It Follows

It is very, very rare for me to enjoy a movie as much as I did It Follows anymore.

It’s not just that I found the movie terrifying-in itself a very rare statement from me anymore, though that holds true as well. But the depth of this film, it reminds me of why I got into cultural studies and the sociology of horror in the first place.

The movie works in all the places that a horror film should work, and that is certainly solid enough praise as it is. Jay agrees to go on a date with Hugh, which turns out to be one of the worst decisions that she has made. She is drawn into a world where things are never as they seem, slowly pulling in her sister Kelly and childhood friends Paul, Yara, and Greg. The casting is beautiful, the acting is exceptionally strong, and the pacing is almost perfect. Even the jump scares work-and the enemy, with the way that it shifts, is freaky as all hell.

But the movie works on a much deeper level; I will say, however, that having a solid exposure to Hitchcock and pre-1980s European horror will do a viewer well here. Even the score, with its repetitive, metallic screeching is Hitchcock Nouveau. The film moves deeper than that, however, with the follower easily being the shadow self and the movie being seen as the liminal between childhood and adulthood, between the seen and the unseen, between past and future.

The entire movie is set in the liminal. It even factors into the dialogue; Yara waxes poetic about how her family wouldn’t let her past 8 Mile while she was a child and the boundary seemed so arbitrary. The pushing of boundaries is what this movie does so well-from the opening shot we have no clear sense of setting. Is this morning? Is this night? Why is our first character dressed in night clothes and blood red pumps? What season is this, even? Everything is green and yet Jay and Kelly are wandering around in sweaters.

This is arguably a very feminine (and yes, feminist) film, though as with all the best movies that are placed in those characterizations it’s not a slap in the face with either. You’re not going to walk away from this movie thinking about girl power, but that’s exactly what’s going on here-Jay is in fact finding her own power (it is only by facing that which she is running from that she will find her power; you could easily argue that Jay is running from herself with the way that the past is constantly pulled into the future, the constant repetition of dated furnishings, cars, and technologies, and the ambiguous seasonal setting).  The incessant use of water and mirrors (they’re in almost every scene, in some form), the heavy use of door imagery, and the way that we never once allowed to see her family other than in the faces of the follower and glimpses of her mother in mirrors  (again with the mirrors) are all suggestions of movement and breaks away from her past and a line between the world she knows and the ultimate unknown. The movie starts to toe the line with Jungian symbolism and it’s absolutely beautiful to watch unfold (I would normally comment that it’s probably not deliberate, but with mirrors, the color blue, and water showing up in almost every scene I’m not going to give that warning this time).

There is one other area that this film impressed me greatly (though it’s obvious that this movie has me on a roll and I kind of wish this movie came out a decade ago, I would have had a field day)-the way that it subverts the sexuality tropes within horror. Jay is sexual. Jay is openly sexual, and yet does not in fact die in the manner of the first girl. In fact, she is allowed to overcome the monster (which could be viewed as her own sexuality, actually). The first girl is only sexual by suggestion-though those blood red pumps could carry a deeper discussion of their own. Jay is also allowed to be beautiful without it becoming a hinge to the film; Kelly comments that ‘at least she’s nice’ when Yara points out Jay’s beauty. Yara’s relationship with her body is masculine in a way that is often not allowed on film. period-she eats, she drinks, she’s allowed bodily functions, in a lot of ways Yara is treated like a male character, and that is in itself worth noting. In fact -a lot- of the women in this movie are twisted in ways we’re not normally allowed to see. Jay is sexual, for example, but it’s not suggested that she’s being punished for being sexual; in fact, I would argue that this has one of the best discussions on assault and the healing therein that I’ve seen in genre in a very, very long time.

Obviously, this movie impressed me-but as I said at the beginning of the review, this is just an enjoyable film overall. It’s well worth a watch even without all the postmodern criticism.

[This movie flirts with enough symbolism and folkloric content that this review is going up on a Sunday.]


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