It Follows paints a disturbing picture of teens’ initiation into sexuality. Suburban teen Jay learns that her date Hugh has passed on a curse to her through sex. We explain the ending of It Follows and discuss how the movie updates slashers like Halloween to dramatize the anxieties of contemporary teen sex and the fear of STDs. Sex in this film is not loving or fun — it’s a trauma one person inflicts on another, a way of passing on a burden.
Transcript provided by Youtube:
[Do you feel any different?]
It Follows gives a chilling physical body to a threat that can’t be seen — by most
David Robert Mitchell’s film dramatizes the fear of STDs by creating a visual metaphor
for the risk of being infected or tainted by a sexual encounter.
Suburban teen Jay learns that her date Hugh has passed on a curse to her through sex.
She’s stalked by a shapeshifting supernatural force that’s only visible to those infected.
It moves at a slow walking pace but is determined to single her out and kill her.
[Somebody gave it to me, and I passed it to you back in the car.
It can look like someone you know or it could be a stranger in a crowd.]
And the only way to save herself is to sleep with someone else and pass the curse to them.
It Follows paints a disturbing picture of teens’ sexuality.
Sex in this film is not loving or fun — it’s a trauma that one person inflicts on another,
a way of passing on a burden.
Young people look forward to dating as a glamorous and exciting entry into the club of adulthood,
but the actual experience of sex yields doesn’t yield tenderness or pleasure, but terror and
We’ve long had horror movies about the anxieties of teen sex and the backlash against experimentation,
but It Follows reflects how contemporary teens face new versions of the same old challenges.
Modern teens may be casual and blasé about having sex, but that doesn’t mean they’re
necessarily prepared for the actual consequences of becoming sexually active.
They face very tangible dangers in the proliferation of STDs, as well as less tangibles ones in
the form of emotional isolation and disillusionment.
It Follows illustrates that becoming an adult has little to do with losing one’s virginity;
it’s about learning how make honest, consensual, responsible connections with others.
Literalizing an STD as a monster viscerally captures how terrifying it can feel to be
pursued by an infection others can’t see.
The fact that it’s invisible to others creates an awful loneliness, and the film shows us
how having an STD can make a person feel totally isolated and singled out.
Even though the curse moves at a walking pace, it’s inescapable — we can’t outrun it
because it never tops slowly but inevitably coming for us.
This could symbolize how a disease slowly grows in the body, becoming something real
long before anyone can see symptoms.
We see in the film’s very last shot that Jay must learn to live with uncertainty.
She’s never going to be sure if the person walking behind her is a threat or not, in
the same way that an STD could remain dormant for years, even forever, or could flare up
out of nowhere.
The film captures the moral and emotional dilemmas of navigating new sexual partners
while carrying an STD.
Hugh deceives Jay — he doesn’t tell her about the monster until after he’s given
it to her — and we learn that a woman passed it on to him in the same dishonest way.
I wasn’t trying to hurt you, OK?
Someone did this to me too, OK?]
[Who did it to you?]
[I met a girl at a bar.
It was a one night stand.
I don’t even remember her name.
I think that’s where it came from.]
It’s significant that Jay chooses not deceive someone like Hugh deceived her.
And she earns our respect with this choice.
She passes the curse twice in the film, but both times with her partners’ knowledge and
consent, just as many would agree that it’s the right thing to tell any potential sexual
partner if you have an STD.
Jay even comes to feel that passing the curse to Greg was wrong, however willing he was,
because he didn’t believe in the curse so he didn’t truly understand the risk.
[You really haven’t seen anything?]
[She didn’t make it up.]
[We’ll know sooner or later, right?]
When she passes it to Paul, this is truly consensual and honest because he understands
what this entails — the gravity of their choice is reflected in their sex scene, which
feels downright somber.
Meanwhile, there’s also a key way in which this monster doesn’t totally correspond
to an STD.
[You can get rid of it, ok?
Just sleep with someone as soon as you can.
Just pass it along.
If it kills you, it’ll come after me.]
The curse in the film is a hot potato.
Of course, passing on an STD doesn’t make the disease any less potent in the original
Apart from adding dramatic tension to the story, this difference symbolizes that to
isolate yourself when you’re dealing with this kind of disease or curse will causes
you to wither away.
If you turn into yourself and don’t seek out any connection with others, you will die.
So even if you feel damaged or like your life isn’t full of potential anymore, there’s
an imperative to reach out to others in order to survive.
Sex isn’t the glorious rite of passage Jay and her friends envisioned when they were
Instead the experience is more like an assault — violent moments against a backdrop of mundanity,
meaningless encounters, and alienation.
It’s full of ulterior motives, awkwardness, and devoid of emotion.
It takes place in a car, or in Jay’s hospital bed, and far from pleasurable or ecstatic,
it seems constrained, even mournful, a terrible duty.
After Jay passes on the curse to Greg, we learn that they’ve actually had sex before
and it meant nothing to her.
[We slept together in high school, it wasn’t a big deal.]
The impulse to initiate people into this club may come from a dark place.
And sex is frequently something that we use each other for rather than an experience we
Fittingly, the curse can take the shape of loved ones, symbolizing their potential to
[Sometimes I think it looks like people you love just to hurt you.]
The grotesque, explicit forms the curse can take symbolize the scariness of adult sexuality.
When it appears as Greg’s mom and attacks him, we’re reminded of how put off we are
by the idea of our parents being sexual.
[What do you see?]
[I don’t want to tell you.]
And the curse manifests as Jay’s dad at the end of the film — she won’t share this
information, so this might even be a hint that he abused her as a child.
The number of times Jay gets upset about people not believing in the curse backs this theory
up — she reacts like a rape survivor who’s been disbelieved in the past and immediately
[You don’t believe me.]
