Horror movie fans lovers, straight-up warning you there are a lot of spoilers for It Follows (2015) in this review. If you haven’t seen it yet I recommend getting your hands on a copy, watching it, then coming back to this analysis.
It Follows is part of a wave of films in the 2010s where horror films aren’t just good horror films, but good films period. Following The Babadook (2014), The Conjuring (2013), and Insidious (2010), It Follows is the next big thing when it comes to horror. Between the gorgeous cinematography, bewitching soundtrack, and fresh plot devices, this may just be my new favorite horror movie.
Inspired by a nightmare director David Robert Mitchell had — wherein he was being chased by a slow but unstoppable force — It Follows captures the terror of inescapable doom. Obviously, whatever IT is, the monster is spooky in more ways than one. But is that all? Is the monster — the IT — the scariest part of the movie? Let’s explain the meaning (and controversial ending) of the movie.
No. It was something you probably didn’t even notice. And here’s why.
One of its big draws — for me, at least — was that as you watch tragedy after tragedy unfold, as the body count rises and accusations begin to be thrown about, you’re left scratching your head and wondering “What’s happening here? Are they going crazy? Are they already crazy? Has the harsh reality of being exiled, living on their own, and losing an infant driven an entire family of Puritans mad and all this is just a byproduct of their poor circumstances?” Then Black Phillip speaks, Thomasin walks into the night, and it seems all our questions are answered.
It’s well-known that during filming of The Shining (1980), director Stanley Kubrick employed a lot of techniques to keep the viewer feeling off-balance or eerie without knowing why. For example, windows appearing in offices where there couldn’t have been a window, Jack Torrance inexplicably reading an issue of Playgirl magazine before his job interview… it goes on. And it works. Because subconsciously, your brain is picking up on these things but you don’t know it.
I think that’s exactly what David Robert Mitchell did in It Follows. There are a few different theories at play here — allow me to explain.
The film has no time period.
This is probably the most easily recognized clue because of one thing that’s blatantly pointed out to us: the infamous clamshell e-reader. (Which I want. Why can’t I have? WHY?)
At the beginning of the film, we meet Yara, hanging out on the couch with Paul and Kelly as they watch a movie (which I’ll address in a moment.) Yara is that annoying friend who’s ALWAYS on their phone — no I am not going to explain to you what just happened during the movie you’re SUPPOSED to be watching PUT YOUR DARN PHONE AWAY — except wait, that’s not a phone! In fact, modern technology is mostly absent throughout the film except for this thing. It looks like a vintage makeup compact but seems to act like a smartphone-combo-e-reader — Yara even uses it later as a light source, the way you would a phone.
This is what made me look for more anachronisms throughout the film and oh boy there are a lot. Here are the most notable ones:
- Everything they watch on TV is either a vintage-era cartoon or a 1950s black-and-white monster movie.
- The kitchen in Jay’s house is straight out of the 1970s, down to the ugly orange-and-avocado-colored appliances.
- However, in Greg’s kitchen across the street, he’s seen getting something out of a brand-new stainless steel fridge. It’s even got a sweet icemaker in the door.
- All the TVs are either clunky CRT units from the 1980s-1990s or even older models with rabbit-ears and dials.
- The decor in Jay’s house is very old-looking, almost like you’d expect to see at your grandparents’. This includes furniture, decor, and wallpaper.
- Speaking of decor, the photos on the wall are mostly black and white portraits. Sure, these could be grandparents, but even the photos of young Kelly and Jay seem more like photos from the 1960s-1970s.
- Cord phones abound! Not a single cordless phone in sight.
- Jeff’s mom is TOTALLY rocking the 1980s Mom look, and not ironically.
- The Old Maid cards Paul, Kelly, and Yara play with on the porch look like they’re from the 1940s-1950s.
- Jay’s peach-pink underwear set just scream 1950s.
- There are 2010-era modern cars but there are vintage cars as well — in perfect condition.
That’s just a few of the weird time discrepancies I noticed, but let’s touch on that last one. Yes, obviously you still see vintage or old cars around nowadays, but it’s pretty rare for them to be in perfect condition — especially when owned by a 21-year-old. Observe:
That’s not just what appears to be a 1970’s era car. That’s a brand-spanking-new Cadillac from the 1970s. The hell?
Sure, it’s a very cool way to set up a new universe, but it’s also extremely off-putting… whether you realize it or not. You’re trying to figure out what the time period is and there simply isn’t one. It doesn’t exist.
