Fear eats the soul: Hugh (Jake Weary) and Jay (Maika Monroe)
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It Follows: a film about a sexually transmitted curse forces us to face mortality itself

Ryan Gilbey reviews It Follows, directed by David Robert Mitchell.

It Follows (15)
dir David Robert Mitchell
 

A horror movie need only be frightening to be effective and It Follows is certainly that. The nature of its scares incorporates the superficial (things going bump in the night) and the visceral (figures looming out of the darkness). That alone would have been enough to render it a success. The writer-director David Robert Mitchell, though, is interested in terror on a molecular level – the sort that refuses to end when the film does.

Plainly put, It Follows is about a sexually  transmitted curse. Sleep with someone who is afflicted and it passes to you. From that point, you will be pursued for the rest of your life, at speeds of slow to plodding, by a figure that is intent on killing you but only you can see. It will appear in different forms and it will change each time you encounter it. (A cheerleader in the kitchen may have metamorphosed into a gangly, cadaverous giant by the time it reaches the top of the stairs.) Wherever you choose to hide, you will know that “it” is out there, somewhere, moving inexorably towards you. Sleep with  someone else, however, and you become free of the curse, at least until that person perishes, in which case it’s back with you again.

Horror is typically confined and claustrophobic but It Follows has space – lots of space. Mitchell and his cinematographer, Mike Gioulakis, leave sizeable areas of the widescreen frame empty, inviting us to treat every corner and each void or vacuum as a potential entry point for the next shock. The camera is fond of slow, circular movements, sweeping each scene with the meticulousness of a radar, or the second hand of a clock.

The deserted streets in which much of the film is set (it was shot in Detroit, including many of the city’s abandoned areas) are wide and airy and in a state of perpetual late-summer dusk. There is ample room here for dreamy teens such as the sleepy-eyed Jay (Maika Monroe) and the plump-lipped, doleful Paul (Keir Gilchrist) to mosey around or hang out on the porch or roam beneath the leafy canopies without bumping into their elders. A parent is glimpsed briefly in the first scene and a schoolteacher is seen reading a pertinent passage from T S Eliot’s “Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” (“And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,/And in short, I was afraid”). But as in ET: the Extra Terrestrial, adults are in short supply. It is a choice that seems eerily right for a movie steeped in youthful, unchecked desire.

There is something pleasantly odd, too, about the film’s timelessness, an aspect that will resist future efforts to carbon-date it. This is manifestly the present and yet clunky televisions with set-top aerials show nothing but cheesy 1950s horror and science fiction. The local cinema is a picture palace with a Wurlitzer organ. Pornography is consumed through magazines rather than the internet, and the only e-reader is disguised as a pink seashell (it’s loaded with Dostoevsky, not the sound of the ocean). Mitchell’s one previous film, the gentle comedy-drama The Myth of the American Sleepover, also nailed its colours to the past. The drowsy mood of the earlier work has survived intact the journey from wistfulness to dread.

If the premise of It Follows suggests an Aids parable, the film never presses the point. It is more plausible as an allegory about mortality itself. Though there is a grotesquely carnal aspect to the zombie-like creatures, the sexual imperative simply ensures the continued survival of the curse (there is no suggestion that contraception would halt its progress). However far or fast we run, death will always be stalking us. It may hurry, or it may not. No matter. It will catch us eventually.

Mitchell’s skill is to take this prosaic truism and turn it into poetry that is as terrifying and seductive as the score (by Disasterpeace), which ranges from the plaintively melancholy to crunchy, distorted walls of electronic noise. Mitchell has also found within his subject a latent romanticism that complicates the horrific without overruling it entirely. When the characters are in trouble, they offer to help one another out like any true friend would. Only in this case “help” takes a unique and not unpleasant form. Decades of sex comedies – Porky’s, American Pie, and so on – have primed audiences to view adolescents in a disreputable light. It Follows is not only great cinema. It provides for teenagers the sort of positive PR that money can’t buy. 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 27 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Russia vs the west

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Only Drake could wow the O2 by pointing out random audience members' clothing

It takes charisma to pull off abandoning hits halfway through.

