I adore almost all genres of film. I will bore anyone that will listen about film noir, westerns, gangster flicks, French new wave, indie movies, sci-fi, superhero films, and Star Wars (yes, I’m placing the galaxy far, far away in a category all of its own). One genre that I never could quite warm to was horror movies. I suspect this was because of poor choices in initial viewing; that plus the fact that I am a world-renowned scaredy-cat. I go faint and squeamish at the sight of all that blood. I go weak at the knees at the sound of a drill warming up. With trusted online companions such as Michael and Kalie though, I gradually realised that I was missing out on the nuances of the genre with my blanket ban. I decided that I was going to go on a journey this summer through the thrills and spills of the horror section.
That journey got off to an excellent start. Having been given recommendations of a few titles from Kalie, I selected It Follows. The film hooked me instantaneously. The cinematography in the film sold me from the off. I was hit with high-end production values with the most beautiful rendering of rustic American suburbia. As the film progressed I loved all the little details depicted within the film. The strange swimming pool in the back yard of the main character Jay’s house. The old style telephones, the pink clam shell e-reader, the 1980s televisions. There was, in fact, something of an ’80s theme throughout the film. The characters aren’t wearing modern clothes, everything is vintage Americana; denim and plaid and Converse shoes. The soundtrack too provided a textured synth backdrop that had an eeriness to it at times, but which exuded an electronic warmth to the film.
The premise of the film took me aback. In the film the premise is one based around a sexually transmitted death sentence. This comes in the shape of the post-hoc appearance of a mysterious follower who, taking on multiple appearances, strange or familiar, slowly follows the victim until they meet their terminus. I’ll call this the curse of the follower for sake of brevity. That curse can be circumvented if one is able to transmit it on again in time through sleeping with someone else. Once the follower succeeds in killing the current incumbent of the curse however it will then revert to the last person to have fallen pray to its pursuit.
The most dominant sense one gains from the film is that of dread anticipation. All those infected with the curse have a tangible dread, either the initial fear they have as the current recipient of the curse, or a more general fear that if the follower successfully tracks down its current prey, that it will work its way backwards through the chain and begin to hunt them again.
Maybe it says something more about me than the film, but for me this dread anticipation, and the film’s means of transmitting the curse are symbolic of adulthood, and how it starts to encroach upon you as you reach the age of the characters in the film. As the Bible says, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
In our late teens we sadly start to realize that soon it will be that time to put away our childish things, as we enter the world of work, leave the security of home and school, and deal with all the other complications of adult relationships. Though we may have heard Bob Marley sing of it most of us also find it hard to “emancipate [ourselves] from mental slavery” as we reach the point of having to now turn our childhood hopes and dreams into adult reality. For me the encroachment of the follower in It Follows is a symbol of the encroachment of that turning point between the last days of childhood and the arrival of adulthood.
Other parts of the film complimented this interpretation for me. I’ve already touched upon the design features and cinematography within the film, which I thought were beautiful. What added to those attributes was the fact that the film was shot in Detroit. I think the location serves to subconsciously reinforce the parallels drawn out above. Detroit City. Motown. As Martha and the Vandellas once sung “don’t forget the Motor City”. But forget it many did. The population of the city has fallen from a high of 1,850,000 in its youth in 1950 to 677,116 in old age in 2015. The economic decline started as early as 1967 and that year’s city riots (as depicted in the new film Detroit).
If ever a city were to represent stages in life, Detroit was perfectly placed to do so, the pinnacle of its young and vibrant youth pulsated to the beat of the soul of Tamala Motown and Fortune Records, gave way in adulthood the harshest effects of economic reality. The young and vibrant automobile plants were left to decay following the cruelest decline, at great personal loss to those left in the wake of economic default. The traces of poverty, crime, and urban blight are peppered throughout It Follows, most notably when the teenagers leave their suburbs and enter into the city limits, a boundary point (the film tells) their parents wouldn’t let them cross in childhood. Again we see as they reach adulthood they can stray into this decimated landscape, which captures the perfect visual tone for the film. Notably the follower chooses to primarily haunt the victim outside of this urban landscape, preferring instead to encroach upon the supposed safe zone of suburbia. Both the follower and the areas of urban blight encroach upon the suburban safe haven.
The fate that awaits the characters in the film is not rendered with an sudden impact, they are at danger from a gradual creeping fate. The follower comes at the characters slowly and persistently like the lapping of a coastal tide. Like the passage of time it will not stop, and it will continue to progress. As a viewer you share in Jay’s dread as the camerawork of the film pans back from its central focus at the same speed as the follower, ever slow, steady and persistent.
There is a complete lack of adult supervision or guidance in the film. These are characters that are on the cusp of adulthood. There will be no help from their parents; they will have to navigate the curse of the follower all by themselves and manage their fate.
Luckily, as in real life, it is always possible, in the words of Lennon and McCartney, to get by with a little from our friends to help us navigate the dangers both in the film, and in our own journey towards maturity.
It Follows was directed by David Robert Mitchell and is available now on DVD.
Note: Thank you so much to Andrew for writing such an insightful, perceptive post that provides an interesting hypothesis about the deeper meaning of It Follows. I highly encourage you to check out Andrew’s newest blogging venture, Partisan Cantina and you can find him on Twitter too.