It Follows director David Robert Mitchell made a modest debut with The Myth of the American Sleepover
With his 2015 release It Follows, David Robert Mitchell announced himself as a major directorial talent to watch. As well as creating a terrifying new horror mythology (a curse, passed on through sex, which means disturbing creatures will follow you until they catch and kill you), It Follows featured an effective blend of realistic teenage dialogue and gorgeous, open space cinematography which showed Mitchell had a unique vision as a filmmaker. While his 2010 debut The Myth of the American Sleepover isn’t quite as successful, there are certainly flashes of Mitchell’s talents.
Unlike similarly themed films like Dazed and Confused, which focus on the glorious first day of summer, Mitchell’s film has a far more melancholic target; the last day of summer before high school opens once more. The relatable setting is suitably matched by the chilly cinematography of James Laxton; like It Follows, the film uses both wide shots of typical suburbia and beautifully lit night scenes to portray its small town life.
The Myth of the American Sleepover is virtually plotless; there are odd strands here and there (girls ditching sleepovers for parties, boy pursuing older girls), but this is more about representing various social situations for both freshman and seniors. The ‘aimless indie’ film has been an archetype since Jim Jarmusch first released Stranger in Paradise, and there have been many successful low budget films since then that didn’t strain too hard to have a plot. Unfortunately, The Myth of the American Sleepover lacks what makes many similar films more successful; strong characters.
It’s fine to make a film in which you ‘hang out’ with the main characters, but they have to be characters you want to hang out with; a Jeff Spicoli or a Randall Graves, for example. Some of the teenagers focused on in The Myth of the American Sleepover are fairly interesting, but there’s definitely a lack of memorable characters. By far the best strand in the film is the recently heartbroken Scott (Brett Jacobsen) and his pursuit of the two twins (Nikita & Jade Ramsey) he liked in high school. It could be creepy (the twins discuss Scott’s real intentions), but Mitchell’s sensitive script and the talented young cast make it a rather sweet, charming little story. Similarly, when dancer Maggie (Claire Sloma) ditches a sleepover to pursuit a boy at his pool party, what could be a dull cliché becomes fairly enjoyable (especially Maggie’s 40’s style dance routine across the deck).
On the other hand, there are a few plot strands that, while not quite generic enough to be cliché, are certainly not very interesting. By far the worst, which Mitchell bafflingly dedicates the most time to, involves mopey sadsack Rob (Marlon Morton), who sees an intriguing girl while out shopping and spends the night looking for her, in-between flirting with every single girl he comes across. Morton just doesn’t have the chops to suggest much depth to Rob, and seeing him get close to just about every girl in the movie becomes a little tedious to watch.
The Myth of the American Sleepover was never going to be the film that catapulted David Robert Mitchell into stardom. It’s a tiny film – low budget, low ambition – and I can’t imagine more than a tiny fraction of It Follows fans have sought it out. Though better characters and more original scenarios could easily have elevated The Myth of the American Sleepover, its fine as it is. Perhaps not hugely memorable, perhaps not the original take on the teen film it could have been, but fans of It Follows’ recognisable teens and fantastic cinematography will find something to enjoy in The Myth of the American Sleepover.
By Harry Ford