Abuse victim's post traumatic horror

It Follows (MA). Director: David Robert Mitchell. Starring: Maika Monroe, Lile Sepe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary. 100 minutes

The best horror films can play on the viewer's deepest fears and existential anxieties while also providing robust commentary on the politics of the day or on the human condition. Think of George A. Romero's seminal Dead films, each of which is a richly allegorical treatise on the foibles of human society that also happens to feature zombies. It Follows, up-and-coming arthouse filmmaker David Robert Mitchell's first incursion into the horror genre, owes an aesthetic and thematic debt to Romero.

It takes place on the suburban fringes of Detroit, a region that Mitchell and his cinematographer Mike Gioulakis have captured in a state of silent decay in the wake of the city's near economic ruin. Much of the film's suspense and sense of mute dread seems to emanate directly from this wasteland of emptiness and alienation. Adults are all but notionally absent from the film, and Gioulakis' wide angles make the neighbourhood seem like row upon row of haunted houses.

Against this backdrop the film focuses on the lives of five teenagers — Jay (Monroe), her sister Kelly (Sepe), their friends Yara (Luccardi) and Paul (Gilchrist), and their neighbour Greg (Zovatto) — and their tussle with an unnamed evil that stalks this suburban wasteland. On the surface this sounds like a well-trodden slasher-film premise, but while the film does offer more than its fair share of suspense and low-gore scares, there is plenty going on underneath the skin.

Jay has recently begun dating Hugh (Weary); after her first sexual encounter with him, he drugs and binds her, and tells her he has passed a deadly curse on to her. 'It', he says — the aforementioned, unnamed evil force — will follow and kill her, unless in the meantime she has sex with someone else, and thus passes the curse on to them. The film follows Jay's emotional and psychological deterioration as with increasing desperation she attempts to evade 'it'.

The film has been described as a parable about STDs, or even as a cautionary tale about the dangers of casual sex. But the premise of a 'curse spread through sexual intercourse' supports this reading on only the most literal level. There are more layers to the film's subtext than this; the film's equation of sex with death is pointedly a subversion of slasher movie tropes that date back to the 1980s, where death at the hands of a serial killer was often the price of vice.

It would perhaps be more apt to consider It Follows as an allegory for the emotional and psychological trauma caused by sexual assault, particularly of women by men. The manner in which Hugh drugs and binds Jay does have strong overtones of 'date rape'. More than this, though, there is inherent violence in his having had sex with her at all, knowing that her consent hinged on her ignorance of the real consequences. There are strong indications this was not the first time Hugh had attempted this strategy.

Now, to be fair, there are men in the film who suffer, too. But the objectification of women by the male gaze and the predatory dynamic this entails is too pervasive to ignore in Mitchell's fictional world as much as it is in our real world. Early in the film, before 'it' has even shown up, two young boys spy on Jay while she is enjoying what should be a private moment in her swimming pool. The incident is played for laughs, but establishes an increasingly ominous motif.

Even during the most fraught circumstances, the film's male characters seem at least partly guided by their dicks: distracted by porn, and exchanging territorial glares over — or simply leering at — women's bodies. This theme is established so subtly and viscerally that, by the time two characters (one of whom has been harbouring an unrequited attraction for Jay for some time) offer to sleep with Jay in order to free her of the curse, the line between good intentions and exploitation has become irrevocably blurred.

This is but one possible reading of the film. In truth It Follows thrums with layers and ambiguities within what Mitchell describes as its 'dream logic' — this could be the Donnie Darko of this decade. Also, with a pervasive sense of existential dread: various characters are heard to quote Elliot's 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' and Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, portentous words that reflect the characters' awakening sense of their own mortality. In short the film is as thematically robust as it is an effective genre piece.


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is assistant editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: It Follows, David Robert Mitchell, Maika Monroe, Lile Sepe, Keir Gilchrist, Jake Weary, George A. Romero

 

 

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