Sexual Power and “It Follows”

“Rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power.” That’s what they tell you in rape prevention classes, the kind held in empty middle school cafeterias. An older man, bulky with fat and muscle from the martial arts academy in town imparts that wisdom while also teaching you how to punch someone with your keys spiking your fist. Rape isn’t about sex. It’s about power.

Our introduction to the curse in It Follows is through a sexual assault. A young man chloroform’s his sexual partner post coitus. When she wakes up, she’s tied to a wheelchair, pink bralette a defining feature. Her virginity lost, he drives her home and leaves her nearly naked on the street in front of her home.

The creature in It Follows has a simple set of rules. It will follow you at a walking pace. It’s slow, but it’s persistent. When it finds you, it will kill you. The curse, this ever present threat of death, is sexually transmitted. The only way to save yourself is to pass it on. It’s an easy comparison to the looming specter of sexually transmitted disease.

Over the course of the movie, we find that the creature’s method of murder is highly sexual — a grunting, moaning death where it forces itself on its victim. But it isn't about the sex.

Horror films are awash in sexual activity. It’s so common a trope that in horror movie parody Cabin in the Woods, it’s a plot point that these scenarios have the archetypes of the virgin and the whore. Everyone knows that the whore is punished — but in It Follows, sex isn't just a damming act. It’s salvation. But it isn't just the purpose, it’s the display. Horror movie sex is just like all Hollywood sex. It’s polished and clean, beautiful people in the throes of ecstasy captured in soft lighting and L-shaped sheets. The sex in It Follows is about power not about sexual pleasure and by the third time we see intercourse, it becomes clear that no one is enjoying it.

It Follows is the humorless version of the sexuality of the Lil Jon video Turn Down For What, which itself mimics to the absurd and banal sexuality of Eric Wareheim’s music videos. In It Follows we see the peeking school children trying to catch a glimpse of our main character, but we are voyeurs to their voyeurism and not to her bikini clad body. Underwear is chaste and almost old fashioned, the climax of the film features the protagonist in a black one piece swimsuit. Most of the nudity in It Follows is used for shock or effect — a naked man standing on a roof, a mothers naked breasts hanging in the gap of her open robe. It is, like the Lil Jon video, decidedly unsexy but sexual.

There is sex in the film, but the way it is wielded is more important than its presence. It’s sex as survival, a grunting man on top of a woman in a hospital bed, her bandaged head pointed away. Because sex is the method of transmission, it becomes about power. Even the final sex of the film, with the characters supposedly attracted to each other, is fully clothed and impersonal lacking the traditional Hollywood polish to “young love.” It reeks of desperation. Afterwards they ask if ether feels different, and while that response is perhaps in relation to the transmitted threat, it reeks of the earnestness of lost virginity and youth.

(all pictures grabbed from Cinematography is Art Tumblr)

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