Explainers

‘It Follows’, Explained

October 31, 2018
11 min read

“It could look like someone you know or it could be a stranger in a crowd. Whatever helps it get close to you. Just don’t let it touch you”. The unusually golden period for horror films seems never-ending. The modernist twist to the age-old formula of gory villains and jumps-cares is the result of conscious efforts by filmmakers to reinvent the very definition of horror. It is no longer confined to scaring people with inhumane faces and voices. It has transformed to include psychological confrontations with the past and the chaotic internal struggles of the characters. ‘It Follows’ plays on this notion of external insobriety and effectively combines various thematic concepts such as societal dogmas and personal inhibitions. The film’s original idea blends modern horror-realism with the surrealist appeal of Hitchcockian psychological arches to produce a taut, nervy thriller that relentlessly scares and surprises.

The plot of the film took shape out of director David Robert Mitchell’s dream. It is based on recurring dreams he had in his youth about being followed: “I didn’t use those images for the film, but the basic idea and the feeling I used. From what I understand, it’s an anxiety dream. Whatever I was going through at that time, my parents divorced when I was around that age, so I imagine it was something to do with that.” The vessel for this curse like effect developed as a consequence of the mass hysteria that gripped America in the late ’90s. AIDS was perceived as an incurable disease, one that was also communicable. Mitchell has refrained thus far from cementing his stand on this parallel but has strongly indicated to be the case. ‘It Follows’ is rooted in the expansive aesthetic that Mitchell used to construct the film. One of the key elements of success for the film’s formula is the ‘fear of the known’, and hence, a wide lens allowed Mitchell to develop palpable tension in scenes with a patient buildup.

This is a distinguishing feature of the film and separates it from generic horror films and its matchable contemporaries. The tension in the film flows from what the viewer can see and the character can’t. This visual beckoning enables the narrative to be predictably unpredictable. The horror here is the silence and apparently delirious actions of ‘it’. When the very source of the disturbance is moot, the nature of that disturbance turns out to be the driving force and very uncomfortable. This article shall dissect the plot and the ending of the film. Happy reading!

Synopsis

The film starts with a hurried character running from something. Annie, as she is appropriated by her father, rushes in and out of her house a couple of times, until she finally leaves with the car. She sits alone on the beach at night, waiting for the inevitable to take place. She calls her father one last time and exchanges emotional messages of care and affection. Her corpse, with a broken leg, is shown later in the morning.

After this psychedelic start, we are introduced to sisters Kelly and Jaimie Height. The college students and their friends discuss Jaimie’s impending date with Hugh, a guy she recently met. The couple goes to the movies and plays a game. Each has to guess the person the other chose to be in the moment and why. When it is Hugh’s turn to guess, he points to a girl in a yellow dress, something which Jaimie can’t see. A shocked Hugh quickly gathers Jaimie and leaves the theatre in a rush. The strange move baffles Jaimie but her suspicions aren’t long-lived. The two then proceed to have sexual intercourse in the car, following which Hugh sedates Jaimie with chloroform.

She wakes up tied to a wheelchair with barbed wire, unable to escape. Hugh is acting strange and is looking for someone with a flashlight. Despite this chaotic event, Hugh doesn’t give off vibes of hurting Jaimie but instead of awakening her to something more sinister and twisted. He then wheels her in the direction of a naked lady walking towards them. On confirming that Jaimie sees the girl, he tells her that he has passed ‘it’ on to her now. He warns her of ‘its’ shape-shifting ability and that it will never stop following her. She mustn’t let it touch her in any case and must sleep with someone to pass it on. As the lady gets closer, Hugh escapes with Jaimie and drops her off in front of her house and disappears.

Her friends and family take her in and ruminate the bizarre events she narrates. After the police arrive, it is revealed that Hugh was an alias that was used by a Jeff Redmond. He lived in an apartment on rent. When the law enforcement agencies inspect the suspected area, they don’t find any trace of the girl Jaimie mentioned. In school the next day, when Jaimie’s focus wanders outside class, she notices an old woman in hospital clothes walking towards her. After she ascertains that she is the intended target and no one else seems to be noticing her, she walks out of class. To her bereavement, the lady still follows her, forcing her to leave school and rush home. When she narrates the incidents to her friends, they offer to stay over. That night, when Paul and Jaimie are sitting alone, the pair hear a glass break in the house. As Paul goes to inspect and alert the authorities, Jaimie sees a half-naked lady, with urine flowing down her legs, advancing towards her. She runs up into her room and locks herself in. When she opens it for her friends, she sees a tall man with no eyes walking toward her. She escapes the house through her window to a deserted park.

