Sunday, November 1, 2015


It Follows, a brilliant new horror film by director David Robert Mitchell, has a curious distinction: it may be the most “sex-negative” movie ever made.

Self-aware yet irony-free, bathed in atmospheric dread, It Follows treads a careful course between the “slasher” films of the 70s and 80s, its most superficially obvious forebears, and the distancing, overtly “post-modern” spoofy self-referentialism embraced by Wes Craven’s Scream series. In the final analysis, however, It Follows belongs with a more elegant breed of cinematic pedigree, deserving to be considered among classics like Fred M. Wilcox’s Forbidden Planet and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, eerie films in which the source of the terror is never finally understood in an intellectual sense, but is rendered so primordially palpable on an emotional level that it haunts the viewer for days afterwards.
If The Birds was about the revenge of nature against man’s overweening arrogance in presuming to have dominion over creation, the monster of It Follows is far more basic, even primal. Indeed, the evil in this movie resembles that of Wilcox’s seminal sci-fi work in that both films feature“monsters from the id.” This time around, that monster is plainly sexuality itself.

It has often been remarked that most famous slasher films commonly contained a certain punitively puritanical subtext, in that sexually precocious vixens are often the first to perish at the madman’s hand, while the good girl who refuses to “put out” has the best chance of making it to the end. (There was in fact an extended commentary on this phenomenon in the first Screammovie.) It Follows ups the ante on this ubiquitous horror movie theme; here one inherits the company of a relentless, murderous, ferociously stalking demon by… having sex. And more: one passes this demon to others via intercourse. Yes, the monster in this film is a kind of especially malignant venereal disease!

Like VD, however, one doesn’t cease to be afflicted even after passing on one’s infection. Instead, one only widens the scope of the monster’s dominion. Once let loose, there seems to be no stopping this beast. It can be slowed down, and temporarily evaded, but seemingly never killed. As such, it serves as a poignant representation of lost innocence. Once a person is inflicted with sexualization, one becomes like the first couple expelled from the Garden: rendered hideously wretched, and moreover now doomed to die. Indeed, the intense apprehension which assails the viewer’s consciousness when witnessing the slow but steady course of the demon’s pursuit is borne of the realization that resistance is futile; no one here gets out alive.

In an early scene, an afflicted young man on a date (whom we don’t yet know has contracted the demonic bug) makes a subtly heartbreaking observation. His date challenges him to a game in which he must find someone in the room that he envies; then she must attempt to guess who it is. He acquiesces, and when pressed to guess, the girl first assumes that he is envious of a nearby man exchanging an amorous embrace with an attractive woman. The lad denies this, however, and the girl is puzzled; don’t boys want sex more than anything else, after all? How could he not envy the man who’s clearly about to “get some”? She asks him to reveal who it is, and he gestures towards a family standing near a water fountain; the dad is picking his little boy up so he can take a drink.
“The father?” the girl asks. “No, the kid!” he answers. “Think of how great it would be to have your whole life ahead of you like that...”
This answer again flummoxes the girl; after all, the guy she’s with is only twenty-one years old. What she doesn’t yet know, of course, is that, like T.S. Eliot’s demon-haunted Prufrock (quoted at length in another memorable scene) he is now being stalked by the “eternal footman,” who takes many forms, many of them quite everyday in appearance, but all of them promising death. Given this context, the young man’s desire to return to the innocence of boyhood is not simply a wish to have a few more years on earth, but is more accurately seen as a plaintive cry to once again be enabled to savor the purity of his now fled (that is, pre-pubescent) innocence.
The calm before the post-coital monster.
This theme is further elaborated at a later point, when this same girl, now infected herself and pursued by the rapaciously tenacious “following” demon, makes a seemingly inexplicable choice to run away from her friends and sit on a playground swing all alone in the dead of night. Clearly, at this moment, she too wishes to escape into the trappings of a lost youth, before the monster of sexuality entered the scene, forcing her out of the fairyland of playground fun and into this infinitely harsher realm of ferocious carnality and imminent mortality.

The monster can appear in any guise it wishes, but its choices often reflect scarily obscene dimensions. At one point, it manifests as a beautiful young woman in a negligee grotesquely leaking blood and urine; at another point it takes the form of a gnarled naked man standing tall on the top of a roof and leering alarmingly. And to reinforce the “sex as death” motif, it shows up on one occasion as an ashen-faced, moribund old woman, whose geriatric advance is rendered all the more terrifying by its coldly dogged persistence.

Another striking aspect of the storyline of It Follows is the general absence of parents, teachers, and other adults. Even those who appear sympathetic and offer to help are avoided by the kids, who realize early on that they are on their own. They roll their eyes at the notion of receiving “sex ed talks” from their clueless elders. Those of advanced age, after all, have forgotten the violent psychic wrenching that accompanies the onset of hormones; their monstrous transformation took place too long ago for them to comprehend the horror of what’s really happening to their bodies and minds.

Though the crisis charted in It Follows eventually reaches a kind of resolution, we are also given to understand that the harrowing never really stops. This monster may seem dead, but then it often goes dormant just before striking yet again. Once “it” gets under your skin, it owns you: afterwards, the only way to live is to be resigned to your eternally approaching death, and the only possible route back to the light you once knew is to plunge headlong through the thick, terrifying darkness which now surrounds you.

(originally published at Alternative Right, March 2015.)

Andy Nowicki, co-editor of Alternative Right, is the author of eight books, including Under the NihilThe Columbine PilgrimConsidering Suicide, andBeauty and the Least. He occasionally updates his blog when the spirit moves him to do so. Visit his Soundcloud page

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