Damned If You Look, Damned If You Don’t

It Follows (2014), I think, was a very well-thought-out movie. It was fresh and creative, especially in its conception of the monster. It capitalizes on the creepy, looming feeling of being followed and on a lot of fears: stalkers, sexually-transmitted disease (in this movie, a curse of some sort), doppelgangers, etc. – and that is just on the level of the monster’s presence. The film barely shows what the monster actually does or why it does it. But aside from making it clear that whatever it is that it does was not good, the film just lets everybody be creeped out by the act of following, for the most part, to the point that I find that it does not make sense to add the act of following.

Case in point: there are instances where the monster can appear almost anywhere it wants to, like the scene with the granny in the school yard. From the school yard she just appeared on the hallway from the direction where Jay came from (which was the classroom), without any sign of breaking into the school; as opposed to when the monster breaks into Jay’s house or even Greg’s house. Another example is when they went out of town to Greg’s lake house. The monster supposedly moves slow (walks) and should that be the case, it would take a while for it to reach them; but it seemed to have just appeared out of nowhere and started walking towards Jay. The point is the emphasis on the following or walking towards the victim for the freaky effect works if we do not think much about it.

In addition, we somehow get the feeling that there is no way to confront this thing. It is invisible to everybody except the victims and it has superhuman strength. Taking it from the perspective of the victim, perhaps there is no way of actually overcoming the monster. It’s like preventing death itself. This fact is played around with, I think, by the engendering of the monster and the victim.

Linda Williams, in her article When the Woman Looks, offers two interesting explanations of how the female gaze is utilized and interpreted in the horror narratives. First, the female gaze, when actively exercised, is “punished by narrative processes that transform curiosity and desire into masochistic fantasy.” In the film, this, arguably, is how Jay acquired the curse in the first place: her capitalizing on her popularity and gazing back at the male gaze resulted into the chain of events that led her to her encounter with the monster. Following this line of thought, the monster can be interpreted as a hypermasculine entity where the explosion of the masculine attributes were made to be scary or “monstrous” and served to bring the punishment unto the woman (Jay). Jay’s victimization comes after every moment of her active gaze. This is highlighted by the fact that only she can see the monster.

Second, the alternative interpretation of the female gaze is that it reflects the male’s capacity to be vulnerable, mutilated or castrated (lack of penis). In this perspective, the female gaze results into fear, rather than victimization. It can be observed when the male characters fear the manifestation of a feminine monster. It is not very apparent in the movie with the monster, but it is central to the main theme or issue of the movie. When we look at the Jay character, knowing that she has this curse that can be transmitted sexually, it is understandable that the response to her presence is repulsion – much like how most people shuns those who have sexually-transmitted diseases (e.g. AIDS). When we argue that the movie is about overcoming that fear or stigma against STD patients, there is the underlying assumption that the STD patients are not just victims; they are also painted as monsters.

In the movie, the Jay female character can be examined through both lenses provided by Williams. She can be seen as someone victimized by a masculine figure and, arguably, even by the patriarchal society in which she lives in. On the other hand, she can be seen as the monster or the monstrous entity that society ought to shun and repress. An interesting point to make is that in employing the latter view, one must recognize that the monster chasing her is part of her existence, which is not actually wrong.

Reference:

Linda Williams,“When the Woman Looks.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002)

 

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