The first time I encountered “It Follows” is when a friend of mine recommended that I watch the film. She lent me her flash drive with a bootleg copy of the film, which I watched alone in my room. She even said that it might just be one of the best horror movies I will ever see. I assumed that she knows of my fascination with horror films, so I had high standards for the film. Usually, I would look up online reviews on a film before watching it, and true enough, my friend was right. It garnered a staggering 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and a respectable 6.9/10 from IMDb. However, after watching the film, I was quite disappointed. I even asked my girlfriend to watch the film, and she said she didn’t like it. So I left it at that. I never brought it up. I buried it in my past as an over hyped horror movie. Then here comes my horror film class to haunt me once again with It Follows.
The second time I saw It Follows, I must say I had a different experience. Although I knew what was going to happen next, I was interpreting the scenes differently. For instance, at the very beginning of the film, we see a girl frantically trying to get away from “something.” The first thing I noticed was her outfit: shorts, blouse and heels, suggesting she came from a night out. The film then cuts to the very gruesome aftermath of her doom. My initial reaction was: “Okay, fair warning. The film’s trying to set the mood for the movie.” But after through Linda Williams’ “When the Woman Looks,” I realized that it was far more than what I thought it was.
Williams argues that women in cinematic culture aren’t given the same luxury as men: to look. In film, as Williams puts it, “to see is to desire,” and should a woman gaze upon something, or in other words, desire something, she is punished for it through her own victimization. The author presents plenty of examples from classic films, but in the case of our film, let’s us consider the very first scene in the movie that I have described above. Although not as explicit, we can deduce from the girl’s outfit that she engaged in social matters the night before (I mean, who wears heels at home for nothing?). And the way the “curse” propagates is through sexual intercourse, so sure enough, she had sex with someone. This woman’s desire, which is no different from the man she hooked up with, is thoroughly punished and featured in the film. This notion continues on with the story of our main character: Jay. Now, there’s a lot to say about Jay (her ambiguous name, sexual appeal, and significant character development all suggest that she is the Final Girl, as pointed out by Carol J. Clover) but for the sake of this discussion, let us only consider Jay’s “punishment” for assuming the “active cinematic gaze.” In the film, the first time we assume Jay’s perspective is when she sees a couple of teenage boys peeping as she goes for a dip in her backyard pool. From a cinematic perspective, when she returns her spectator’s gaze, she eliminates the “safe distance” to which these teenage boys can objectify and desire her and so they stop. Next, another time we assume her perspective is when she is tied up by her lover, Hugh. We get a taste of, first, what it feels like to be completely stripped, literally of one’s clothes, and figuratively of her autonomy, and second, to be forced to look at the impending danger that will soon haunt her. This is to say that, when the film finally permits the woman to look, she sees a monster. But, Williams even goes on to say that, when a woman looks at a monster, it is not merely a punishment for her attempt to look, but also recognition of their similarities as “potential threats to vulnerable male power.” In a way, the film, and perhaps even society recognizes this. One of Hugh’s advice to Jay as a way to avoid or “defeat” the monster is to pass it on. He goes on to say that “it should be easy; you’re a girl.” Here, we see that Jay, as a woman, has significant power over men due to her sexuality. But with the curse, she is seen as a threat to a man’s power and status as she can perpetuate this inescapable doom.
I would also want to talk about the specific parts of the film that I did appreciate, however briefly. First, the film maker’s play on the narrative of teenage sexuality is remarkable. The paranoia of being cursed with no possible cure is unsettling and the film’s take on this matter was fresh and original. Second, I really liked the ending scenes of the movie wherein there is a noticeable person following Jay and Paul as they stroll, seemingly unaware and oblivious to the danger lurking behind them. Also, I realized that the film could be a dramatic representation of the issue of STD among the youth. I guess this time, I would probably recommend the film to my peers, but I surely wouldn’t hype it up as much as my friend did to me.