The seasons don’t make any sense
At the beginning of the film, a young woman runs out of her house wearing a pair of heels, short-shorts, and a tank top. When she first exits the house it appears to be, based off her dress and the lush green grass/trees behind her, summer. However, she continues to cross the street, then loops back around to her house.
When she does this, we see that the lawns on the other side of the street are littered with leaves and the trees have started to turn. As she bolts past another house, there are clearly pumpkins on the porch. So wait, is it summer or fall? Potentially late summer/early fall, sure, but hold on.
Before going on her date with Hugh/Jeff, Jay is seen swimming in her backyard pool. Okay, fine, maybe late summer/early fall. But then, at the theater for their date, Hugh/Jeff, Jay, and EVERY SINGLE OTHER PERSON IN LINE is wearing heavy winter coats.
Similarly, later when Kelly and Jay are wandering the neighborhood, they’re both dressed for — at the very least — pretty chilly weather. See?
But behind them, it looks nothing like fall or even winter. And I don’t care who you are, that above-ground pool isn’t heated so if it’s cold enough you need that fur-lined getup, you are NOT swimming outside at the same time.
It’s all on purpose, though. I had to watch it three times before realizing “Hey, wasn’t she just swimming? Why is everyone wearing a coat?” The dissonance between seasons and the way characters are dressed is just another way to make you feel off for some reason you can’t necessarily put your finger on.
Certain Information isn’t given to us — but it’s there.
One of my pet peeves about horror movie viewers is when they expect all the information to be spelled out explicitly. Yes, it’s frustrating when the film fails to answer vital questions, but often the answers are there if you just pay attention. However, with It Follows, you have to get a little more creative if you want to know more.
Did you notice that we never see Jay’s mother’s face in full focus? In fact, we barely see it at all, until the end when it’s blurry and not the focal point of the shot. Did you also notice that again, except for the last shot of her in Jay’s bedroom, her mother is always day drinking? Her first appearance in the kitchen, she’s drinking wine in the afternoon. Later, when explaining Jay’s attack to Greg’s mom, she’s seen pouring liquor into her coffee. And did you catch when Greg asks his own mother what’s happening, just after the attack, she says “Those people are such a mess.” Why? They seem normal enough.
My fan theory? Jay’s father killed himself.
We are never given this information right-out but Greg’s mother’s comment plus Jay’s mother’s day drinking seems to point to his. He’s obviously absent from the house. Maybe he left? No way, I don’t think so. Here’s why:
In the final pool scene, the ending of the movie, Jay spots IT coming towards her. She keeps saying “There he is!” When her sister Kelly asks what it looks like, her response is: “I don’t wanna tell you.” Upon revealing IT, we see a normal-looking man in his late 30s-early 40s. It’s her dad — that’s why she doesn’t want to tell her little sister.
Why does this prove he killed himself? Well, the pan beyond Jay’s mother shows an older family photo. Jay and Kelly are much younger, but the man to their mother’s left is the EXACT man IT was portraying. Not a day older.
Bonus: if you pay attention to the polaroids tacked to Jay’s bedroom mirror, there’s a photo of her and her father. Same man, basically same age, but she’s a child.
He’s been dead for years, which is why the girls seem more complacent and put-together — they’ve learned to cope — but their grieving mother is still despondent, self-medicating with alcohol.
There are other clues given to us purely through storytelling and small details rather than having the characters get right up in your face and shout what you’re supposed to know. For example, the young woman in the beginning is running from IT in heels. Is she stupid? Just another horror movie bimbo? No. It’s meant to show how unprepared she was when confronted with IT. She was well-dressed, perhaps ready to go out, when IT finally got close enough for her to realize it was a threat and she just bolted, ill-equipped footwear be damned.
Also, Jeff’s hideout is outfitted with beer bottles, cans, etc. hanging around the windows and doors. They’re meant to alert him in case anything enters. And what does that tell us? That IT has a physical body. IT is not a ghost; IT can make noise and can’t walk through walls. Sure, Jeff could’ve told Jay “IT makes noise! IT can’t walk through walls!” but isn’t it more interesting to learn this the same way Jay does — by pure investigation?
Put these elements together and you’ve got all the makings for a film that’s not just scary but extremely unsettling. Try watching it through again; it’s an entirely different experience once you know what you’re looking for.