It Follows and The Power of Sex

The curse is exchanged in It Follows (2015).

Sex is not a stranger to the horror genre. In fact, most horror flicks contain at least one sexual encounter that ultimately leads to the lovers’ demise. It Follows takes this concept to the next level, using sex as a law in which a curse must abide by.

Jay Height (Maika Monroe), a 19-year-old girl, begins dating a charming fellow named Hugh (Jake Weary). After a few dates, the two decide to really get to know one another in the backseat of Hugh’s car. The night takes an unexpected turn when Jay awakens to find herself strapped down in a wheelchair. Through their recent copulation, Jay has inherited something worse than an STD: a sexually transmitted haunting in which an unknown entity follows it’s victim with the intent of murder. Not only does this creature chase it’s mark at an incredibly slow pace (comparable to that of a child consuming undesirable vegetables), but it also has the ability to change it’s appearance to “whatever helps it get close to you.” It will tail Jay until it kills her, or she can transfer the curse onto someone else. The creature will make it’s way down the line of carriers, killing them one by one.

A girl and her boyfriend are stalked by someone lurking in the shadows.
A couple is stalked by someone lurking in the shadows in John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978).

It Follows does not condone nor condemn sex as other horror films do. Take Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th for example: in the very first scene two camp counselors escape to the barn for some late night loving, only to be stabbed by an “unknown prowler” (later identified as Mrs. Voorhees, Jason’s mother). Two more counselors are slaughtered subsequent to intimacy, and another girl is shot with an arrow before she can attend her sexual rendezvous. John Carpenter’s Halloween also begins with the murder of two young lovers, which is only the beginning of a long line of lustful deaths. These films, along with countless others, reinforce the unwritten rule that casual sex leads to death.

In Scream, Wes Craven frequently confronts the horror film formula. The character of Randy (Jamie Kennedy) plays a crucial role in verbalizing these clichés:

There are certain RULES that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie. For instance, number one: you can never have sex. BIG NO NO! BIG NO NO! Sex equals death, okay?

Ghostface chases Sidney in Scream (1996)
Ghostface chases his victim in Scream (1996).

Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), the film’s heroine, does not heed her friend’s advice. Billy (Skeet Ulrich), Sidney’s beau, convinces her to sleep with him at a party hosted by Stu (Matthew Lillard). Shortly after, Sidney discovers that Stu and Bill have conspired with one another to become “Ghostface.” As if losing her v-card to a serial killer wasn’t enough, Sidney learns that Billy was the one behind her mother’s brutal murder last year. Sidney must now fight for her life as Stu threatens her with a gun, reminding her that “you’re no longer a virgin […] Now you gotta die. Those are the rules.”

Why are those that are sexually active killed off while virgins are allowed to live? In Halloween, Michael Myers easily assassinates teen lovers, however he was unsuccessful in his attempts to kill the virginal Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). The promiscuous are punished for their impurity, while the virtuous “final girl” is rewarded for her integrity.

Merriam-Webster defines the term “virgin” as: “a person who has never had sexual intercourse; a person who is naive, innocent, or inexperienced; untouched; unspoiled; immaculate; pristine; flawless.” How is this related to one’s ability to flee from a sociopath with a knife? According to films like Halloween, Friday the 13th, Jennifer’s Body, and many more, sex impedes one’s ability to make intelligent decisions.

For some reason, a person’s sexual virginity (particularly in regard to females) has been thought to have a direct correlation to one’s intuition and discernment– as if the decision to have sex could not possibly have been thought out thoroughly. In horror movies (and traditionally as a culture), it is assumed that a person’s judgement is poor because he or she decided to fornicate.

Since ancient times, virginity has been linked to the state of one’s eternal soul. The Aztec’s sacrificed their virgins for rain, a successful harvest, triumph in battle, and healthy lives. Why was a virgin necessary for such rituals? She represents child-like innocence with little exposure to “real life;” a virgin portrays something good that has yet to be “tainted” by the world.

Society as a whole has progressively become more tolerant of sex. New generations are moving away from traditional views; opinions are becoming more diverse in regards to sex and many other “taboo” topics. Sex in the horror genre has been portrayed as a vile sin, punishable by death, for many years. It Follows sheds a new light on the use of sex in modern storytelling.

