Let’s talk about sex, baby! And its portrayal in horror films! It’s no secret that the horror genre has a complicated relationship with sex—from slashers, to hauntings, to creepy stalkers and beyond, sex plays a prominent role in the ways we choose to depict the fearsome and horrifying. One of my personal favorite horror films from the last several years, It Follows (2014), has all of the above, plus the added bonus of well-executed commentary on our collective paranoiac preoccupation with sex and sexuality.
Set in a suburban Michigan that seems to exist outside of any specific time period, the film introduces us to Jay (Maika Monroe), a college-age woman who appears to be home from school on a break. With nothing better to do, Jay goes on a few dates with a guy named Hugh, and ends up sleeping with him in his car. This, as in many other movies in which young women have sex, is where things start to go wrong. Fulfilling one of the fears deeply instilled in young women from the time puberty hits, Hugh whips out a rag with chloroform, incapacitating Jay. When she wakes up, she’s in her ’50s-style pink underwear, tied to a chair in an abandoned industrial wasteland. Hugh (not his real name, btw) explains that he gave something to her—a supernatural stalker that only they can see, and can take on the form of anyone. Oh yeah, and it’s sexually transmitted. That’s right, this movie is about a sexually transmitted demon.
The brilliance of It Follows is that it plays on the classic horror trope wherein the immediate consequences of sex involve death, particularly for the women involved. Whereas classic slashers tend to moralize, punishing young women for expressing their sexuality and celebrating chastity via the “final girl” trope, It Follows subverts the moralizing impulse without veering particularly far into an explicitly sex-positive narrative. Exploring sex-related fears as gruesome as incest, as inescapable as aging, and as foundational as trust, the film portrays Jay’s realistic struggle to take ownership of her sexuality under life-or-death circumstances. It’s worth noting that the “it” that follows seems to affect people of all genders indiscriminately, although given the conventions of the genre and societal qualms about female sexuality, it’s certainly no accident that our protagonist is a woman.
To add another layer to the cinematic gift that is this movie, It Follows also boasts one of the most amazing scores I’ve heard to date. By the artist Disasterpiece, with ominous synthy shrieks that emulate the iconic score to Psycho and a whole lot of fuzz, the tone of the film is masterfully both set and mirrored by the music. Paired with ’80s-evoking teal and pink tones, It Follows is equal parts aesthetic masterpiece, layered social and genre commentary, and terrifying horror film.
dir. David Robert Mitchell
Screens at the Video Underground at 8:00pm on Friday, October 5th—click here for showtimes and ticket info.