Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Women in Horror: It Follows

Jay Height is a college student in Michigan. The first date with her new boyfriend Hugh goes well, expect he seems freaked out by a girl he describes but Jay can't see. The second date, they have sex in Hugh's car. Jay feels wonderful about it, but Hugh knocks her out right afterwards. She wakes up still in her underwear tied to a wheelchair with Hugh rambling about someone who will follow her. A nude woman approaches her and Hugh seems satisfied, releasing her from her bonds and unceremoniously dumping her in front of her house. Jay reports the incident and tries to forget about it, but at night, someone breaks into her house, changes form, and chases her. She knows it's something more than the ravings of a madman and resolves to seek him out to get more answers.

It Follows is a complex horror film that made a big splash last year when it was released into mainstream theaters. Its strengths are its unique world and the varied subjective meanings of the film. The world it builds is a combination of modern and retro. Brand new cars are seen everywhere, but Jay's friend Greg drives an 80's style station wagon that they drive around for most of the film. Jay's house seems stuck in the 70's with its dated style, old horror and sci-fi TV shows and movies on their very old fashioned black and white TV. The synthesized score created by Disasterpeace calls to mind past soundtracks like John Carpenter's Halloween and Charles Bernstein's Nightmare on Elm Street. All of this coupled with the artfully filmed Detroit backdrop makes for a film that creates its own time, similar to the Bates Motel television show.

Many people have speculated at the meaning of the film and the Follower. The ones that dismiss it as the fear of sex or sexually transmitted diseases is simplistic and not looking at the whole picture. I think it's much more than that. Jay is 19 years old, not a high school student. She would be at least a few years younger and a virgin if it had been merely about fear in and punishment of having sex. Jay was building a relationship with Hugh (which wasn't even his real name). They got to know each other over a couple of dates and she chose to be intimate with him on their second date. Immediately afterwards, he assaults her, ties her to a wheelchair still in her underwear, and tells her about the Follower, a person who will slowly walk towards her in the guise of anyone. He tells her it isn't stupid and it will keep following forever unless she passes it on to someone else in the same way it passed it to her.

I interpret the Follower to be all of the consequences of sex. On the surface, it's pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, but it's also other people's opinions and judgments. It's trusting that the other person is genuine in their intentions and being as close to them as you can possibly be. It's accepting that entering a long term relationship with someone is also assuming all of their baggage as well. The Follower takes many forms as the consequences do. Sometimes it takes on the form of loved ones because the closest people to you have the ability to hurt you the most. Jay is affected by the consequences more seriously than others because they tend to be more serious for women in our society. A woman's value is still tied to her sex life and public opinion about it whether perception matches her actions or not. Men don't have these same perceptions to combat. This is why "Hugh" has to build part of a relationship with Jay to have sex with her while Jay can just hop on a boat and presumably have sex with little to no speaking. Even when Greg is very flippant about the consequences, the Follower still kills him as it also presumably kills the men on the boat. The Follower is always there and always advancing to show that no one is exempt from these consequences.

Throughout the film, characters reminisce over being a child. During the game they play at the theater, "Hugh" wants to be a little boy with a whole future ahead of him. Paul, Jay's friend, reminisces over sexual exploration in his childhood. This particular incident is when he and Jay found porn magazines in the street and looked at them only to be caught by their horrified parents. They are remembering when they didn't have to deal with more than disappointed or freaked out parents. Now, their parents are absent because they are growing up. Their parents have other stuff to deal with and honestly can't really help them with these issues. Their parents can't change all of these consequences they are subject to. Paul also reminisces over first kisses that didn't really mean anything to him as a child, but he's obviously in love with Jay now. The same kisses mean something a lot different as adults. Growing up is a bit part of the film. All the main characters are college aged and they need to navigate their newfound adulthood on their own.

Many complain that the Follower and its rules are inconsistent. At the beginning, a young woman is running away from it, but gives up and sits by the beach. She is found with her leg grotesquely bent backwards, almost severed from her body. Later on, it kills Greg in an entirely different, bloodless fashion. Tons of things are passed around by word of mouth with varying degrees of accuracy. For instance, even as adults, myths abound about pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases abound. Misinformation is everywhere, so of course not all the information being passed to Jay by "Hugh" is not going to be completely accurate. He is reporting his own findings based on his experience. The consequences of sex are different for each person, so why would they be the same in the form of the Follower?

The ending of the film has Jay and her friends trying to kill the Follower by luring it into a pool and electrocuting it. It of course doesn't go to well as the Follower isn't stupid. It appears to be dead as the pool fills with blood after Paul shoots it. Jay and Paul have sex and are seen walking down the street hand in hand, implying a new relationship. Someone follows them from behind, but they don't even look back. If  you're obsessed with all these negative consequences, it's consumes your life. Jay wouldn't even leave the house and couldn't lead a normal life when she was obsessed with it. Now, she has someone by her side that makes the consequences matter less. The Follower and what it represents are still there and will always be there, but for now, it doesn't matter. It doesn't bode well that Paul was obviously in love with her for a while and Jay was resistant to a relationship, but the last impression we are left with is happiness.

It Follows is an interesting horror film that's completely open to interpretation. If you have a different take, I would love to hear it. The filmmakers purposefully didn't give an definitive answers because they want it left that way and I appreciate that. It Follows is largely successful because of Maika Monroe as Jay. Her emotion onscreen is amazing and she kept me on her side the whole film, even when doing morally questionable things to stave off death. I highly recommend It Follows, but it's not for everyone.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

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