Greg, her neighbor, and former lover, volunteers to help the group and drives them to Jeff’s rented apartment. They find a photo which helps them locate Jeff’s old school. They get his address from there and visit his place. They ask him about the curse and discover that ‘it’ will not stop following you until you pass it on. Even after you pass it on, the person doing so must ensure that the person they’ve passed it on to doesn’t die. The group, now joined by Greg, go to a beach house to relieve the tension and spend time together. Greg teaches Jaimie how to shoot a gun. While they are taking in the scenic beauty and enjoying the ocean, ‘it’, in the form of Yara, silently gains on Jaimie from behind. As Jaimie’s hair mysteriously starts rising, the group realizes ‘it’ has arrived. After not being able to successfully kill ‘it’ with a gun, Jaimie takes Greg’s car and tries to run away, only to crash nearby.

She wakes up in a hospital and has sex with Greg, who doesn’t believe in ‘it’. The following night, as Jaimie is looking out her window, she notices a figure looking like Greg pacing around his house. The figure’s unusual behavior deduces it as ‘it’. Jaimie rushes to warn Greg after he doesn’t pick up her calls. She sees the figure in the form of Greg’s mother, standing half-naked in the corridor. As an unsuspecting Greg opens the door, the figure jumps onto him and kills him. Following this, Paul masterminds a plan to finally finish the thing off. The group goes to their old high school and sets up a trap for ‘it’ in the pool, with an intention of electrocuting it.

As Jaimie swims around in the pool and others wait, ‘it’ arrives in the form of Jaimie’s dad. Instead of following her in the pool ‘it’ turns the tables and starts throwing electric appliances in the water to kill Jaimie. After dodging most of them, Paul shoots the thing in the head twice before it drowns in the pool. After the storm settles, Paul and Jaimie finally have sex. The two, now under the impression that ‘it’ is no longer following them, wander off into the streets. Unbeknownst to them, a figure follows in pursuit.

The Ending

Many post-modern films have employed open-ended endings. This usually happens when either the film’s tone is drowned in intrigue, or the filmmaker wants to leave the interpretation of the meaning of the story to the viewer’s discretion. ‘It Follows’ falls in the former category. Throughout the film, the viewer is looking for closure, just like its troubled protagonist and discover the root and identity of ‘it’. The search for a cure to stop its pursuit of the characters is probably what the audience most earnestly looks forward to. Director Robert Mithell, though, decides to leave the film open to a sequel, which is most definitely happening. The pursuit, then, never ends and will continue to haunt the protagonists in the sequel.

There have been many theories on what exactly ‘it’ is and why it follows certain people. There have been no attempts made to explain this phenomenon. Mitchell’s explanation for the same is that the movie is like a dream, where things often happen without a logical rationale behind it. The nightmarish surrealism that infuses and drives ‘It Follows’ is created by Mitchell and cinematographer Mike Gioulakis through the use of expansive wide lenses. The aesthetic heavily draws on old Hollywood classics like that of John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg. The film’s regularity in using ‘it’ to deliver tense moments in outstanding. The ending is ironic, as the end is no end at all. It is just the beginning of a hellish dream-like reality that will forever haunt them. On the ending, and the mysterious figure following the couple, Mitchell said: “We had a couple variations on it — I think we had somewhere he was really far back, and then somewhere no one would ever miss him — but we settled on the one where he’s there, but not too close. It allows people to make up their own mind of what it means.”

Drawing the ending against the context that the movie sets would be a fruitful exercise. There’s no such explanation for the ending that exists. It differs from how everyone feels about the movie and life in general. All I can do is point you in a direction. So rather than lament the film’s decision not to provide you with closure, try to find the abundant humor in the film and anticipate a rare modern-day franchise that will stupefy and amaze. The film wasn’t made with gore or villainous tendencies but was made with an attempt to conceptualize dread and anxiety. The ending mirrors this emotion and plays on the paranoia that the narrative created with such painstaking effects. The audience is puzzled by the figure, which can be a normal person walking down the road. But our sinister outlook of it is the film’s moral victory in establishing the protagonist’s hysteria about the figures over us. We become a part of the fabric of the story that the protagonist weaves and drown ourselves in the unique tension and absurdity that director Mitchell creates.

The characters seem to exist in the strange world between different eras. We get the objects, clothes, and even hairstyles from 70s, 80s and 90s mixed with mobile devices and talk of the present. This premise isn’t explained. We don’t get to know that the main characters are, for example, collectors of vintage objects. We just have to accept this modern world as realistic when it obviously isn’t. All those time inconsistencies can be seen as tributes to horrors.

Final Word

‘It Follows’ makes its uniquely original fabric a compelling tale of well-intentioned storytelling filled with dread and anxiety. Through the use of a minimalist idea and expansive aesthetics to amplify the world of horrors, director Robert Mitchell successfully gives birth to a potentially modern-day classic franchise. The fear of the known is gripping and asphyxiating, gnawing at you with all its might. ‘It Follows’ is akin to a surrealist nightmare that is never-ending and relentless, menacingly keeping you up at night. The young cast is up to the task, masterfully blending themselves in the habitat of their dazed and confused characters.

Read More in Explainers: The Haunting of Hill House | The Invitation | Don’t Breathe

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