It’s intentionally difficult to gauge when It Follows is supposed to be set. Everything has a vintagy feel. The old televisions, cars, and black-and-white movies make it seem like a hipster’s dream. A driving 80’s horror-synth soundtrack (by Rich Vreeland of Disasterpeace) follows the characters as they live a sleepy life in an run-down suburb of the further disintegrating Detroit, and their lives are accented by the stylistic beauty of a curated mix of relics from different decades. The only nod to the “present” exists both in the future and the past: a pink Kindle-iphone type device that looks like a 1960s pink clamshell compact. It’s a brilliant touch that had me craving it immediately and hating that it didn’t actually exist.

There are no screenshots of the clamshell device online, but it looks a lot like this, except it's always open and Yara's reading The Idiot on it.

There are no screenshots of the clamshell device online, but it looks a lot like this, except it’s always open and Yara’s reading The Idiot on it.

It Follows may not be what some horror fans are expecting. It’s an existential fright that burns low and walks slow. The Idiot looms over the movie, stalking it just as hard as the shape-shifting ghost demon. As AS Byatt wrote in a Guardian review of the Dostoevsky novel,”The true subject of The Idiot is the imminence and immanence of death.” The rambling book, within which Dostoevsky was wrestling with complicated views about Christianity, also tries to reconcile what sexuality means for a “good person.” In her critical companion to The Idiot, Liza Knapp notes “Dostoevsky’s ‘idiot’ fascinates us because he embodies tremendous confusion about gender and sexuality linked to ideas about faith and religion.”

The concept of the film’s monster is new and refreshing, and thankfully isn’t fully explained. It tends to stick with the rules given to it, but the mysteries about what it is and where it came from propel it into a metaphor about running from something. What they end up running from is time, mostly.

This isn’t exactly a film about STDS (other than metaphorically,) even though sex is the way the haunting is passed on from person to person. There are some parallels, especially when thinking about the AIDS epidemic of the 80s, but STDS don’t work the way this curse works. The best way to lessen the destruction of a deadly STD is to not have sex. It won’t help the sufferer in any way, but the best case scenario is that there is a treatment, AND that no one else is exposed to it. In this case, giving this terror to someone else is the only chance for any type of relief, illusory and unsure as that relief may be.

Sex has long been a major part of teenage horror flicks, but even though it is deeply integrated into the rules of the curse, sex itself isn’t presented with the degree of disrespect and sensationalism that it often is in this type of context. Sex does, however, become a strange weapon against one’s self and others, but the motivations to have sex are explored in a surprisingly subtle way.

Spoilers below:

When main character Jay goes out on a date with Hugh, the guy who’s about to wreck her life and paranormally assault her, they play a little game. At the movie theater they each pick out a stranger who they’d like to be, and the other person has to guess. It turns out 21-year-old old Hugh wants to be a little boy again, because he “has his whole life ahead of him.” The comment seems extremely naive and idiotic until it’s revealed what’s really happening.

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 6.41.25 PM

At 21, Hugh doesn’t just have the normal, seemingly overwhelming, pressures of a young adult. He’s cursed. His time has been snatched from him. He can try to run for it, by passing on the curse, but it never alleviates the dread and paranoia. No matter how far down the line the curse gets, it can still always come back to you. Childhood is over for these people in the worst way.

“The basic idea of being followed by something that is slow but never stops is from a nightmare I had when I was a kid,” writer-director David Robert Mitchell told Newsweek. “I would see someone in the distance, and they would just be walking very slowly towards me, and I would turn to the people around me and point them out, and they wouldn’t know what I was talking about. I immediately knew that this was a monster, something that was going to hurt me. And I would run away from it and wait, and then eventually it would come around the corner. I could always get away from it, but what was horrible about it was that it just never stopped. It was always coming for me.”

The presence of parents is also fascinating. While there are clues of Jay’s mom and dad: family photos, an empty wine bottle, at least two instances of a sandwich plate left in her room (I felt a visceral comfort to seeing that sandwich garnished with orange chips, pickle, and OJ,) the only time any of these college kids see their parents is when they are being hunted. Parents are our caregivers, but maybe didn’t always give the best care. Even when they do, growing up is a painful time of separation where parents represent inevitable responsibility and aging process. At the same time, parents may be a little jealous of their child’s youth and opportunity. It Follows explores some of the phantoms and fears between one generation and the next. Again, the smudging between decades makes the connections and estrangements even more confusion. When everything is so related and connected, the demarcations between generations are smudged. There is nothing between us except the relentless chase of time, which stalks behind us, slowly, possibly catching up with us at any moment.

After a number of attempts to “escape” the shadow pursuing them, nothing is resolved. The end shot is creepy and ambiguous. Whether or not the person behind Jay and Paul is It is a bit irrelevant. This curse’s terror is as much about unknowns as it is about actually being followed. At least you know where it is when you are actively being. Once it’s passed along, the threat of it returning when you least suspect it is always there. Everyone you see walking towards you, whether you know them or not, is a possible monster. And, of course, you become a monster yourself, passing on not only death, but this horrible fear of the unknown more tangible and threatening than the low buzz of dread humans already harbor about our inevitable ends.


