David Robert Mitchell directed It Follows. He said this about the film, ‘I’m not personally interested in where ‘it’ comes from. To me it’s dream logic in the sense that they’re in a nightmare, and when you’re in a nightmare there’s no solving the nightmare, even if you try to solve it. Jay opens herself up to danger through sex, sex is the one way that she can free herself from that danger. We’re all here for a limited time, and we can’t escape our mortality but love and sex are two ways in which we can, at least temporarily, push death away.’
Take the above comments seriously and we are entitled to assume that It Follows has little to offer other than a compelling atmosphere and a plot that insists upon surprising its audience. Mitchell describes a film that is intuitive rather than intellectual. Critical opinion is divided between those who interpret the film as a warning against the sexually transmitted disease AIDS and those who identify metaphor for what happens to our psychology after a sexual encounter. As the film has been used to justify contradictory interpretations, it is not unfair to say that the approach by Mitchell is not quite the polemical masterpiece some have assumed. In that sense his comments above make sense but we should be wary of the plots of any filmmaker who talks of movies as nightmares.
In tone It Follows resembles Let The Right One In, a Swedish vampire movie that came out six years earlier. Both movies have merit, evoke a mysterious and threatening urban atmosphere, follow plots that have surprises and share a tendency towards po-faced seriousness. The swimming pool sequences that occur in both films appear to be more than a coincidence although the presence of water in It Follows has more Freudian intent and consequence. Let The Right One In may or may not have inspired Mitchell to make the film It Follows. Both films were well received. Indeed some of the reviewers in British newspapers lapsed into camp hysteria when they praised the films.
It Follows is a fine but flawed film. Some of it is marvellous but it also lacks rigour. The film has a seductive rhythm, characters that feel authentic, and a very original and audacious horror scene that takes place on the beach in bright daylight. But even by the standards of horror cinema the behaviour of Jay Height the heroine is a little odd. The escape to a park to be alone in the dark when she knows she is being followed by an inexplicable and unavoidable threat is baffling. The swimming pool climax is well staged but the physics is dodgy, and the old Invisible Man cinematic tricks we see adopted at the side of the swimming pool are weak. The continued enthusiasm for the heroes to fire at the indestructible entity that follows them also makes little sense even if it does have a positive effect in one instance. Fill a swimming pool with blood and you soon get people out of the swimming baths. That confrontation is not especially violent but there is an excess of the red stuff and more than a bit of fake poetry. The scene links to what happens at the beginning of the film, and the connection between the scenes makes sense. We first observe Jay a woman whose sexuality, indicated by the surrounding water, inspires local boys to gaze at her body. When Jay explores that sexuality, she invokes the disapproval of others. Jay has to rely on her friends to help her challenge the threat of the offended.
The purpose of the indestructible entity is explained to Jay by her seducer after they have had sex. At this point the dialogue is not well recorded and we hear and see references to voyeurism and identity. These initial concerns are interesting but are disconnected from the rest of the film. Because of the weakness in the soundtrack, the explanation by the young man needs attentive hearing from a viewer. Whilst an entity and its manifestations are a suitable metaphor for the guilt that is experienced after a misjudged sexual encounter the desire of the manifestations for destruction appears to be excessive. The metaphor may not have been as muddled as I was watching the film but, whether you plump for the damage of AIDS or a fear of intimacy, it is overstretched. The manifestations of the avenging entity in the film include the old, the young and men and women. For me these characters represented the grievance of disapproving puritans and rivals rather than the components of an infectious disease. This may be why I felt their behaviour would have made more sense if the threat had been limited to persistent but disturbing haunting and not extended to include violent attacks. The addition of violence may provide some decent jolts and anxiety for the audience but it weakens the sense behind the film. Neither should we be convinced that the film needed a universal curse although it helps those who like to think of the film as being about AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. The transmittable curse also strengthens the appeal to horror fans. It does, though, weaken the characterisation of Jay.
Despite that weakness Jay is an attractive character. In a charming scene she visits the ice cream parlour where her sister works and explains the threat or curse. The likeable and sensitive Paul is also present. He is a young man who prefers romance to clinical sex. The prostitutes in town make him curious but he is not attracted. The audience sees the prostitutes through the eyes of Paul. The two streetwalkers are hard looking, dehumanised and unpleasant. After the struggles against the manifestations of the entity, Jay accepts the commitment from innocent or decent Paul, and the conclusion features the young couple walking side-by-side. They hold hands and hope that each other and trust will help them to prevail. The entity we notice is still there but its threat is reduced and distant. The audience can decide whether Jay and Paul are in love or merely dependent. Although the ending will have been anticipated by the audience earlier when it witnessed the local stud meet his doom the final moments are not convincing. Too many odd things have happened to persuade us that the film inexorably leads the characters and plot to this point. The death of the stud is interesting because it involves the entity taking the form of his mother. This suggests the film is not the exploration of AIDS that some think. The stud wants to seduce the girls in his class but he will not be able to live without the approval from the mother that he needs.
Whatever the meanings contained within It Follows there is no doubt it obliges us to think about sex, its legacy, the frailty of human nature and our delusions or needs. Sex requires intimacy and a conviction that trust will not be betrayed. The film It Follows benefits from having a female perspective but both women and men suffer from the vulnerability that sexual intimacy reveals. It is odd that men who can be anxious about their sexual performance are more likely to have the promiscuous urges that increase the possibility of exposure.
Most of us have assumed from reading the revelations about Harvey Weinstein that he would have wanted his previous sexual behaviour to be kept secret. Only he will know what are his preoccupations while he waits to be counselled for his sexual behaviour and aggression. Maybe he did not give a damn about intimacy. Perhaps he thought the women he exploited were too vulnerable for them to reveal the intimacies that occurred. Weinstein may have assumed that the Hollywood prizes he offered justified his abuse of power, something like the famous quote by George Bernard Shaw about the relationship of price to whoring. Weinstein failed to anticipate that he would create a powerful feeling of victimhood and unity amongst the women he targeted. This feeling has not only given the media story prominence but also inspired a resistance movement. But this is the chance Weinstein took when he messed around with movie stars. They have they same rights and sensitivities as the rest of us but perhaps performers do not possess the same fear of exposure that all seducers exploit.
Sex always leaves a legacy, and no man can look back at a life and think he invariably behaved well. Young men tell lies to the women they want to seduce and even themselves. The more restrained men either feel the temptation to a lesser extent or grow old, settle and see sense. Mothers used to hope their sons would find a nice girl. Most of us have sexual memories we would rather forget and now regret. The memories do not disappear but often they fade as they did for Jay and Paul. Sometimes, though, they wreck subsequent lives. Weinstein may have thought that his money and power would solve his sexual needs and be more important to women than his physical appearance and character. Instead, his money and power reduced him even further. What happened between him and the aggrieved women is now a news story, a media entity and a legacy that will follow him to his grave and possibly beyond. Most women and many men now regard Weinstein as a dangerous bully without any sense of responsibility, a man whose exaggerated sense of entitlement was endorsed by a corrupt Hollywood system. It follows, and, after Weinstein, the likelihood is that more will recognise this entity when it appears again.
Howard Jackson has had six books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and Horror Pickers, a collection of film criticism. If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.