CW/TW: Descriptions of Sexual Assault
It Follows and Body Politics
It Follows (2014) is an exploration of voyeurism and a critique of unhealthy sexual politics that is infused in style, beautiful editing, and a haunting soundtrack. It Follows received critical acclaim for trying a lot of new things in the horror genre. For me, however, the movie is merely repackaging a lot of really dangerous tropes in films that I’d prayed we’d moved far-far away from. The film is certainly unrelenting in the voyeurism of its camera—with its gaze pinpointed upon its female characters’ assets—and unrepentant in the trauma to the female body. The creatures that manifest after sexual intercourse aren’t entirely the sole purveyors of trauma here. You’d think that the ‘It’ that follows would be the creature-feature fest on display but in actuality, the ‘It’ that follows is the fear that your body is not your own.
It Follows clumsily handles the events of rape and violent assault with merely a passing glance. Even when her friends help her track down her rapist, he barely receives a scathing look let alone a slap on the hand. If anything he acts annoyed and extremely self-serving and his ‘I’m sorry’ rings incredibly hollow. They all know where he lives and her sister and neither of her friends call the police, create a hashtag, or inform any of the adults in their lives about the sexual predator in their midst. Egregiously, the relationship between the main character and her sister is not handled with any sort of reverence or safety cushion.
We aren’t even shown a scene where the character seeks out comfort from her sister after such a traumatic event—hardly even a conversation. The scenes that we get instead, are a character clearly in trauma, and fleeing from monsters that her rapist tried to shirk off like an old shirt. The film even lets us know that he utilized a fake name and non-permanent address to keep her from finding him by the way. He, the rapist and liar, is never made culpable for his actions. He’s killed off-screen, so any form of repentance or vengeance narrative that could have been was nullified.
It Follows is Not For the Squeamish
If you haven’t been able to surmise, It Follows is also saturated with sex and sexualization, thus the R rating. The camera often and I do mean often lingers on female characters’ desirable parts such as their legs, breasts, hips, waists, and lips. There is even the age-old narrative trope in this film of men competing for a woman’s attention primarily for her sex. Her body is constantly shown not for her pleasure or fulfillment, but as a tool to be acted upon and used up. There’s no space or time allotted for an exploration of her sexuality or her sexual satisfaction whatsoever. She’s merely a character to be used by the men in her life.
First, the one that rapes her. Second, the male neighbor that wants sex from her and third the boyfriend that wishes to possess her. There’s even a grotesque scene where she strips down to her undergarments and wades out to a boat full of men to pass ‘It’ along. It was revolting that she is shown so often with no bodily autonomy, but perhaps this movie is attempting to be a mirror on our society where girls and women are often the most vulnerable and predated victims.
It Follows is also very hyper-heterosexual. There are women ogled aplenty, even in various states of undress or in pornographic magazines. Speaking of pornographic, there are certain shots and scenes in this film that could have eked out an X rating at times. There is also no space for queerness in this very heterosexual film either. For example, no one even entertains passing ‘It’ along to someone of the same sex, which is also a horrible idea I might add and veers into dangerous HIV/AIDS parallels. Secondly, the film always positions women as targets and receivers of sexual advances or contact.
Third, sex is always a penetrative act where the male-only takes. Fourth, the characters or camera never linger on the male body as an object of queer desirability. There’s only one instance in the film where we get a full uninterrupted view of the male form and ‘Its’ looming presence is used as a scare chord in broad daylight atop her house. ‘Its’ body is used as a source of shaming device of potential queerness that may be zeroed upon ‘Its’ form and further implies that there’s a horror in the nudity of men.
The women in It Follows aren’t written with healthy stories in this film or reality. We (as a society and subconsciously as writers) are so accustomed to women in horror films being in various states of nudity or undress that we oversaturate the presence of the female form to the point of explicit mundanity. I made a noise of frustration and exclaimed oh no when ‘It’ is being passed along to unknowing sex workers.
Their lives are too often considered meaningless and disposable. We have so many narratives of violence that exist in fact and fiction surrounding sex work, that I thought this film would veer from it but the film had ticked so many other boxes already in regards to disgusting narrative choices that I should have had my bingo card ready.
A Reinforcement of Cultural Imagery
Women are the primary ‘It’ that follows and their imagery shows a monstrous form of woman-ness that we are meant to oppose. The first being a nude young woman virginal sans body hair with nary a blemish, then the next being a feeble elderly woman, thereafter a woman who has been visually abused with missing teeth—blackened eyes—and bound hands, and lastly her neighbor’s partially clothed mother who sexes her son to death?
Lastly, ‘It’ takes the visage of her own female best friend. It should be noted that the main character sees each variant of the creature as ‘It’ approaches, except her female friend which is kind of interesting. There are other ‘Its’, of course, male ones, but they are mostly used to lesser effect in regards to storytelling or shock value…except for the tall man; he gets an honorable mention.
The border where the haves and have-nots meet, and the poverty that manifested in Detroit, Michigan is relatively glossed over as well, except when the camera revels in consuming its subsequent ruin and decay. Dereliction is a few blocks from the movie’s setting while the characters live in economic safety in the suburbs. If you’ve come for any discussions or conversations about race…look elsewhere, It Follows isn’t that kind of film I’m afraid.
This is the type of film that I would not recommend if you don’t wish to come away triggered or repulsed. The movie wishes to tell a scary story about monsters that are generated from sex, but the story that resonates most is the one about a society that devalues women because of their sex. The name of this movie is spot on actually. The manifestation of reinforced cultural practices where men are given space to act sexually without consequence results in patriarchal and misogynistic horror and are the ‘It’ (that) Follows.