I usually refrain from discussing my personal theater experience when writing a review. Heck, I usually refrain from using the word “I”. However, for It Follows, a film written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, it seemed an appropriate place to start this discussion. Rarely have I witnessed a more varied and impassioned response from a viewing audience. People not only had strong opinions that they were ready to voice loudly once the credits started rolling, they were also willing to argue about them. In that sense alone, one has to concede that It Follows is a film that elicits emotion. The question is, then, is this emotion a sign of great filmmaking or a cheap grab at nostalgia wrapped in an STD(Sexually Transmitted Death) package?
Firstly, it is important to establish that this film is most likely not a morality play preaching the virtues of abstinence. Those who think it is such a message are missing the point. If It Follows were a purely pro-abstinence message one could argue that it wouldn’t provide more sex as the solution. When sex is both the cause and the solution to a problem the message is obviously more mixed and complicated than a typical “purity ring” manifesto. In truth, putting sex at the forefront of It Follows is a bit like putting the Falcon as the leading theme in “The Maltese Falcon”. Sex here is the MacGuffin. Much like the slasher/stalker films of the 80’s that It Follows is so obviously tributing, sex is a method to put these teenagers in peril.
Secondly, it is debatable that the filmmakers even intended much subtext at all. Considering its visual and thematic nods to the Halloweens and Nightmare on Elm Streets of the world, It Follows could be very well a simple exercise in tribute, one with the modern twist of expanded sexuality. Consider the environment, the pacing, the lumbering monster. All of these are nearly identical to the traditional slasher. The “It” in this film could easily be Jason Voorhees, never quick but always a threat and always in pursuit.
Finally, there is my personal interpretation of the film. Which is obviously the right one since it’s on the internet. I think the film is a tribute to the slasher, and spends much of its time developing that associated dread and tension associated with those classics. Just below that style though, I believe the subtext of the film is one of adulthood and mortality. With sex as a major symbol of a passage to adulthood, the inciting incident of It Follows falls directly into this passage from young-adult to adult. From there it could be argued that what is following is mortality. All attempts to escape it are futile, our ever progressing lives and the lumbering shape of mortality follow us until the very end.
Consider then, the final shot of the film. While it is filmed with cinematic ambiguity the reality of the inevitable conclusion is there. Wether they are being followed at the moment or not, they both have reconciled with it. Instead of running from it, or trying to defeat it, they take each others hands and begin to live their life. Much like we all must do.