I usually don’t watch horror movies, but last night my boyfriend convinced me to watch the 2014 horror/thriller, It Follows. As the opening scene began to play, I was already focused on the young women running in her fancy, red, high heels and contrasting tank top and shorts. After that, I began to focus on the intertwining themes of female sexuality and loss of innocence. Eventually, those two themes came together as I realized the real center of the film: sexual assault.
In almost every scene, I found myself looking for symbolic images of youth and sexuality. The scene that stands out the most to me is the close up of the protagonists hand on flowers. She goes from discussing a childhood story while gently stroking the flowers to being forced unconscious in her underwear by a male as her limp hand falls over the plant. Those two images of contrast stuck in my mind the entire film.
Loss of innocence is often equated to becoming an adult, and in this film, that loss of innocence is solidified by the act of having sex. Therefore, having sex=adulthood. The ever-present fear of being followed after having sex is comparable to a rape victim recounting her assault or seeing her attackers face again.
The mixing of innocent images with incredibly sexual ones is an odd combination. The camera goes from a close up of ice-cream with sprinkles on it, an image that is very light and reminds us of childhood, to the protagonist stirring said ice-cream without eating much, reliving horrific events to her friends. In my mind, this represents the shame a girl can feel after hearing so much about how great sex is, and then losing her virginity, and realizing the true weight that experience can bring when it is not what was imagined.
Additionally, her friends don’t originally believe her horrific story of what happened to her, and that something is indeed following her, which is like a rape victim recounting her trauma and having her friend belittle that experience. Her friends don’t believe her, but she still sees what happened to her every day and has to relive her “attacker”. Although there isn’t any literal rape seen on screen, the entire film could be viewed as a metaphor for rape victims.
It Follows is a film that on the surface, seems to present itself as a warning for sexually transmitted diseases. While this is definitely symbolic in the film, I believe it goes much deeper than that. It commentates on the intense sexual pressure that is put on girls at a young age, sexualizing them from the time they are little kids. Once in high school, and in college, young women are targets for sexual predators. After sexual assaults, that assault constantly follows them and they cannot get away. In the film, the protagonists “boyfriend” lies to get her to sleep with him, and then leaves after. The creature then begins to follow her around, and no matter how hard she tries to get away, she can’t. Even after the kids believe the creature is gone, they don’t understand why the main girl will not come out of her room and act okay again, representing the PTSD rape victims often feel the rest of their lives.
It Follows may look like a simple scary film on the surface, but it is much more than that. The message the film illustrates is not one to be taken lightly, and engages with material society needs to understand now more than ever.