I recently had the opportunity to see David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, and thoughts have been circling at the back of my mind since then about what I thought of the film. The truth is that I’m conflicted. I loved the aesthetic of the film, which was a kick back to the amazing horror films of the 1980s. The score was great, and the cinematography was pretty fabulous. But where I’m stuck is in the sexual politics of it. I’ve been reading about this film for months and have been waiting for it to come out. People keep touting is progressive sexual critique and ideology—or at least that’s how I read a lot of the reviews. That’s just not the film as I saw it. Now I’m not going to argue that it’s regressive sexual politics either. It’s just that I’m quite conflicted about how I feel about the film.
Here’s the premise: a college student, Jay Height (played by Maika Monroe) decides to have sex with a guy she’s been dating, Hugh (Jake Weary). He infects her with the disease that means she will be stalked and gruesomely murdered by some shape-shifting thing that no one else can see. Well unless she passes it on to someone else and that person passes it on and so on.
A part of this film is a progressive critique of normative ideas about sexuality, especially female sexuality. Jay’s friends do not engage in slut shaming or victim blaming about her sexual encounter with Hugh. Sexual relationships are portrayed as normal aspects of dating and adulthood. Jay openly discusses having had sex previously. It is this openness to sexual activity that has Ms. Magazine blogger, Natalie Wilson, writing that it is a “Horror Film that Doesn’t Blame the Victim for Having Sex.”
Here’s my issue though it’s the film’s insistence (and some blogger/reviewers, such as Wilson) that the sex in the film is all consensual. After Hugh and Jay have their seemingly consensual sex in the backseat of his car in an abandoned factory parking lot, Hugh knocks her out with a rag over her face. She wakes up tied to a wheelchair, while he explains the “disease” of the “it” that will follow her and kill her. Finally he drops her off in the street outside of her home with her hands still bound and in only her undergarments. When she’s being interviewed by a police officer, he asks, “it was consensual” (meaning the sex). To which, Jaye answers yes it was consensual. But I have a major problem with this definition (portrayal) of consent here. Jay does not consent to having a disease passed on to her. One that Hugh knows he’s infected with and one he knowingly passes on to her. Her only recourse is to have sex with someone else and pass it on. In this manner, she is coerced into sex with other individual(s). It’s here that these sexual politics becomes a bit regressive around women’s sexuality and issues of consent.
While this film had a lot of things going right with it, I can’t ignore the issues of consent playing out within the narrative. I think it’s worth watching. It would be great to have some conversations about the film specifically but also the issues of sexuality and consent.
So many more thoughts in my head about this film.
Here are some of the reviews about this film: Thompson on Hollywood, interview in Filmmaker Magazine, Meredith Woerner’s “How It Follows Uses Dread and Beauty,” and Jessica Kiang’s Cannes Review.