“In the classical narrative cinema, to see is to desire” (Williams, 2002, p. 61). The horror movie, “It follows”, banks on wanting to see, but being afraid of what one might see. This desire was translated well in the film, hence, making it an effective horror movie.
So far, “It follows” is one of my favorite movies that was shown in class. I was genuinely terrified without being grossed out. It better suited my personal taste. Furthermore, the horrible feeling that films of this kind usually give to the audience has a lasting impression. I think it is because the “it” can turn into any kind of fear that the person watching the movie has.
Williams (2002), in her article “When the woman looks,” notes that “the woman’s exercise of an active investigating gaze can only be simultaneous with her own victimization” (p. 61). It’s interesting to note that one of the first few scenes in the movie features Jay calling out some boys who are looking at her while she was swimming (“I know you’re looking!). Parallel to this scene was one of the last few scenes of the film wherein she was the one looking at three boys swimming in the beach. There is power in the gaze, and in that last scene, she was able to hold that kind of power. However, just like what Williams stated in her article, that last scene was still problematic. Even though she was trying to save herself from “it”, she herself had become “it” – making her seem like the culprit instead of the victim.
Furthermore, Williams (2002) likewise states that “blindness in this context signifies a perfect absence of desire, allowing the look of the male protagonist to regard the woman at the requisite safe distance necessary to the voyeur’s pleasure” (p. 61). Even if Jay could see more than what others could see, it was a terrifying experience and she did not desire it at all. Seeing and being followed by the “it” almost destroyed her. Interestingly, as an object of the “male gaze,” Jay did not seem to mind whenever Paul, her childhood friend, would look at her differently. The same goes with Greg. The approach of Jay’s character, as a woman, to the “male gaze”, seems to be a bit problematic. This is quite similar to how Joann regarded Rickie’s gaze in “Deadgirl.” Since “It follows” is classified as a horror film, its main task is to make the audience fearful. What made the film reach this goal is not just because of how it explores the woman walled within the gaze, but also because of how they structured the film’s monster.
Unlike other horror movies wherein the figure of the monster has a consistent form (e.g., Frankenstein and Dracula), in “It follows”, the audience does not know what kind of form the “It” will take. Personally, I think this kind of twist makes the monster more horrifying. To some extent, the characters (and the audience) also did not know when the “it” will appear. This created tension and a sense of dread even in the most mundane tasks that the characters, particularly Jay, performed (e.g., when she was looking at herself in the mirror). When it came to the technicalities of the movie, I personally liked how intrusive and at the same time, non-intrusive, the camera work was. The movement of the camera made the audience feel as if they were not allowed to see Jay’s silent and private thinking moments, but they needed to see it.
Lastly, “It follows” also explores the sexual act and sexuality. It was Jay’s coming-of-age story gone wrong. The movie perpetuates the notion that young ladies should be punished for engaging in the sexual act, while young men are allowed to get away with it. This can be seen in the part where Hugh literally runs away from his problem by making Jay “it” through the sexual act. Jay gets punished by carrying the burden of having to engage in the sexual act in order to get rid or pass on the “it.” It was almost as if it she was passing on a disease. In Williams’ article (2002), it is stated that because the “look [of the woman] is so threatening to male power, it is violently punished.” (p. 65). In “It follows,” Jay’s sexuality and power was subdued by the “it,” and that was how she got punished by the male.
In conclusion, “It follows” works excellently as a horror film because of the unique way in which the movie characterized its monster. Moreover, it further explores how the gaze affects the way women are portrayed in cinema, particularly in the horror film.
Source: Janovich, M. (2002). Horror, The Film Reader. London: Routledge.