It Follows opens with a slow 360 degree shot that follows a young girl named Annie (Bailey Spry) running from her house onto a street, confused and terrified, and then back into her house to get a set of car keys before she drives away. As morning rises, the girl will be dead, her body mangled and torn to pieces by the thing chasing her. At first glance, this shot may mean nothing to the viewer, but this circular movement of the camera – beginning and ending the shot in the same place – is in fact a reflection of the entire journey we take with the film. We start in one place and after a sequence of events we will still end up in the exact same spot as confused and as terrified as we started. This single shot is reminiscent of the etymological term “vicious circle,” which American Heritage defines as a “situation in which the apparent solution to one problem creates a second problem that makes it harder to solve the original problem.” Such is It Follows, a brilliant cat and mouse nightmare mixed in with a coming of age story.
It would be too easy to analyze It Follows simply as an allegory for a sexually transmitted infection despite that there are parallels to argue that case. Mitchell seems far more concerned with telling a story about the anxieties of maturing into adulthood. Nothing is certain and everything is scary. Parents are almost entirely absent from the film, and when they are present, they’re either regulated to the background or out of focus. This shows that Jay and her friends – Paul, Yara (Olivia Luccardi), and sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) – no longer have that safety net of being able to run to their parents for help. They have to deal with the difficulties of growing up alone, which is made all the more threatening when you feel lost and hopeless.
Permeated throughout the film is this sense of longing to be young again. This is exemplified in a scene where Hugh reminisces about being a child again. “How cool would that be to have your whole life ahead of you?” he reflects. You can also see this in how Mitchell frames the teens, frequently bored or next to their security blankets. For Yara, as an example, that’s a seashell e-reader. For Greg, that’s his car. There’s also a timelessness to the film. The synthesized musical score is reminiscent of the 80s while the cars are 70s muscle cars. Yara’s e-reader is a distinct 21st century invention. This allows the audience to see the story set in Anywhere or Anytime or the teens as Anybody.
The film’s central character is 17-year old Jay (Maika Monroe), who is anxiously awaiting her date with Hugh (Jake Weary). Lying in her swimming pool in a thin bikini, Mitchell establishes Jay as an object of sexual desire. Her two preteen neighbours, both boys, spy on her through the bushes. And as the story progresses, it becomes apparent that her two male friends, Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Greg (Daniel Zovatto), both have crushes on her too. While she is this film’s symbolic personification of the “final girl,” the film is unconcerned about preserving her virginity, since it’s revealed early on that she plans to lose it to Hugh pretty soon. Jay perceives sex as this monumental ideal. Once she has sex with Hugh, she gives a very empowering speech that, in her own idealistic world, signifies a sense of freeing, maturing into a woman, and finding a real connection to someone. However, this perception is quickly changed when she’s rendered unconscious only to wake up and realize that Hugh has passed on a kind of spiritual haunting. There is now a demon able to take the form of anyone who is after her. While it walks like it’s in a daze, it will not stop until it kills Jay or Jay sleeps with someone else, hereby passing the haunting on to someone else like a homing beacon.
This demon can take the form of anyone, although it’s possible that the entity is learning about Jay’s life since it frequently takes the form of people she knows. The other forms could very well be people who have already been killed by “It,” as they are dressed in white overalls that could signify they were caught off guard or, like Annie, had simply given up trying to get away.
Common in most horror film is the idea that abstaining from sex is a sure fire way that the final girl will survive like Laurie Strode or Nancy Thompson. But for Jay, sex is crucial in warding off the demon. In other words, it’s a form of survival. Mitchell doesn’t offer a positive or negative opinion of sex. But he shows the difference between meaningful sex, which is how Jay felt with Hugh, and disconnected sex, which is Jay having to use other men to ward off her attacker. The openness of the world around Jay is also reflected in the frequently long tracking shots of the characters as they interact with what is around them. It gives the audience a visual understanding not only of the overwhelming sense of their surroundings but also of “It” that seems to always be walking towards them. It’s presence is often foreshadowed with the colour red, a colour that often symbolizes energy, passion and love, but is also the colour of blood. Hugh is wearing a red shirt the night he has sex with Jay. Jay’s clothing becomes different shades of red from the cream whites she wears at the beginning of the film. Red objects are also scattered throughout the frames when “It” is coming.
The demon then is less a metaphor for an STI than it is the presence of death, slowly lurking towards them at every turn. The film concludes with a quote from The Idiot: “One is tormented by the wounds until the moment of death. And the most terrible agony may not be in the wounds themselves but in knowing for certain that within an hour, within ten minutes, within half a minute, now this very instant your soul will leave your body and you will no longer be a person. And that this is certain.”
As Jay, Maika Monroe gives an incredibly layered performance. So much of what her character is thinking in terms of her next move or how she has to cope with her own survival is communicated by a single look or glare. She goes from embracing her hopeful youth to feeling completely hopeless, and the transition is steady and unforgiving. Her friends also do not embody the personas of typical horror movie teenagers. When Jay tells them what is going on, they stand by her as opposed to laughing it off with rational thought only to be killed individually later on. This makes the film believable and while not every decision the teens make is the best one, their decisions come out of the way they interpret the world, not because the plot requires them to be stupid.
As the film slowly unravels, scenes become more unnerving and quite terrifying. Jay not only has to be able to spot this demon approaching, which is next to impossible since it can look like anyone, she has to give herself enough time to outrun it. Even if she has sex with multiple partners, she has to be on the lookout in case these partners all fall victim to the demon’s attacks. Thus, Jay is never fully free from this demon. Jay soon learns the only certain thing, like Annie encountered in the film’s beginning, is that she will eventually be caught, or she will give up trying to outrun it. This is the kind of fear that It Follows utilizes as a horror film. It isn’t concerned with loud jump scares or stylish looking monsters. It is about teens slowly coming out of the worlds of their own making and into the real one. It is about the confusion, the joy, and the anxieties that never go away as you get older. Thus, they are stuck in the vicious circle of life where the solution to one problem often leads to the creation of another one. And with the inevitable threat of death looming over them, they often end up in the same place that they started, confused and terrified, as the first shot of the film so eloquently conveyed.