I saw It Follows, a 2015 horror film directed by David Robert Mitchell, weeks ago at St. Anthony Main. It follows a young girl in Detroit who has sex one night with a boy she has been seeing and is then pursued by a supernatural entity that continuously walks toward you until it catches you off guard and attacks you. The entity is described as able to look like either a complete stranger or like someone you know, “whatever it needs to get closest to you”. I loved it because it broke genre conventions as well as kept some of the classic elements of 80s horror, like an awesome synthy score by Disasterpeace that is reminiscent of John Carpenter films.
I went on a Friday afternoon showing at 4:30 with my boyfriend so that I would have time to go out later that night. Tickets were $6 as it was a matinee and I didn’t receive any pressure to buy any food or drink (snuck my own snacks in, anyway!). There were 3 or 4 people total in the theater despite it being opening weekend, and one man actually left halfway through perhaps because he was too scared. I wish I had seen it at a busier time, because I love horror films with a crowded theater – the energy and fear seem to feed off of each other just like with comedies. I jumped at one part and seemed to be the only one who did. Nonetheless, the empty theater made it almost creepier. When we left, it was still very much light out but I still felt creeped out as I walked home. St. Anthony Main is obviously the closest theater to campus, near some nice shops and the Stone Arch Bridge as well as some apartments. It’s a bit crummier, but I love the student discount.
It Follows was a refreshing film to see. It currently has 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and I heard great things, so I was excited that it lived up to my high expectations. The film subverts horror by featuring a Final Girl protagonist who complicates the idea of what the Final Girl is. Additionally, the film uses sex as its villain. In this way, Jay is targeted and attacked, yet not the victim. She uses her sexuality to survive by passing “It” on.
We are initially presented with Jay after an opening scene in which another young girl is brutally mutilated. Jay seems to be a lonely college-aged girl who goes out one night with the guy she is seeing, Hugh. After a few dates and their first night sleeping together in a car, Hugh gags her with chloroform and knocks her out. He ties her to the chair and explains the rules of the entity he passed to her sexually. He then lets the entity come close to her so she knows it’s real, then drops her off in front of her house and speeds away. Hugh, however, is not the villain. Jay does not even harbor much resentment: She explains to the cop that the sex was consensual, and realizes later that he did what she and anyone else will have to do. The entity It is the villain, and in fact, the three males who are relevant to the plot are all objects for Jay to pass It on to.
While It Follows is not a clear slasher flick, the entity does kill in violent ways, usually twisting bodies until they break. The film makes clear reference to slasher tropes: The music, the blonde Final Girl, and the setting of a suburban, white town are all characteristics of a slasher film. The film does not offer much for an analysis of race or class issues. Its characters are white college students who are seemingly middle class and heterosexual. However, a single moment in the film involves the four leads discussing their childhood in which their parents would not let them go beyond the limits of their town, seemingly a suburb of Detroit. This instance implies that the young adults live in a safer, suburban community, and this is perhaps Mitchell’s intent. These characters are young, naive teenagers with the most typical example of American youth; middle class whiteness.
Keeping in mind that the film is meant to be an homage to slasher flicks with a bit of a contemporary twist, Jay is the clear Final Girl of Mitchell’s slasher-esque movie. As Clover outlines, the Final Girl has a few main characteristics, like “her inevitable sexual reluctance (penetration, it seems, constructs the female), her apartness from other girls, [and] sometimes her name” (Clover 80). Jay is the innocent blonde with a masculine name who is put in danger by her sexual experience (we do not know if it was her first time or not). However, Jay is not apart from girls, as her two female friends are with her throughout the entire film fighting It.
The villain It also complicates the slasher flick, as it is not gendered. It takes the form of men and women (including Jay’s father), perhaps referencing Clover’s analysis that gender in slasher films is “less a wall than a permeable membrane” (Clover 80). Jay and her friends are not able to fight It initially, so Jay uses her sexuality to fight back. She has sex with the neighbor across the street, her friend Paul, and it is implied that she also did with three men on a boat. Her use of sexuality complicates the Final Girl, as she is supposed to be the virgin; the sexually uptight. In this way, It is the ambiguous villain who seems to represent sexual anxiety in teenagers or a sexually transmitted disease, while Jay is the Final Girl who seems to lose a bit of her soul each time she passes It along. Could that be what Mitchell is saying about mindless sex?
Finally, Jay is not the one victim, but one in a string of many. She has the option to pass along the deadly entity, which strays from horror conventions. As Williams notes, “In the classic horror film, the woman’s look at the monster offers at least a potentially subversive recognition of the power and potency of a non-phallic sexuality. Precisely because this look is so threatening to male power, it is violently punished” (Williams 65). However, Jay is not punished alone or the sole target despite her being our protagonist. The film is also very female-centric, with no real male to identify with besides her friend Paul who seems to be permanently friendzoned by Jay. We follow Jay’s gaze as she looks in the mirror and puts makeup on for her date, and we immediately connect with her and her band of friends who drink and do dumb teenager things. The male gaze is not present here. There is no way of identifying with the ambiguous killer, which allows us to draw our own conclusions about what the killer really is.
By using a Final Girl who is complicated, sexual, and never victimized, allowing us to spectate from her point of view, Mitchell comments on both sexuality and white suburban culture through the subversion of the slasher genre. Whether it is his intent or not, or simply just him keeping the film as ambiguous and simple as possible, it is clear that the entity It is a sexual being itself. Anxieties from teenagers about sex and boredom in the monotonous suburbs are clear themes in It Follows. Despite this, Jay fights the villain using sex and eventually kills it with a gun, though whether or not it is actually dead is left unclear. We identify with her naivity, complexity, and ultimately, how she reacts to a paranormal killer following her every move. It is refreshing to see a complicated woman in the Final Girl trope, allowing us to analyze the film’s themes and drawing attention to its uniqueness in the slasher genre.