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

Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move

Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move contradicts its own title by showing up out of nowhere all of a sudden, with an ensemble cast for the ages, a snazzy 50’s production design vibe and one of those deliriously convoluted marble maze narratives where things make just as much sense as they don’t. The film is honestly a lot more low key, subdued and laconic than you might expect from all of these moving parts, let’s more Out Of Sight than Ocean’s 11, more burnished, modest caper games than ritzy, tongue in cheek sizzle. Don Cheadle plays an aimless Detroit ex-con who is hired by a shady mob figure (Brendan Fraser) to babysit the family of a twitchy executive (David Harbour) while he retrieves something of great McGuffin-esque importance from a safe at his work. Alongside him are two less level headed operatives played by a greasy Benicio Del Toro and Rory Culkin, who collectively escalate the proceedings into a dangerous powder keg of betrayals, backstabbing and hopeless incompetence. Others orbit their situation including Ray Liotta as an appropriately volatile mobster, Julia Fox as his philandering wife, Jon Hamm as a keen federal agent, Amy Seimetz as Harbour’s stressed out wife, Bill Duke as an all powerful underworld kingpin and a sly cameo from an A lister (that I won’t spoil) as a cheerfully corrupt automobile industry magnate. The cast are all exceptional with everyone really keeping it on a low, laconic burn save for perhaps Liotta who has to get fired up at least once in every movie per his contract and Harbour who is cast pricelessly against type as a spineless fuck up. The narrative is a shifting puzzle box that requires adderall level attentiveness to fully absorb which I wasn’t giving it and as such was a bit fuzzy on some of the particulars but it was nonetheless lots of fun to watch these quaint, colourful characters mosey around old Detroit and have some good old fashioned noir fun.

-Nate Hill

Ryan Gosling’s Lost River

I think that sometimes there may be a certain expectation set when an already minted Hollywood superstar branches off from the acting game and tries their hand at writing/directing, a vague conjecture that their foray into filmmaking will be more of the same stuff that fans are used to. Well, Ryan Gosling has no use for any of that in his stunning, surreal, masterful and wonderfully otherworldly directorial debut Lost River, a haunting, dreamlike slice of Detroit Gothic wrapped in a dark fairytale that casted a spell on me like no other film has. This is arthouse stuff through and through, Gosling has no interest pandering to the masses or sculpting his work into something wieldy or palatable, he courageously dives headfirst off the map into uncharted territory where there be monsters and visions the likes of which your screen has never seen. In a crumbling, decrepit borough of old Detroit, single mother Billy (Christina Hendricks) struggles to keep her family home from being seized by the bank and demolished, so she takes up employment from oily loan officer Dave (Ben Mendelsohn) working at the club he owns as a moonlight gig, where dancers like the beautiful Cat (Eva Mendes in a wonderfully playful turn, her last acting gig to date) pantomime being murdered on stage for a rapt audience. Meanwhile Billy’s son Bones (Iain de Caestecker) runs wild in the overgrown, labyrinthine basilicas, ragged chain-link fence desolation and jungled ruins of their Lost River county, collecting copper piping for cash, evading a very strange and violent bully named, uh, ‘Bully’ (a feral Matt Smith) and forming an ethereal bond with a lonely wandering waif called Rat, played by Saoirse Ronan in a lovely study of calculated, underplayed wonderment. Many have complained that this film is style over substance and that there isn’t really a plot to speak of supporting all the visual and auditory splendour but they’re kind of missing the point here; this is an abstract parable that refracts aspects and elements of our waking material world through a very primal, subconscious and childlike prism of images, impressions and emotions, I don’t think Gosling ever meant to tell a constructed story with delineated edges and beats, he strives for the fluid, the intangible, the kind of film you feel your way through as opposed to think. There is a strong undercurrent of deep, essential meaning here that can be very, very finely tuned into as a sort of subconscious frequency and in that sense what the film imparts to you could be called a ‘plot,’ but if you’re not tuned into it well… that’s your problem, really, and to say there’s no story or meaning just because you can’t quantify it with your waking consciousness is simply narrow, lazy criticism. Gosling employs the talents of musician Jonny Jewel to compose a suitably synth soaked, absolutely gorgeous score that is accented by several cast members doing singing of their own including Ronan and Mendelsohn, who belts out a transfixing, unforgettable rendition of Marty Robbins’ Cool Water in his eerie nightclub. The cinematography is bliss, from said club to it’s austere archway entrance that can be seen on the film’s poster to a ghostly underwater town long flooded to develop neighbourhoods that are swiftly falling beautiful ruin and the spectral, vegetative barrens of their environment around them, speckled with broken architectural curios and slowly being reclaimed by nature. I try not to use the ‘M’ word too much in my writing (that’s a big fat lie) but there are some films that I just vibe with so deeply and care for so much as immersive experiences that one can scarcely put into words (I hope I’ve made out alright here) that there’s just no way around it: to me, Lost River is a masterpiece, Gosling and everyone involved should be immensely proud of what they’ve made and how it will affect many like me who were powerfully moved by it.

-Nate Hill

Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe

Don’t rob an old blind dude in Detroit, especially if the dude is Stephen Lang with an angry Rottweiler backing him up. Seriously don’t though, you don’t wanna know the consequences involving a turkey baster, a pair of scissors and a jam jar full of… I won’t spoil it but it’s fucking grim. Don’t Breathe is a pretty damn effective shocker from director Fede Alvarez, who did that Evil Dead remake that had the nerve to be way better than it should have been. In an especially derelict Detroit neighbourhood, three hapless street kids (Jane Levy, Dylan Minette and Daniel Zovatto) unwisely decide to burglarize the home of gulf war veterans Lang, who reportedly has a nice wad of cash stashed in his basement. Well.. he’s got more than that down there, let me tell you. Once he gets wind of their presence, his lithe warrior reflexes, keen hunter instincts and heightened sense of hearing make their experience between his walls a living nightmare, not to mention… other things he gets up to. Lang is the perfect actor for this because before he got super jacked for Avatar he was a pretty lanky guy, so you have this sinewy frame with sizeable muscle mass packed on, not the body type you want to be trapped in a narrow hallway with. Plus he’s just a terrific actor and plays this guy like a feral beast with touches of sorrow curdled into madness. Alvarez makes great use of his cameras here, doing long sweeping takes that utilize hallways, door frames and wide rooms, evoking David Fincher’s Panic Room just enough to garnish his own style. The acting aside from Lang is just ok; Levy does the wide eyed, tomboy Final Girl thing well, Minette is just not a naturally gifted actor and it shows, while Zovatto is saddled with horribly written lines from the Hollywood ‘this is what street punks act like’ typewriter bot and is just cartoonish. Still though, it’s a highly suspenseful effort that benefits greatly from Lang’s presence. As for the turkey baster, I’m not sure the film needed such a stark, sickening set piece (Fincher himself would squirm) but I won’t soon forget it, which I suppose is half the point. Tense stuff.

-Nate Hill