This past month, David Robert Mitchell’s “It Follows” saw its wide release. “It Follows” is a John Carpenter-esque thriller with a killer 80s soundtrack. The movie stars Maika Monroe (“The Guest”) and Keir Gilchrist (“It’s Kind of a Funny Story”). Overall, the film follows a group of teenagers as they attempt to run from It—It being a grim reaper that takes the form of an average person. It is contracted through sex, one person passing it along to the other, and given to Monroe’s character Jay after a night with a love interest Hugh, in the backseat of his car. It starts with the most recent victim and goes down the list, killing one after another, until there’s no more It to go around.
You wouldn’t be the first to have the realization that this movie might be talking about STDs or AIDS. There’s been a fair bit of discussion on the overall message in regards to the implications of being lazy about safe sex.
Although not wrong, I believe “It Follows” goes beyond the simple interpretation of the potential dangers of sex, and in actuality, plays on the fear and anxiety of being alone. Be it parental neglect, the swiftness of death, objectification, being used romantically, or recognizing just how small you are in the overall world, “It Follows” uses this theme to heighten the fear embedded within moviegoers.
Jay, a young college student living at home with her sister and newly widowed mom, is introduced entering the backyard pool, a dingy blue above ground contraption seen in so many other family backyards. Jay frequents this pool to find contentment in floating on her back with her ears submerged in order to block out the chaos of the outside world. As the camera takes on the role of the character’s eyes, we witness the wind flowing in and out of the branches of the large trees that look down at the pool. Once a calming activity Jay took part in to distract herself from her mother’s substance abuse and with her father’s recent death, it turns into an activity that entices fear after her brief relationship with Hugh (who we discover is actually Jeff). Their hookup in the backseat of his car behind an abandoned building led to her inability to find comfort with the people around her, and also resulted in her inability to find comfort within herself.
Jay’s reaction to having sex with someone she thought she knew and trusted is well-deserved, and relatable. It’s a common experience, at least once in life, to be with someone we thought we knew and either no longer recognize or were manipulated to believe they were someone they’re not. The power that comes from the betrayal of our own gut instinct is immense. If we aren’t fit to look out for ourselves then we are entirely reliant on others, and if we have recently been betrayed then who can we trust to take care of us? It’s an exhaustive, cyclical occurrence that drives us into the pit of loneliness by making us feel like there’s no way out. In Jay’s case, there’s also the consequences of zero guidance from those who brought her into this challenging world, and all of these factors make for one secluded, isolated, and lonely life experience.
In regards to the lack of parental guidance, the film does a great job of separating the audience from the parents. We neither hate them nor love them because they don’t exist. It’s understandable why Jay’s mother is self-medicating when we learn of her father’s death. Is it appropriate parental behavior? Absolutely not. But many of us have not mourned the loss of a spouse, so it’s much more difficult to step back and judge. Our anger is directed towards the neighbors who sit back and place judgement on the trials of single parenting after the death of a spouse. We could also argue that these small, brief conversations and judgement result in a sense of loneliness due to potential help being too high up on their horse to show empathy. We require empathy to connect with people. Take that out of the equation and we’re met with an overwhelming sense of isolation.
Despite Jay and her sister randomly packing up and heading to a cabin in an attempt to hide, sporadically leaving during the night, or having a rock shattering the living room window, we never actually see her mother get up from her stupor and ask what the hell is going on. Jay’s mother is a mirage who is only seen from the neck down on a couple of fuzzy occasions. We do see a photograph that includes both her mother and father, but the photograph along with the other cinematic techniques combine to create a sense of displacement and separation. Her mother’s self medicating makes her unable to be there for Jay as she lives through a stage in life where she struggles with her relationship with men. The film watches Jay struggle with the men in her life flocking to her for one particular reason, to be used. Be it to pass It along, or fulfill a longing desire whether or not that results in It being transferred to them.
The reason this movie is so terrifying, despite its cheesy dialogue and classic Carpenter feel, is that there is no end to this evil. There’s no killing It off, it’s simply a matter of passing It along further and further down the line so that It will never come back to reach you. It’s up to Jay to continue using her body in a way she doesn’t want to in order to get It further away from her. The entirety of “It Follows” is dedicated to the implications of being objectified, the consequences of parental neglect, the despair of feeling isolated despite the people around you, and most importantly the distress of feeling alone with yourself.
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