David Robert Mitchell, writer and director of It Follows, uses sex as a weapon, self-defense, and release. The act of sex can rid the current holder of the curse, freeing him or her (at least for a period of time) from “it.” The creature cannot be killed, despite Jay and her friends’ many attempts. The only defense anyone has against it is through sexual transfer. Greg (Daniel Zovatto), believing that he can take on the creature himself, jumps at the opportunity to sleep with Jay. After Greg contracts the curse, the monster uses it’s one and only weapon to kill him: sex. The creature drains Greg’s life-force through sexual intercourse. Following Greg’s death, Jay is once again stalked by the demon entity. Paul (Keir Gilchrist), a childhood friend, convinces Jay to let him take on the curse. Immediately after intercourse, Paul has relations with a prostitute. Since the woman’s job is to have sex, she will (ideally) spread the curse to someone else and keep it far away from both Jay and Paul– freeing them from the immediate danger.

The creature pursues Jay down the halls of her school.
The creature of It Follows (2015) pursues Jay.

Typical horror films execute hormonal teenagers during or directly after fornication. It Follows takes the theme of sex to a whole new level. Instead of denouncing sex, Mitchell shows just how much power it has: sex caused Jay to become accursed by a deadly entity, but it also freed her from the hellish life she had come to know. Sex can create life and liberate us, or it can hold us hostage and ruin us. Whether one wants to admit it or not, sex is a completely necessary and fundamental part of life. It all begins and ends with sex.

Works Cited

Mitchell, David Robert, dir. It Follows. 2014. RADiUS-TWC, 2015. Film.

Cunningham, Sean S., dir. Friday the 13th. 1980. Paramount Pictures, 1980. DVD.

Carpenter, John, dir. Halloween. 1978. Compass International Pictures, 1978. DVD.

Craven, Wes, dir. Scream. 1996. Dimension Films, 1996. DVD.

Kusama, Karyn, dir. Jennifer’s Body. 2009. Twentieth Centure Fox, 2009. DVD.

Rosenblatt, Nina. “Visual and Other Pleasures Laura Mulvey.” Film Quarterly 43.4 (1990): 59-60. Web.

Kousakis, Anastasia. “Why Is America So Obsessed with Virginity?” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 8 May 2009. Web. 19 May 2015.

Ashliman, D.L. “Human Sacrifice in Legends and Myths.” Human Sacrifice in Legends and Myths. University of Pittsburgh, 28 Oct. 2013. Web. 19 May 2015.

Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 19 May 2015.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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A student of film, communication, and literature. When I am not studying, I enjoy long walks across dim parking lots and rescuing retired dictionaries from public libraries.

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45 Comments

  1. Venus Echos

    Thank you for the article on this film I will have to watch it; it seems to have an interesting story line.

  2. Great film, I hope to see more from the writer/director.

  3. Clarissa Redding
    0

    I love horror movies, I give even the worst ones a try and often cant get through the first 30 minutes because of bad dialogue and the over fantasticalistic acting that often is the true horror of the movie. I actually expected that from this movie and didn’t want to pay very much attention to it due to my clash of clans fixation but this film took me off my phone from the start and it held me to the finish.

  4. It was a complete bore fest, lacking any scares or script cohesiveness, sprinkled heavily with horrible acting, low budget sets…

  5. The entire movie has an 80’s feel to it, in the good way. Love!

  6. It Follows: interesting and original story line with a whiff of the 80s (at least that is how it appeared to me). I like how you connected sex and murder in horror films. Great examples.

  7. Aaron Hatch

    I was not familiar with the film before I read your analysis, but now I really want to see it. There are so many bad horror movie out in Hollywood these days, it is good to see a horror with that does it right. Awesome article!

  8. Ryan Errington

    In someway related to the theme of sex in horror films, this article reminds me of my thoughts on I Spit on Your Grave. There has always been a heated debate as to if Jennifer is used as a sexual object to reflect her rapists’ desires as acceptable. Wherever sex is being exploited or condemned as a factor for misogynists.

  9. Joseph Manduke IV

    One of the most original and frightening horror films in recent years. Yes indeed, sex is a fundemental aspect of basic fears. Excellent topic!

  10. Never noticed that connection between sex and death in horror films until now!

  11. I like how different and original it is.

  12. Spooky film that relies too much on its soundtrack but makes ya fink.

  13. If you want to see an original horror movie that wasn’t done before, here it is.

  14. Mohammed
    0

    It Follows is a brilliant movie.