On the last London night of his Boy Meets World tour (20 March), Drake doesn’t come on stage until 10pm, which is enough to kill off most gigs at the O2 Arena (hello, Bieber), as people are worried about getting the Tube home. The amount of rum and Coke in the room – a steaming, unrecognisable space with a false ceiling of globular lights and a stampeding crowd split in half by a fence – certainly helps keep the buzz. But who’d have thought that a man standing onstage diligently pointing at audience members and saying what they’re wearing (“You in the blue dress shirt with the ­lager!”) would constitute one of the most exciting nights the O2 has seen in a while?

“Tonight is not a show, not a concert, not about me,” says Drake, who runs an annual “Drake Night” in Toronto and once visited Drake University in Iowa.

So far, the world’s favourite rapper – his latest album, More Life, recently got 90 million streams on its first day of release on Apple Music alone – has had a shifting identity. His songs capture a new strain of emotionally literate but solipsistic hip-hop, which can feel intense or whiny depending on how you look at it. His offstage behaviour is Type-A rapper – he has been accused of throwing beer bottles at Chris Brown, he has been punched by Diddy and he has had altercations with Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar, Pusha T and Ludacris.

But Aubrey Drake Graham, the son of a white, Jewish mother and an African-American father who once played drums alongside Jerry Lee Lewis, does skits about his petulance on Saturday Night Live (see “Drake’s Beef”). Emotionally demonstrative, openly dysfunctional, a bit of a bruiser, with an ability to flit between a dozen styles of music while expressing a desire for crowd participation that borders on the needy . . . Could this man be the ­Michael Bublé of hip-hop?

Drake’s sprawling two-hour roadshow is held back from chaos by the force of his physical presence. Blunt-headed with muscular, sloping shoulders and mesmerising, nimble feet, he prowls the edge of the stage. He has had so many hits (and has so many guest stars tonight) that he is not interested in playing them all the way through. Instead, recalling Prince in the same venue ten years ago, the show becomes a series of medleys. With just a drummer and a synth player at the back of the stage, he demonstrates an invisible, physical control over the music, operating it like a string puppet, stopping or starting songs with the drop of a foot or the shrug of a shoulder, so they collapse in the middle and are gone.

It takes charisma to pull off abandoning hits halfway through. Pointing at people in the audience, real or imaginary, is a music hall thing. Bruce Dickinson and Metallica’s James Hetfield do it too. Amid a hokey message to follow your dreams, he recalls his time spent singing for $200 a night as a John Legend tribute act. Cue a perfect demonstration of Legend-style singing – before he suddenly sloughs off “all this bathrobe-and-candle-sexy acoustic Ed Sheeran shit”, while huge columns of flame engulf the stage.

Drake is still at his best with blue, slinky songs of alienation – “9”, “Over”, “Feel No Ways” and “Hotline Bling”, which doubles up as make-out music for the couples in the crowd. One pair of lovers, Drake establishes during one of his crowd surveys, have been together for ten years. “I can’t even make a relationship last ten days,” he laments. In 2012, he told the Guardian, “I’ve had too many girls to ever feel uncomfortable about the man that I am.” An old-school boast from a modern man.

The guest stars serve to highlight Drake’s variety, rather than shine on their own. Their songs, too, are started, suspended, chopped and screwed. Drake is more macho when there’s another guy onstage with him – doing “Successful”, with the literally named Trey Songz, or dueling with thefrenetic Skepta, who sounds so much tougher (maybe because he’s a Londoner). The two whirl around the stage like helicopter seeds.

Nicki Minaj, apparently Drake’s one-time lover, rises fembotishly from a hole in the stage and says in a London accent, “I want some fucking crumpets and tea.”

She adds, of her host, “This nigga single-handedly changed the game.” Minaj sings her song “Moment 4 Life”: “I call the shots, I am the umpire . . .” But she doesn’t really. Even her presence flares up quickly and is gone.

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution