If you grew up watching movies, day and night, like I did, you probably secretly hoped that one day, when you began making movies of your own, you would get the chance to remove all the unnecessary bits from your favourites films and recombine what remained into a new whole, a movie that would have all the best scenes and all the intense emotions.
When I was in my teens, I use to make mix tapes that were cut from piggybacking the radio, hopping from station to station, recording only the choice parts of each song I crashed into, creating what I termed “assemblage projects,” which was a mechanical, Walter Benjamin-esque term for just doing what came naturally. Post-modernism was wired into my generation’s DNA. It wasn’t a posture or an affectation or a crutch; postmodernism mirrored the way we saw and coped with the world at large. That is why the assemblage projects filled me with such great pleasure, and explains why my way of recording music was so communicable to kids my own age, but was noise to adults.
Postmodernism, with its deconstruction and defamiliarization, its irony and black humour, pastiche and intertextuality, was like a secret language for the kids on the block. It separated us from the parents and teachers and cops probably like the greasers in the ’50s or the flower power children of the ’60s. We spoke in code and told tall tales of fragmentation that were full of lacunae we could fall into to hide from uncomfortable things like dental braces, math tests, and semi-formals.
“It Follows” is David Robert Mitchell’s mixtape, or assemblage project, if you will, that collects many of the best shards and slivers from the refuse heap of the ’80s, and recombines them into something of great gloss. If you’ve seen “A Nightmare on Elm Street” or “Halloween” or “Phantasm”, “It Follows” cut-and-paste touchstones will not be a surprise to you. In fact, they’ll be something better: subterranean homesick postcards from yourself from an erased time that have arrived 30 years late. Remember that scene from “Back to the Future II” when Marty is handed Doc’s 70-year-old letter by Western Union on that rain swept road? That is us. We are nostalgic pop culture travellers lost in time, stranded by our reminiscences.
Mitchell has put together a mixtape that has everything we loved and lost from the 80s: the ennui of suburban space and hounding menace from “Halloween”, the band-of-brothers-and-sisters surreality of “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, the night time cavalcade of “Phantasm”, a soundtrack by Disasterpeace that is a composition for the ages, up there with the best synth scores by John Carpenter. Even the ramshackle residences of Detroit that sweep by the glass of the passenger side serve to heighten the expressionistic Munchian moodiness, as the teen protagonists drive around the city as only teens can, filled with the hope of going somewhere quick but going nowhere fast.
And Mitchell, curator of these thrilling golden remniscences, is just as indefatigable in pursuing “It”, the unnamed monster of the time period, as “It” is pursuing the teenagers of the film. “It” is that sweet pleasure of having your whole life before you, as one character laments in the film, of having of no direction, no logical techniques for dealing with the sturm und drang of your emotions, no method of protection from those you love and those that love you. Somehow we push forward. “It Follows” is a love letter from a gun. And when you receive a love letter from a gun, you’re fucked forever.