decades. The concept here is like some urban legend you’d hear at a house party: teenager Jay (Maika Monroe) sleeps with a strange boy from a neighbouring county, after which he ties her up and informs her that something, which can look like anyone, will follow her around relentlessly until it kills her, then resume following him and go back down the chain of sleeping around to whoever pissed it off in the first place. It only walks, mind you, but that’s almost worse because it comes across as more nightmarish and only prolongs the inevitable. Along with her sister (Lili Sepe) and some friends they form a makeshift posse to both outrun, outwit or simply beat the shit out of It until it leaves her alone.

This film works wonders for many different reasons other than the horror, which is chillingly effective. The concept alone works to stir up the kind of fear you don’t cultivate with gore, jump scares or cheap ghoulish tricks. This is the kind of horror that creeps up and sits down beside you during the film until you are uneasy beyond words, then gets up and follows you home when the credits roll. There are several practical set pieces involving this thing stalking them that should be used as textbook examples on how to raise hell within the genre. The performances are fantastic as well, particularly Monroe and Sepe, making these kids feel vaguely 80’s, kind of contemporary but always in a kind of dreamy, faraway laidback state that slips right in with the atmosphere. Speaking of atmosphere, one of the key elements here is the unnerving original score from Disasterpeace. It’s sometimes melodic and aerial, sometimes jagged and abrasive but always serves the scene and provides an auditory dreamscape for character and audience alike, giving a voice to the mute fiend that hunts them and lacing the dereliction of the Detroit setting with dread. The monster itself is representative of STD’s and that’s the main theme to read but there’s deeper linings to it as well. Her sister remarks at one point how when she was younger their parents wouldn’t let them stray past 8 Mile and how she didn’t understand why. It can almost be seen as a spectral manifestation of the unseen, unmapped, wilder areas of our urban sprawl, the mounting decay in any given city and the forces that govern it and perhaps eventually follow us back to the sanctuary of home. Whatever you choose to read into it, this is one fine example of what can be done in the horror genre and a brilliant slice of spook pie. Hell, the five minute prologue alone is already something else.

-Nate Hill

David Robert Mitchell’s Under The Silver Lake

David Robert Mitchell’s Under The Silver Lake is for sure going to repel, frustrate and test people’s patience as I can already see by the hordes of nasty reviews, but I loved this thing. It’s one of those scintillating, fractal LA neo-noir flicks like The Big Lebowski that seems somehow well oiled and deliberately scattershot at the same time. Mitchell marched onto the scene five years ago with his acclaimed horror debut It Follows, but Silver Lake is a brand new bag and shows he can switch up tone, setting and genre pretty adeptly.

Andrew Garfield plays against type as Sam, a meandering loser who seems more interested in following a never ending path of hidden clues that only he seems to be able to make sense of than worrying about his heinously overdue rent. He plays the role like one of Neverland’s lost boys out on the skids, a sheepish, constantly perplexed flunkee who just can’t seem to get his shit together. After catching feels for a mysterious girl (Riley Keough) in his motel complex who promptly disappears the next morning, he believes he’s onto a secret society of people who leave cryptic messages in plain sight, on wall graffiti, stadium score screens and within popular music tracks. Is he actually onto something big, or is he just as crazy as the conspiracy theorizing comic book artist (Patrick Fischler, whose very presence cements the Mulholland Drive homage) and the paranoid drinking buddy (Topher Grace) whom he associates with? Well, he’s certainly unlocked something, and whether it’s Hollywood’s deepest set ring of secrets and conspiracies or simply emerging mental illness chipping away at his grasp on reality is something that Mitchell maddeningly and deliciously leaves up to us.

This is one unbelievably ambitious and stylized film, so much so that it’s two and a half hour runtime isn’t even enough to bring every story thread, subplot and circus sideshow to a conclusion, but there’s a nagging inkling that Mitchell meant to do exactly that and it wasn’t just because he didn’t know how to cap every idea off. By not telling us exactly what’s up with everything, we wonder more about the deeper layers behind Sam’s journey and the Byzantine forces that are somehow always just out of reach. What’s the point then, you may ask? Well, it’s a good question, and there may not even be one, which has obviously been a deal breaker for many who saw this. The journey, and the episodic silliness is what you come for I suppose, and your ability to deal with the nihilistic senselessness of it all is the barometer on whether you stay, and have positive words after.

Sure, it even irked me a bit that we never learned the identity of the mysterious serial killer of dogs (watch for a freaky Black Dahlia nod), or found out more about the Machiavellian Songwriter (I don’t even know who plays this guy as it’s clearly a younger dude under gobs of old man makeup a lá Jackass) who pulls unseen strings in the music industry, but did that stop me from enjoying and being stimulated by these sequences? No, and they’re some of the most memorable stuff I’ve seen onscreen in a while. The film may be all over the place and certainly trips over its shoelaces here and there, but it’s something bold, unheard of and even feels unique in the sub category of sunny, drunken and dazed out LA noir. There are moments of hysterical comedy and instances of blood freezing horror that both had me in stitches and genuinely spooked me out more than any film this year so far, and when a piece can lay claim to both in the same runtime, you know you’re onto something. This is probably headed for cult status, the marketing hasn’t really been kind and even seems to have tried to bury it (it’s on Amazon Prime) but I hope it finds its audience and endures, because it’s really something unique and special. Listen for another achingly beautiful score from Disasterpiece, who also did It Follows but switch the synths up for something even more retro and inspired by golden age Hollywood, like the film itself. My favourite of the year so far!

-Nate Hill



David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is a clever psychological horror film that has a lot of thought and emotional depth buried under the genre trappings it so lovingly clings to. Essentially a commentary about the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, the narrative hinges on an unseen force coming to kill a group of teenagers who are “infected” by evil spirits, who target their victims based on sexual activity. These kids know that by having sex, they’ll be “infected,” and thus prone to the dangers of these supernatural entities, and yet they do what their hormones are telling them to do even though they know they shouldn’t. The film features some spectacular stedicam work, the direction is strong and smart, lead actress Maika Monroe (also effective in The Guest) is appealing and appropriately vulnerable, the sound design is sketchy all throughout, and the reliance on intelligent scares rather than cheap shock-tactics and excessive gore kept me engaged and interested. It’s also a film that abides by the golden cinematic rule of having a fantastic opening and closing scene. This is a really good “horror” movie for people who are looking for more than just a routine slasher flick.