I’m a huge horror fan, so I was stoked when this indie horror film from the US suddenly popped into Korean theatres mid-spring -- seemingly odd timing for a horror film (even for Korea, which usually releases its horror films in summer), but given the monster in the movie, I’m hoping the release date was thematically intentional.
Spring is the season of love -- of flirting, sex, and new relationships. Once those buds start to bloom, the air gets a little bit warmer, and that freshly-cut grass smell hits our noses, we develop a spring in our step and start acting like ovulation is happening non-stop. We wear less bulky clothing, showing off curves and muscles. We start giving people around us the sex eyes. And that’s why I think this is such a genius time for this particular film to be released -- because the mark of a good scary movie is that it makes you feel like YOU’RE NOT SAFE ANYWHERE AT ANY TIME!!!
The creature in It Follows happens to be passed on via sex. The concept is that there’s a supernatural being which follows the person It’s connected to (in an attempt to murder said person) until that person has sex with someone else, at which point the being passes on to the next person. Well, until It kills that person -- then It comes back to the person who passed It on. It kills that person and then goes backward down the line of transmission until, we may only suppose, It kills every single person who has passed It on and It can finally take that vacation It has always wanted in Bangkok… an obvious place to vacation for such a creature.
Critics and reviewers of this film keep likening the monster to a sexually-transmitted infection (favorite review title: The Ring Meets Chlamydia), but in my eyes, it acts much more like a parasite (trich?) - only it’s the host’s job to find a new host. Most STIs are asymptomatic for years if not forever; a lot of people never know they're infected. Pretty hard not to know something is wrong when there's a dead hooker walking toward you in your kitchen.
I found it interesting that the main character, Jay, chooses a guy who she considers to be objectively attractive (I cannot say I concur with this opinion) to pass the creature onto in the assumption that it will be easier for him to pass It to someone else -- completely overlooking the fact that he doesn’t actually believe in the creature and also has the IQ of a third grader. It isn’t until the end of the film when she decides to transmit It to a lifelong, trustworthy friend who happens to be much smarter and is actually willing to come up with a plan to kill the creature rather than rely on the ability of others to continue transmission. (Maybe not the best plan -- who decided it was a good idea to try to use electricity as a weapon in a place that’s supposedly abandoned? And if the electricity doesn't work, how do the lights work? And if the pool is abandoned, why is it so clean?! Anyway. I digress.) Lesson: Always bang the nerdy guy.
One of the most tired (but arguably loved) tropes in the horror genre is to use sex as a moralistic impetus for murder. Teenagers are always getting offed once they get off. So I lovelovelove that in order to stay safe in this film, the characters not only have to have sex, but also have to communicate (some are better at this than others) at some point during their sexual encounter in order to preserve their own lives.
Does the film reward abstinence? Not necessarily, as It could be transmitted via rape. Does it reward the refusal to pass the being on -- the refusal to put someone else in harm’s way to save your own skin (I.e., is the film making a moral judgment about people who have sex knowing that they have an STI and choosing not to disclose)? I don’t think so, since in order to stay alive, the characters really have to disclose their status as The Followed (if you don’t know you’re being followed, you don’t know to pass It on). More than focusing on sex, the moral compass of the film seems to center on choice, responsibility, and the loyalty of friends.
But Choosing To Do The Right Thing doesn’t save you, either. At the end of the film, we see Jay and the nerdy boy who’s loved her forever (Paul, who I am begging the writer to tell me was named after the awkward and gangly best friend from The Wonder Years) walking down the street, hand in hand, having just killed It for good. In soft focus juuuust far enough behind them so we can’t make out a face or distinct features is someone following them.
Because YOU CAN NEVER KILL IT! Mwahahahahaha!
This movie is great. The filming style, the soundtrack, and the homage to classic horror tropes with a new twist make it a very exciting watch. Go see it!
Other possible messages the film gives about sex:
-Fuck all of your friends!
-Have all the gay sex you want! Apparently this being is on a pretty straight trajectory.
-Never fuck a dude who is for sure using a fake name. Seriously - does this guy look like a Hugh to you? Definitely not. Ray? Maybe. Donny? Sure. Hogan? Absolutely. But not Hugh.
P.S. What if David Robert Mitchell and John Cameron Mitchell had a baby? That kid would be awesome.