What is the “It” in It Follows?

After having ostensibly consensual sex with her, Hugh chloroforms Height and chains her to a wheelchair to force her to experience the horror she is now infected with. Afterward, he dumps her unceremoniously on her front lawn in only her underwear, further adding to the rape imagery and implications of this sequence. Photos courtesy RADiUS-TWC.

It Follows does exactly what it says on the tin — it feels like an urban legend you’ve known your entire life.

Early in the film, Jay Height (Maika Monroe) has sex with her new boyfriend, Hugh (Jake Weary), who gives her a unique STI. A creature will follow her, wherever she goes. If it reaches her, it will kill her, and then continue on its way back to Hugh and then onto the woman who gave it to him. The only way to get rid of the creature is for Height to pass it along to the next victim.

It Follows is an excellent movie. It’s rarely scary or unpleasant to watch, while at the same time being uncomfortable all the way through and leaves its audience with a lasting sense of paranoia. This is exactly the feeling a horror film should create.

It’s unfair to compare this movie to The Shining from a quality perspective, but it is the best way to illustrate It Follows’ strengths and shortcomings. The Kubrick classic has some significant shock value, but that doesn’t begin to explain its much more pervasive atmosphere of dread. Kubrick used intense music, a set that was physically impossible and furniture that seemed to move around on its own when the camera wasn’t looking to unnerve the audience well beyond the drama playing out in the foreground. Critic and Kubrick expert Rob Ager spent six years studying The Shining, and a large portion of his work can be found here.

Similarly, It Follows employs a background that comes alive to keep viewers constantly on edge. The film is set in Detroit in an undetermined time period — there is significant urban decay and abandonment, indicating a setting after the 2008 American auto industry crisis, but there are no cell phones or flatscreen televisions to be found. One character, Yara (Olivia Luccardi) does have what appears to be an e-reader. The characters drive around in station wagons from the ’80s, but cars in the background appear to be much more modern. Word of God is that this confusion is deliberate, as writer/director David Robert Mitchell wanted the film to take place somewhere outside of time.

Urban decay and the separation between suburbs and downtown life is a major theme of It Follows. As the characters run away from the creature, they go to rural areas around the great lakes, but in excursions meant to investigate or draw it out, they go to neighborhoods in heavier states of disrepair and eventually into Detroit’s dilapidated interior.

The movie’s main problem is the creature itself. It’s hard to discern what it represents. Many have suggested it’s the fear of having sex and/or contracting an STI, though the director doesn’t like these interpretations, but it’s much more complicated than that. Height wasn’t a virgin before having sex with Hugh, nor was she even trepidatious about it. Further, the premise encourages her to have more sex, instead of encouraging her to keep her disease to herself. It more fits as a representative combination of general fears involved with discovering one’s sexuality and the fear of death, but there are problems with these things as well.

Eventually, Height’s friends start plotting to trap and kill the creature, turning it into a physical presence instead of a representative force of nature and turning the film into less of a crawling horror and more of a creature feature. This is bad not only because it reduces the movie’s potential, but also because the creature is itself quite weak. It is so easily spotted from a distance, so easy to out run and so easy to pass on that it’s a hard thing to be scared of if viewers must take it at face value.

There are a couple of theories that I’ve come to ascribe to. One is that it represents the loss of Height’s innocence. After her infection, Height is forced to take more and more dire measures to take care of herself. She learns to shoot a gun, and is forced to shoot the creature when it looks like her friend Yara in one instance. Height has at least four sexual partners throughout the film which takes place over the course of just a few days, at least one of whom she seems to be intentionally murdering for a brief respite from the creature. With one important exception, the haunting creature is always wearing white, the color of innocence.

The film will leave viewers looking over their shoulder, just like Height in this scene, for weeks. Deeper meanings be damned, this is a true masterpiece of fear.

The other theory is that Height was, in fact, brutally raped by Hugh after having suffered some degree of sexual abuse from her father, and this harrowing is her fantastic attempt to rationalize these events. The reasons for this are almost all in shot-to-shot details, which will be explored in depth in a later article.

This is just one theory among many and among many, many more that will follow as this movie moves into its second month of existence. Movies are the highest art form we currently have, combining all forms of visual, auditory and performance artistry to create several layers of meaning. As they have become more and more of a corporate exercise in the last several decades, movies have begun to reach less and less for their potential, but It Follows is every bit the high art that movies can be.

Watch this movie, then watch it again and probably at least one more time and determine your own reading of the film’s many themes and meanings. Even if it’s just playing in the background, exposing oneself to art of this caliber in a world where it is most often made to sell toys and popcorn is the best thing a discerning moviegoer can really do for themselves.

Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North TexasChewie, we’re home. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

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2 Responses to What is the “It” in It Follows?

  1. Pingback: The Witch trades in thrills to deliver unbelievable chills | Reel Entropy

  2. Pingback: Election week arthouse binge part 3: American Honey | Reel Entropy

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