By Angelo Muredda

Trading the gentle lilt of his debut The Myth of the American Sleepover for a steelier look at youth in extremis, David Robert Mitchell arrives seemingly out of the box as a skillful genre filmmaker with It Follows. The “it” in question is an otherwise unnamed, shape-shifting stalker contracted like a virus by teen Jay (Maika Monroe) after a bout of car sex with a beau who guiltily explains that the only way to get rid of her new friend is to pass it on herself. While the film’s sex-charged premise suggests a moralizing teen variation on Cronenberg’s Shivers, Mitchell resists playing up the more prurient side of Jay’s dilemma. Instead, he offers an impressionistic portrait of pretty young folk working out their issues in dumpy cars and suburban living rooms as well as an atmospheric thriller that is anchored in eerie tracking shots and pulsing synths that would make John Carpenter proud.

That this mélange works so well is a testament to Mitchell’s refined sensibilities as both a dramatist and a showman, given to finely-tuned minimalist set pieces that make fine use of Jay’s once mundane, now threatening surroundings. So steady is his directorial hand, in fact, that one is tempted to forgive his script’s underlying scrawniness. From rape culture to passive-aggressive nice-guy entitlement, It Follows has a lot on its mind, though it’s difficult to trace any of its allegorical threads to their logical conclusions without getting one’s wires crossed. While Mitchell seems a little too prone to pressing cultural hot buttons simply to watch the effects accumulate, It Follows still impresses as a savvy but sincere exercise in sustained tension-building and release—more of a machine than a film, maybe, but a finely wrought one.