My usual Friday night werewolvery was canceled in May, so I stayed in one night to make myself a super fancy dinner and watch a horror movie on Netflix.
“It Follows” was…okay. The monster was a disturbing symbol of shame, sexual and body shame in particular, which has very little power over me, so I didn’t get as much voltage out of the premise as some people do. It has its moments. It’s a more honest and meaningful comment on how you get hurt through sexual contact than the usual slasher nonsense–I’ll certainly give it that.
I did enjoy all the forms the curse took, particularly in the rare cases that it took on the form of someone familiar to the victim. (You definitely don’t want “Geez Mom, cover your boob” to be your last words. I’m just sayin’.)
I think the thing that struck me most was that the film actually visits the idea of fully informed consent and the difference between a) partners who manipulate you and betray your trust, for whom sex is a means of escape or transference b) partners who like you well enough as a friend, and are happy enough to have NSA sex with you, but don’t really take you seriously c) partners and friends who listen, who are deeply invested in your well being, who believe you completely when you report a consent violation, and who are willing to help you help yourself when you need it. The protagonist’s support network and how they tried to help throughout the film was very interesting.
But yes. The film is very negative in some ways. Not about sex per se, but about being vulnerable with people you don’t know well enough to have vetted properly. A lot of sexual assault survivors would probably find the first act of that film upsetting. Especially if the assault they suffered was a date rape.
I would agree that any movie in which the impulse to have sex for pleasure leads to death is fundamentally sex negative. But I’ll admit that I was personally more comfortable with a horror movie which seems to be more about trauma, shame, or STI’s than about teenagers being ripped apart by some Embodiment of Patriarchal Morality.
I’m going to discuss some later details of the film in the rest of this post. I’ll assume that you’ve already seen the film or that you have no intention of seeing it in its entirety if you read past this point.
For me, horror movies are very much about sitting with intense and sometimes uncomfortable emotions in a limited dose, in a setting I can control. I’m in favor of saying “no” at any point during the experience. This film made me uncomfortable, for a number of reasons. Not so uncomfortable that I had to tap out, but still uncomfortable.
There is a lot of sexism in the sex scenes, and a lot of patriarchal and heteronormative concepts of how “sex” is defined and when “sex” has been accomplished between two people. That’s always uncomfortable stuff. I was raised with some of these prejudices, and they do get deeply internalized.
It’s also not a very flattering portrait of young male sexuality, for certain. Again, that’s uncomfortable. Trust, tenderness and empathy for men and male sexuality is in short supply, in my culture.
I would also add that all the different forms the monster takes, including the occasional form which has an extremely taboo connotation or a fetishistic overtone, were also sometimes super uncomfortable.
That being said, I am also interested in the things that are portrayed as “positives” in horror movies. In this case, a supportive group of female friends. And a male friend who is able to subordinate his sexual agenda to the protagonist’s trauma and swing a chair or fire a gun at an enemy he cannot see.
The most positive male character in the film has not experienced the monster at the same level that the protagonist has, but he can see its effects on her and he takes that leap of faith. He thinks and acts as if her story is absolutely true, the monster is real, and proceeds on that assumption.
I think that symbolism had some value.
There is a lot of stuff to unpack with this movie, and more than one way to look at it. I’ve included a couple of links to well-written essays. One is simply about how women are disbelieved and made unsafe in horror films. The other is about “It Follows” as a metaphor for the hyper-vigilance that survivors of sexual assault experience as a symptom of their PTSD.