  15. For some reason, none of the teen’s parents were ever around through the whole movie.

    • Nicole Wethington

      Isn’t that interesting? Not one parent was spotted (except for when the creature took on the likeness of Greg’s mother– but that doesn’t really count).

  16. The ending is very disappointing.

  17. Cleor Haas
    0

    Great movie! The atmosphere was on point!

  18. I think it’s the best horror movie of the year so far or better saying well it’s my favourite movie of year.

  19. Have you seen The Cabin in the Woods, in which the Virgin and the Whore are literally archetypes used as part of the sacrifice to the Old Ones, and the Virgin is the only one of the five archetypes allowed to survive (whereas the Whore must die first)?

  20. Looks like an interesting movie not too scary but fun to watch

  21. I love horror films. I haven’t gotten the chance to see this one but I would highly recommend Cabin in the Woods. I think you would find it very interesting on how it reflects the classic horror genre while adding interesting twists to the mix.

    • Nicole Wethington

      I have seen Cabin in the Woods! However I forgot about it when I was writing my article. It would have been an interesting addition! Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard put an interesting spin on the horror film. One element I particularly enjoyed was the use of pheromones to manipulate the characters.

  22. Interesting article, I look forward to watching It Follows tonight. I was reading an essay in Stephen Princes book titled the Horror film, he suggest one motive for the glorification of virginity in Horror is as a means to assert traditional values in a society that has slowly been changing to a more proggressive view of sex. For him gender and the push for gender equality in the states at least, has left some directors to feel the need to assert their traditional views of sex, and women.

  23. Andie

    I had heard about this film before, but this has given me more motivation to watch it. I’ll definitely keep my eyes peeled for it.

  24. Absolutely adored this film; one of the strangest, most creative, and engaging horror films I’ve ever seen. Love the analysis!

    • Cadeem Lalor

      What I loved about It Follows, in addition to the concept, was that the director still managed to make the monster terrifying even though it only walks.

      • Completely agree – very evocative of Carpenter’s work from the 1970s (Halloween, specifically).

  25. Watched this movie over the weekend and absolutely loved it. Although the soundtrack was a little weak I loved the plot and cinematography.

  26. Nicole Williams

    I haven’t seen the movie, but I think that your analysis of sex as a motif in horror movies is interesting. I wonder if horror movie writers/directors really do consider the power that sex has when they write it into their films, or if sex really is a fundamental part of horror films simply because “sex sells.” I suppose this depends on the film. I’m interested in watching this movie to see if I agree with you (and because I love horror movies).

  27. Great film and great analysis. I had another idea about the manner in which Jay finally rids herself of the curse, but I’m pretty sure yours is more accurate. Good stuff!

  28. While it’s an interesting film that looks at the sex and how it empowers and disempowers characters in film, I find that It Follows sorely lacks any sexual reality. Apart from a lackluster scene near the beginning and an uncomfortably Oedipal interlude in the middle, It Follows lost its nerve when portraying actual intercourse. I can only attribute this to the Puritanical values of American filmmaking and the ratings system to which it is beholden.

    For instance, in France this film would have had twenty minutes of uncomfortable and explicit sex. The voyeuristic feeling which It Follows successfully procures would have come full-circle. Perhaps a director like Abdellatif Kechiche, who was able to make every sex scene in Blue is the Warmest Colour feel like there was a third and unwelcome participant, would be perfect for a European remake.

    I also think this article misses the major theme of abuse in this film, which would be another reason why the curse is disturbingly persistent for Jaye. She can’t get rid of it because to some extent, she still feeds it by continuing the cycle.

  29. Obviously, sex is going to be associated with some form of ultimate punishment. This is not to justify shaming by any means, but to contextualize it. The “whore” archetype is part of a biblical tradition, and its no surprise that film takes a reflectionist approach – especially when discussing sex.

    In this sense, It Follows is such an interesting film because of its reflectionist approach to not conform to typical horror paradigms. The sexually transmitted killing ghost is almost comical, appearing during the day and taking on family member’s faces.

  30. I enjoyed the read and the passion you gave towards your topic. Very well presented

  31. YsabelGo

    Well if horror movies are supposed to generate fear, then It Follows uses unprotected sex as a punishment. (I haven’t watched the movie, but I’m assuming it’s unprotected by how the curse is transferred.)

