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Photo: David Robert Mitchell
From One Genre to the Next
In this day and age, the number of films coming out is endless. Wide releases, direct-to-video, and streaming service-exclusives… there’s simply no end to it all. It is for this reason that even for the most hardened film buffs, finding a director that stands out may prove to be difficult. There are so many people making movies that it can be hard to pick out the filmmakers you admire above all the others. However, one filmmaker with only three major credits to his name has managed to stand out. This particular filmmaker is David Robert Mitchell, a Michigan-born writer, and director who made his feature-length directorial debut in 2010 with the coming-of-age drama ‘The Myth of the American Sleepover’ which premiered at the South by Southwest film festival. He then received some mainstream attention with the horror film ‘It Follows’, which had its premiere at the Cannes film festival before getting a wide release. Most recently, he came out with the mystery-thriller starring Andrew Garfield, ‘Under the Silver Lake’, which also premiered at Cannes, before getting a wider release by A24 a year later.
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One standout aspect of David Robert Mitchell’s filmography that can be observed from simply reading the above list is that each film listed above is of a completely different genre. Even though he’s only made three films as of this writing (with a fourth in development), Mitchell has yet to make more than one film of a particular genre. This in and of itself may not seem like that big of a deal, but it does indeed say a lot about his skills as a filmmaker; he has solo writing and directing credits on each of his films, and when so many of Hollywood’s famous directors are known for sticking to certain genres, having this much range while keeping each film personal is a very important skill to have.
What is His Style?
By now I’ve made it clear that David Robert Mitchell’s proven himself capable of tackling different types of films. However, there’s more to being a versatile filmmaker than just making films of varying genres. As different as Mitchell’s films may be on the surface, he still manages to incorporate his own style into each of them. For instance, all of his films thus far explore romance in sexuality in different ways. ‘The Myth of the American Sleepover’, as expected with an indie coming-of-age drama, is all about the relationships between a bunch of to-be high school students. ‘It Follows’ has the unique distinction of having a sexually-transmitted supernatural entity as its antagonist; an unnamed being that can take on the form of any human as it relentlessly follows the last person to “inherit” it through intercourse. ‘Under the Silver Lake’ features a sexually active protagonist who finds himself in a very bizarre mystery that starts off with his new neighbor, whom he had been developing strong feelings for, vanishing without a trace.
Another aspect that each of these films share is how they establish mood and atmosphere. Even though they are all heavily dialogue-driven, they feature plenty of quiet moments that always feel like they’re in service to the story, be it through building tension or simply telling parts of the narrative visually. ‘It Follows’ lets the audience know right away that something’s wrong by showing a worried young woman being frightened away from her home by some unseen threat. ‘Under the Silver Lake’ has numerous scenes of the main character carrying out his journey by himself, in silence. Methods like these help give David Robert Mitchell’s films a consistent personality, as removed from each other as they might be genre-wise.
David Robert Mitchell
One reason why versatility is so important is that it can give audiences more reasons to keep watching their films. If one director is known for making comedy or action movies that all feel the same, then there’s a good chance people will eventually catch on to the pattern and become less interested in what they might have in store for the future, even if that director. For example, filmmaker Wes Anderson has become well known for the very unique aesthetic present in all his movies. The manner in which these movies are shot, scored, written, directed, and acted is one that’s incredibly distinct and unlike any other film, and Wes Anderson has received widespread acclaim for this. However, he has received occasional criticism for his movies feeling repetitive, as they all feature the aforementioned trademark style of his. Don’t get me wrong; I personally love Wes Anderson’s work myself, and am not at all bothered by the similarities each of his films contains. But for the people that are turned off by that particular issue, David Robert Mitchell could be seen as a sort of antithesis to what Wes does. His films share certain themes and qualities, but the fact that they’re all so tonally different from one another keeps them all fresh and interesting.
What Future Directors Could Learn
Regardless of whether or not one actually likes David Robert Mitchell’s films or not, what he does is something that should definitely be encouraged in aspiring filmmakers. On the one hand, it’s undeniably important for directors and writers to be unique, developing their own styles and voices that become reflected in their work. However, that doesn’t mean they need to hard lock themselves to a specific type of film people will come to expect. Variety is the spice of life as the saying goes, and filmmakers shouldn’t be afraid to do what Mitchell does and experiment with different genres while at the same time putting their own personal touch in each of the films they come out with.
David Robert Mitchell isn’t done making films yet either. He’s currently working on a new film titled ‘Heroes and Villains’, which aims to put a unique spin on the superhero genre. While it’s too early to know anything about the film beyond that simple idea, the very fact that it’s going to be about superheroes shows that Mitchell aims to keep up the variety he’s offered thus far. Superhero films and shows have become a big part of modern pop culture, so there’s a good chance ‘Heroes and Villains’ won’t just be another action-packed comic book romp, but rather something more along the lines of a deconstruction or commentary on the genre. With all speculation aside, David Robert Mitchell has proven himself to be more than capable of helming creative, ambitious works, and I look forward to seeing how far he goes with future endeavors.
By Austin Oguri
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Austin Oguri is a screenwriter and has deep appreciation for the art of film in general, he aims to offer unique perspectives through his film reviews and feature articles. He also has a soft spot for lesser-known works, and enjoys spotlighting them whenever he can. Austin has always found it necessary for people to encourage and bring out the best in each other, and as a writer at The Hollywood Insider, he can combine that ideology with his ability to think outside the box and truly express his love for the arts in the best ways possible.