If you’ve enjoyed this post, please show your support by sharing this link. You can also support this blog and help it keep running by contributing to Patreon. Every share and cent is much appreciated!

  • Thank you! I was obsessing over the clam shell reader too. You wrote a really nice piece here – just saw the film last night and I can’t stop thinking about it. Oh, one thing – I’m pretty sure it’s “gauge” not “gage” in the opening of your blog.

    • Thanks! And thanks for spotting that error. You’re lovely,

  • Thanks, and one other thing to ponder: In many parts of Africa where AIDS is mostly spread within the heterosexual population, there WAS (and probably still is) a misguided belief that if you pass it to a virgin she will rid you of the virus.

    • Oh yes, didn’t think of that. That’s a very good point!

  • mercat01

    The clamshell reminded me of a birth control pill case.

    • Kitsi22

      omg you are a genius. way to pick that up.

  • StraightFromAMovie

    Brilliantly summarized. Things that you have noticed were the exact same things that went through my head too. 🙂

    • Dan Davie

      It totally exists! Any smart phone can do that….ok, not with so much style. I’m glad to see so many people were obscessed with it’s out-of-placement with the rest of the time setting. Loved this movie.

  • nicoal

    I, too, badly want the clamshell touchscreen to exist.

  • jimbone

    This movies shoulda been called IT BLOWS!

    • Judging by your comments elsewhere, your opinion is hardly relevant. And i can only wonder which movies rule your universe. Those that require short attention span?

  • Luc Bertrand

    Hi. I watched the film yesterday. I was immediately struck by the death metaphor. I can only read the film in that way. Thanks for pointing that out. LB.

  • Suzanne Reinhardt

    I understand the ending is intentionally vague, but what I would like to know is: what are the characters thinking when they decide having sex is a solution? Eventually the people they pass it on to will get killed then they are right back where they started. What was their reasoning?

    • Brian Miller

      My interpretation is that they’re a monogamous couple now and sharing the burden of avoiding the it. Analogous to any committed couple facing the prospect of the loss of a partner, which is a fear I think most of us have

      • Suzanne

        After I read this blog I found another theory that Paul gave it to a prostitute, who will be continually be giving it to someone new as each of her johns die off. I like that theory. It appeals to my common sense and makes the characters seem more intelligent.

        • Joshua Thirteen

          I never thought about the safety factor of giving it to a prostitute. – especially if he then warned her, so she knows to have sex with another john right away. Someday she will get out of the business or die, but then he could do it again. Morally awful of course

  • heather melia

    having sex didnt seem to rid the person of it i believe jay and paul are now demons strong 2 as 1 and haunting others the boy in the back is not a threat but one of them they are on a mission to spread this thing having sex to rid it is bullshit they tell its to just spread it u never rid it and the first scene is present time where she knew there was no ridding it and didnt want to become it and chose to die then it went back to say 80s where it started boom my take what do u think

  • Kitsi22

    Sorry, I will disagree with you. I can almost guarantee it’s about Sex,,STDs, probably AIDS itself. “Hugh” got it from a chick at a bar, he passed it to Jay, then incapacitated her, he left her rolling around half naked, sobbing in the street. Clearly rape imagery. There is a thing called sex under false pretenses..he lied about who he was to trick her into sex knowing what would happen to her. Greg got screwed to death by his mom.. It’s not just a method of transmission, this movie is very much about sex, sexuality,relationships, STDs, and yes, the inevitability of death.

    • You don’t disagree with me. It IS about sex and relationships as well as death, I perhaps wasn’t very clear in presenting my thoughts. Thanks so much for your comment. It nudged me to correct a typo, and clear up what I was trying to say a bit.

  • I feel the movie also presents a strong contrast between beauty and mortality in the form of the young cast, the scene where Jay applies her makeup in the mirror and the vanity clamshell which contains existential poems, no less.

    It reminds me of a quote I read in a book from some French illustration featuring a woman half alive, half dead:

    “To love beauty is unwise for time destroys it. In this world nothing lasts, everything changes, and the moment we start to live, we start to die.”

  • Vanessak69

    I’m late to this discussion, but I finally caught this last night on Showtime’s free weekend. I immediately wanted to watch it again, because I feel like I missed so much the first time-this movie freaked me out. Not sure why it was so deeply unsettling, I think the soundtrack was at least partly to blame.

    Anyway, I got really fixated on that odd e-reader and immediately noticed that Yara was reading The Idiot on it. What an odd juxtaposition, worthy of Kubrick.

    I really enjoyed your interpretation of the movie. I know people’s opinions have been mixed, but I think it’s a sign of how strong the source material is that people can draw so many interesting interpretations from it.