    After all, nothing is scarier than unexpected pregnancy than a curse!

  32. Only the indie-horror gets it right.

  33. Very interesting article. I enjoy watch horror films, but I hadn’t really realized how often sex was the cause of death. I liked how It Follows showed sex as more than just societies greatest taboo. Not only did it move away from a classic horror film cliche, but I think it also did a good job in representing the insecurities and fears that can be associated with one’s first sexual encounter with someone.

  34. *Minor spoilers*
    To some extent, I was totally in awe with the way the film was done and loved the representation of the flower crumbling when she had sex with Hugh. On the other hand, however, I didn’t feel like the horror stuck as hard as the message did and while that says something for this genre, horror fans are out to see horror for HORROR. That ending in the pool was also kind of anticlimactic. There were a lot of different directions this concept could have gone for but I’m satisfied overall with the final product.

  35. The film didn’t quite live up to the hype for me, though the cinematography and soundtrack offered some compelling moments. The fixation on “sex” here neglects, however, how much the film negotiates the disappointment of adulthood for these young people. Our main protagonist isn’t a virgin when events start out, as we later discover in conversation with another character, so it’s not the virgin threshold at stake: it’s something deeper, something found in the delightful readings from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, as we as our protagonist’s dialogue about the failed promise of “freedom” in adulthood. This film may overtly use sex as its plot device, but the monster is a far more existential demon.

  36. SiuFlemming
    0

    What a movie, I loved everything about this movie ,

  37. I mostly agree with this, although it’s interesting when looking at the context of sex as a metaphor through the modern horror lens. John Carpenter has publicly stated that for the first Halloween movie, the notion of sexual activity as a catalyst for murder was never a theme he had consciously employed; it just so happened that those characters who had engaged in the act were also killed.

    Similarly, Victor Miller and Cunningham, (writers for the first Friday The 13th film,) were told by studio heads that they wanted a successful copy of Halloween, and in trying to capture those tropes, made sex the launching point for the murders in that movie. In effect, they created a horror trope where one hadn’t even intentionally existed in Halloween.

    Of course, that’s not entirely relevant overall, but it’s interesting to note when looking at modern horror. It Follows definitely tackles this theme, though I’d be hard-pressed to say that I think sex is used solely as a defense mechanism within the film. A valid argument, (and one which has been made already, I think,) is simply that if Jay’s character had never had intercourse in the first place, she would have never been cursed. Nor does it glorify the act; by the end these characters are looking at the act as a release, but little more. Though it’s only alluded to, there is a scene in which Jay is swimming towards a boat filled with a group of random teens, presumably to fornicate with them. (We’re never privy to these details as the viewer.)

    Ultimately, I look at It Follows as more of a metaphor for growing up in general. It’s true that for many teens, sexual intercourse marks that passage into adulthood, (as far as they’re concerned,) so it would naturally become a focal point. On the other hand, it’s interesting that within the context of the film there is a complete lack of parental supervision, and more so any real adult characters. There are only a handful of lines delivered by adult characters in the film, and these are regulated to the very opening of the film, a small scene where Jay is in school, (her professor or teacher is reciting lines from some text,) and once where we see her neighbour Greg talking briefly to his mother.

    Overall, I don’t think the film particularly glamourizes sex so much as it simply uses it as a catalyst for the rest of the film. At no point do we actually see any of the characters ‘enjoy’ the act, and more often than not are simply using it as a vehicle for their own release. It’s a means to an end, and much like adulthood, rarely satisfies for long when used this way.

  38. I enjoyed It Follows but sensed minsogynst undertones throughout the film within the main character’s reluctance to transfer the curse to someone else. It seemed to me that she almost felt deserving. There wasn’t a sense of freedom in her actions. The male characters were the only ones willing to save themselves from “it”. While she wasn’t virginal, it seemed to me that she was still a part of the innocence archetype. An almost damsel in distress. It would have been interesting to see how she might have taken matters of saving her life into her own hands without the help of her childhood friend’s white horse.

  39. We should also consider the type of sex that poses a danger to the teenagers in “It Follows,” namely teenage promiscuity. If the monster is meant to personify or serve as a metaphor for a sexually transmitted disease, shouldn’t this also be taken into account?

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