It Follows (2014): Under Everyone’s Gaze

Warning: This entry contains spoilers.

David Robert Mitchell’s 2014 film, It Follows, starts off by following a young couple on a movie date, Jay (Maika Monroe) and Hugh (Jake Weary), who are playing a game where they try and choose someone from the crowd of moviegoers who they want to trade places with. While watching the movie, Hugh guesses that Jay would pick the woman in a yellow dress at the back of the theater, but freaks out when he discovers that he is the only one who can see the woman he is referring to. They leave immediately and proceed to have sex in the back of Hugh’s car. Things turn from good to worst when Hugh drugs Jay immediately after and ties her up. He explains to her that he was only doing what he had to do and that an unknown supernatural entity that can transform into anyone will now start following her, and will be dead set on killing her. Jay must now do all that she can so as to stay out of the creature’s grasp.

Linda Williams’ article, “When the Woman Looks,” points out that, in horror films, it is almost always the women who fall victim to the heinous scenes that occur on-screen. The female heroines are often figuratively or literally blind, and the women exist only to be looked at.1 In line with Williams’ article, Jay was the one who bore the gaze of everyone – from her boyfriend who set her up, her family and friends who were trying to take care of her, Greg (Daniel Zovatto) and Paul (Kier Gilchrist) who offered to have sex with her, and the “It” that was following her.

At first, Jay was seen as the prey to be targeted by Hugh, her boyfriend. She was courted by Hugh, had sex with him, but was then drugged with chloroform, and bound up in a wheelchair. Even though the sexual intercourse between the two adults was consensual, the two latter actions made the event seem as if she was actually raped. It didn’t help knowing that Hugh disappeared right after having sex with Jay, and that “Hugh” wasn’t even his real name. It turns out that Jay was just picked out by her then-boyfriend to be the one to free him, albeit temporarily, from the “It.” She was used for sex and as a vessel to whom the curse, or the “It,” could be passed onto, and she had no choice but to accept this dominion of power over her.

After her sexual encounter with Hugh, Jay was in a state of disarray that deeply worried her sister and her friends. They try comforting her by keeping her mind off the incident through road trips and getaways, but they still don’t believe her stories about a supernatural being following her. They think she’s crazy and delusional because they are unable to see the “It” that seems to scare Jay so much, yet they still keep observing her by staying in close proximity.

The movie, although supposed to be one classified under the horror genre, had romantic aspects. Greg and Paul saw themselves as the “knights in shining armor” that could save and protect Jay… Through the way of sexual intercourse. Greg saw and observed Jay’s messed up state, and saw her as vulnerable. He didn’t believe Jay’s story – even after hearing Hugh’s side and even after witnessing the events that happened on the beach – that the “It” would be passed on through the act of sexual intercourse, yet he still offered to have sex with her. Greg simply treated the situation as an opportunity to have sex. Paul, on the other hand, has been pining over Jay for a long while. When he found out that Jay had sex with Greg, he was visibly upset because he said that wanted to be the one to help. Paul believed that Jay truly had a reason to be fearful for her life, and he did want to help her out of love. But that’s not to say that he also had ulterior motives for doing so. Jay was still being objectified under the gaze of these two boys.

The “It” was constantly looking at Jay, trying to follow and catch her. Jay wasn’t safe in school, out in the beach hundreds of miles away from her neighborhood, and even inside her own home. Its gaze was inescapable. Williams mentions that “the woman’s exercise of an active investigating gaze can only be simultaneous with her own victimization.”2 Through Jay seeing the “It,” she failed to maintain the distance between her and the monster.3 She became paralyzed in horror as this distance is closed,4 which was why she always tried her best to keep a safe and reasonable distance between her and the “It,” although she failed at times.

Many scenes from the film showed Jay in fear, cowering, running away, and crying because of the consequences that occurred after having sex with her then-boyfriend. But later on, Jay turns this gaze around when she accepts and realizes that there really is an “It,” a dangerous being following her, wanting to kill her, so she sets out and proactively hunts for males to have sex with so as to turn the “It” on them. This is where the woman starts being seen as a force to be reckoned with – the very moment the viewers realize that she has the power to “mutilate and transform the vulnerable male.”5 All throughout the film, Jay was scared to look and scared to be looked at, but by the end of the film, she becomes the one who start looking. She searches outwards, becomes wary of her surroundings and everyone around her, starts objectifying boys and tries to identify people she can pass the “It” onto. Her perspective of the world becomes more tainted, vastly different from the world that she once imagined and wished for herself before, and all she wants now is to put herself first so as to stay alive.

1 Linda Williams,“When the Woman Looks.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002), 61.
2 Ibid, 61.
3 Ibid, 62.
4 Ibid, 62.
5 Ibid, 65.


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