And this fear of not being believed drives the infected characters to separate themselves
from friends and family
It’s striking that the kids never ask any parents or adults for help.
Their determination to take on the curse alone reflects how the refusal to discuss sex-related
topics disconnects children from their parents.
But not talking about uncomfortable topics makes teens more vulnerable to the dangers.
[When I was a little girl, my parents wouldn’t allow me to go south of Eight Mile.
And I didn’t even know what that meant until I got a little older.
And I started realizing that that’s where the city started and the suburbs ended.]
The film reminds us that this isn’t the inner city — we’re not in a place where
parents think they need to fear threats to their children’s well-being.
But ironically the suburban setting, with all its privacy and empty space, actually
puts the characters in greater danger.
They’re exposed, and the curse can probably reach them faster here, since they can’t
get lost in a crowd.
So the supposed safety of suburbia is false — just as suburban teens aren’t protected
from the risks of sexual activity.
[Annie, what are you doing?]
[I’m fine, dad.]
The opening of a father asking if his daughter is okay, unable to see what’s chasing her,
captures how parents are removed from the true threats facing their children in this
This peaceful suburb with darkness lurking draws on the the influence of films like Halloween,
which helped establish the suburbs as the standard for slashers.
Both films feature a monster that’s making a beeline for one person, whom everyone else
accuses of being paranoid and there’s an absence of adults.
Panning shots put us in the shoes of murderer Michael Myers in Halloween.
And the camera creates the same sense in It Follows, even when we don’t see the curse
And when Jay’s sister Kelly throws a sheet over the monster at the end of the film, we’re
reminded of Michael’s ghost costume.
Michael’s ability to terrorize comes from hiding his face, so that one victim actually
mistakes him for her boyfriend in disguise
In the same way, the curse is dangerous because of its shapeshifting form.
We see visual tropes of typical suburban teenage life, but right away they feel off.
The boredom of these images seems like the calm before the storm, making us feel uncomfortable
long before the danger reappears.
Both films hint at the hidden darkness behind the suburban facade — for example we get
subtle clues of Jay’s mother’s alcoholism.
In both, the monster is a force of repression, a violent answer to teen sex, punishing their
desire to experiment.
So we could read It Follows as a contemporary update to Halloween, showing us what’s changed
and what hasn’t in the decades since that film, reflecting a time in which STDs are
one of the most disturbing outcomes sexually active teens might face.
The film visually communicates the characters’ isolation and vulnerability to forces that
we can’t see right away.
We see this from the opening scene.
Annie’s attempts to escape the invisible curse look ridiculous, but we start to feel terror
when we see it from Jay’s perspective.
Wide, minimalistic shots that feature a small figure moving at a distance make the characters
Jay and her friends are isolated in the middle of the frame, as if they’re trapped.
And camera movements parallel the movement of the supernatural force, so that we feel
the characters are in danger even when we don’t know what that danger is.
Slow, steady zooms in, shots from behind, continuous tracking shots, and shots from
a distance make it seem like someone is watching or, yes, following the characters.
The skillful composition of the beach scene visually demonstrates why it’s impossible
for Jay to ever relax, but equally impossible for her to always see it coming since she
doesn’t have eyes in the back of her head and no one else can look out for her.
We see the monster approaching Jay, then we switch perspectives but we aren’t sure where
everyone is because we don’t get a full shot of everyone that will let us count the
This scene bonds us with Jay in putting us in the uncertain position of not being able
to tell if this figure is the monster.
Then when the monster grabs her hair, we see her friends’ point of view, grasping how
disturbing this appears to them and testifying to how real the monster is since it can physically
strike even those who can’t see it.
The way the camera fragments both the scene and Jay reminds us of Annie’s disfigurement
at the beginning of the film, when the curse caught her.
The fragmentation is a visual reminder of what sex does in this film: it divides and
breaks down the characters.
Jay’s impulse in this scene is to run away from the friends who do believe her and want
to help her.
But ultimately, it’s only by rejecting that impulse to separate and making connections
that she can be whole again.
The characters’ fantasies of teenage dating are completely divergent from reality.
Jay describes how she imagined this time in her life
I used to daydream about being old enough to go on dates, and drive around with friends
in their cars.]
Soon after she gets the drive she envisioned, Hugh knocks her out with a chloroform rag.
The characters’ early experiences with sexuality feel disturbing and premature, like too sharp
And they end up mourning their childhoods because the realities of adolescence leave
them disappointed and alone.
When Jay and Hugh play a people-watching game on their date of guessing which stranger each
would choose to trade places with, Hugh chooses a little kid.
[I mean how cool would that be to have your whole life ahead of you?]
[Come on, it’s not like you’re old — you’re 21.]
It’s a startling moment, to hear someone at his age feel that his life is over.
But we can understand how someone with a terminal illness might feel this regret and hopelessness.
[And the most terrible agony may not be in the wounds themselves but in knowing for certain
that within an hour, then within 10 minutes, then within half a minute, now at this very
instant—your soul will leave your body and you will no longer be a person.]
In the end, embracing love and connection is the only salvation possible.
Jay resists the urge to cut herself off from the world.
She learns what it means to be a responsible, connected adult by establishing openness and
trust with Paul.
The couple has bonded together to cope with the uncertainty that will always follow them.
It might seem like they’re more at risk.
Hugh’s advice was to stay far apart from the next person on the chain.
[We shouldn’t even be in the same place.]
[I’m sorry, you guys need to get the **** out of here.]
Because if the monster kills one it comes right back after the other.
But Jay and Paul have decided this isolation would be worse.
Whatever comes, they’ve chosen to stick together and help each other, because this
is the only possible way to live a productive, meaningful life in the shadow of
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Photo credit: Screenshot from video