BY BRIAN TRUITT | GANNETT NEWS SERVICE
“It Follows” is proving as relentless as its shape-shifting villain.
Writer-director David Robert Mitchell’s low-budget horror film, about a teenage girl (Maika Monroe) haunted by a sexually transmitted curse, has proven one of 2015’s more impressive box-office successes. While originally slated to open in New York and Los Angeles theaters for a small theatrical run before moving to video-on-demand platforms, it surprised the industry enough to warrant a wide release in 1,200 theaters last weekend. It made $4 million, ranking fifth among all films.
This weekend the release expands to 1,655 theaters. The Radius-Dimension release’s March 13 limited opening resulted in a huge $40,000-per-screen average in four theaters, and its $4.8 million total thus far has more than doubled the movie’s production budget.
“With the best reviews of any American horror film since ‘Evil Dead’ and the biggest exclusive opening for any horror film since ‘Paranormal Activity,’ going wide was the logical next step,” says Radius co-president Tom Quinn.
Most movies in the genre are poorly reviewed, cheap to make and “drop like a corpse in their second weekend in theaters,” says Rentrak media analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “This makes them the cinematic equivalent of a really scary roller-coaster ride that quickly becomes boring after one run through the tracks.”
But “It Follows” — with a 95 percent on the critic-aggregate site RottenTomatoes.com — is like “The Sixth Sense,” “The Exorcist” and the original “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in that they’re almost an “art house” horror film, Dergarabedian adds. Films of that ilk are “that rare intersection of critical acclaim and indie street cred.”
The movie follows Monroe’s Jay, who is chased by a mysterious unseen force after a pleasurable night gone very wrong with her boyfriend. The entity can take the form of anybody, even her friends, and she can’t escape it unless she passes it on to another through sex. Yet if that person is killed, then she becomes the target again.
Monroe, 21, grew up on old horror movies and says she found Mitchell’s script to be wholly refreshing. “It’s just amazing and weird and unique and such a specific style.”
Mitchell, who previously did the 2010 coming-of-age drama “The Myth of the American Sleepover,” wanted to do something modern but also reference influential classics such as “The Shining,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and the works of John Carpenter and David Cronenberg.
Other horror movies have tackled teenage hormones as a metaphor but Mitchell says “It Follows” isn’t trying to update them. “When I sat down to write my version of a horror film, it inherently came out different. It’s my version, my personality. It just so happens that it may be in contrast to what’s come before.”
It’s won buzz and strong word of mouth among audiences in part because Mitchell’s set up a scenario that’s interactive — moviegoers understand the rules of the film and there is something following Jay, so Mitchell filmed with wider lenses and an open frame so one can see into the distance and along the edges of the cinematic geography.
“Even in the quieter moments within the film,” he says, “you will always be actively looking along with the characters for anything or anyone that might end up being the monster.”
If “It Follows” continues to put the fright into more and more crowds, Mitchell says he’s up for doing a sequel. “I’m certainly open to it.”
Monroe agrees. “I’d love to work with David again. … Sure, I’m in!”