Life can unexpectedly creep up on you, especially if you are a teenager who is constantly looking to explore yourself, your wants, your needs, your meaning in your life. Imagine trying to live a normal teenage life wherein you like trying new things and meeting new people but, unexpectedly, someone will cause your entire world to go round. This was the least of the worries of a young Jaime “Jay” Height, the protagonist of the film It Follows (2014). Jay (Maika Monroe) is your typical young woman trying to find out more about herself as she is constantly trying out new things. While on a date with her boyfriend, Hugh (Jake Weary), they have sex for the first time in Hugh’s car. After the sexual encounter, Jay later finds out that Hugh has transmitted or passed on to her a supernatural entity that will constantly try to follow her and if the “It” does catch her she will be killed.
Like any other traditional film or even horror film, the woman seems to always be the unfortunate victim of the movie. Whether they are playing the damsel in distress or even just a playing a supporting character in the film, woman are portrayed as being “lesser” than the men. Sure there are numerous current films wherein women power and equality is raised and respected upon, but most of the time society has this pre-conceived idea when it comes to women in film. In the article of Linda Williams, she even mentions that normally when people watch horror movies, men would “make it a point of honor to look” when something on the screen evokes a sense of terror, whilst women would “cover their eyes or hide behind the shoulders of their dates.” This happens because 1) women would be forced to watch their own “powerlessness” and 2) “women are given so little to identify with on the screen.”
This horror film was indeed a thematically-rich showcase because of its endless themes, talking points, and possible questions. Most prominent of them is the concern of the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), most especially with teenagers. It is quite evident in the film and even in various online sources that viewers are treated to a film that tackles the theme of the effects of STD’s. Now basing this with article of Williams, STD’s don’t just affect women but men as well. In the film, we find out that Hugh got the “disease” from a one night stand with a girl he met in a bar. What makes the experiences of Jay and Hugh’s transmission of the disease different from one another is that the woman’s (Jay) experience was shown to the audience watching whilst the man’s (Hugh’s) encounter was just merely talked about in the movie. Although similar in gravity of importance, only Jay’s experience was visually shown because for a problem like this, most of the time women are the most affected by these STD’s. The look of a woman dishevelled, lost, confused, and frightened would be more appealing to an horror film audience rather a man’s look of terror.
Given this attitude towards women and the look of women in film, we lead others to think that this movie is just all about STD’s, like what I am currently doing to you right now. We then fail to realize that the movie’s main message is not necessarily about sexually transmitted diseases but more about the life of a sexual assault survivor. Even though some would say that the sex was indeed consensual, Hugh having to knock Jay out and tie her up brings into discussion more images of rape. What happens next is an emphasis of what a survivor of a sexual assault might and will have to go through. Going home half-naked, filing a case with the police, going to the hospital, and being depressed at home are just some of the things that Jay experienced after the events. The world that she is not part of is constantly subjecting her to different and challenging obstacles, like the “It” that is following her.
Given the horror genre’s connotation and depiction of the female sexuality, one would think It Follows would follow in the footprints of others. However what is majestic about this film is that even if given a life and forced to live a life with regards to what society and the world has truly pictured it to be, Jay, portraying the power of the women, finds a way dispel her demons. Jay finds hope in sharing the pain with someone who understands, in the form of Paul (Keir Gilchrist).
I didn’t expect this film to be and eye-opener. With all the subtle yet powerful messages it carries with it, I actually forgot that I was watching a horror film. This may be a good or a bad thing for horror fans, but for me I find that this is one area of the horror genre that can be properly utilized because of the relatability and the impact it can bring out of any casual viewer.
Linda Williams,“When the Woman Looks.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002)