Death of the Critic

Anatomy of a Scene - It Follows

Written by: Tom Blaich


Something is following you. Hunting you. Heading in a straight line for you at every single moment of your life, awake or asleep. It can take the form of anyone, whether that be a stranger or someone you love. It wants to kill you, but it also wants to hurt you in the process, and this haunting presence is always lurking at the back of our minds, behind every corner or walking extra.

The movie opens with a girl running. Her name is Annie, and we don’t know what is going on, but it is damn sure that she does. She says goodbye to her father via phone on the beach. The next time that we see her, she is a mangled corpse on the sand. They have set the stakes for us. After Annie, we are introduced to Jay, a seemingly average teenager that we will follow for the rest of the movie. In many ways, she is a normal teenager. She has some angst, some philosophy to her, but she also has a date with a boy, and she is excited. She’s going to go to the movies, and the two have chemistry. The gruesome opening scene fades to the back of our minds as our teens flirt and joke. It seems natural, like they fit together, sharing sense of humor, playing games with each other. It is almost the picture of a perfect date.

But something is off about him. He’s nervous. HE sees things that we don’t. There is a sense of mystery and danger to him that makes us want to know more, and it is clear that Jay feels the same way, buying his excuse as they run out of the theater before the movie. What’s more, she agrees to a second date with him. As she talks to her best friend before she goes out, you can tell there is a palpable sexual desire in the air. They want each other, and tonight is the night.

The scene cuts to night, the two of them walking slowly through the woods outside of an abandoned factory, a six pack of beer dangling casually from his hands. They lie on the beach together and his hand gently climbs up her bare thigh.

They kiss. It’s passionate. Needy almost. “Let’s go back to the car.”

We stand outside as voyeurs as the two have sex, the camera slowly moving in, crickets chirping in the background, the only thing that you can hear besides their heavy breaths. It is almost tender as she kisses his forehead, sitting in his lap, joined together. The picturesque sex scene, risqué but passionate. They cut to a long shot of the car. They are so alone.

The door opens and he steps out, pulling up his pants and walking to the trunk as she shifts to lie on her stomach and look out of the backseat. It is so decidedly normal, two people in the aftermath, breath settling, basking in the glow. We don’t get to see these vulnerable moments too often.

“That’s funny. I used to daydream about being old enough to go on dates. Driving around with my friends in their cars.” Her hand plays with a delicate, white flower growing from the dirt beneath them. “I had this image of myself: holding hands with a really cute guy, listening to the radio, driving along some pretty road. Up North maybe. And the trees start to change color.” As she gently talks about her dreams, her imagined future built up over the years, the door behind her opens and he climbs into the car with her.

“It’s never about going anywhere really, some sort of freedom, I guess. Never old enough. The hell do we go?” It is a question that hangs thick in the air between them, the question of the movie in one statement as these teenagers try to find themselves in a world with nowhere to go. We see him reach into his pocket and pull out a rag. The idyllic picture turns dark, dreams shattered as his hand clamps the rag over her nose and mouth, cutting off her air. She claws at his arm, cries faintly muffled through the cloth. Struggling for air that she cannot find. For the freedom that has been taken from her. A primal fear, fight or flight. But she can’t escape, and as she falls to unconsciousness, her hand falls out of the car, striking that delicate flower from earlier in the scene.

Sex in film is complicated. It can mean so many things, but here, the meaning is clear. Innocence has been lost, savagely ripped away at the most vulnerable moment. Jay has gone from being a happy go-lucky teen to an adult in the matter of a few minutes. We see it in her speech about her dreams, in the way she gently brushes the delicate, white flower beneath her. Sex has been tied to the loss of innocence for a long time, and the pure, virginal white flower beneath her that she can only barely reach shows us what she has left behind. Her idyllic view of the future was shattered.

“Evil has had to do with sex since the serpent seduced Eve. What was the upshot then? Body shame and unwholesome lust, seduction, temptation, danger, among other ills… AN older figure representing corrupt, outworn values; a young, perfectly virginal female, a stripping away of her youth, energy, virtue, a continuance of the life force of the old male.” (Foster)

The next scene starts with establishing shots of ruin. Crumbling floors, graffiti covered walls. Stark reality, and in the center of it all is Jay, stripped to her underwear and tied to a wheelchair, a symbol of the elderly instead of the youth. As she wakes up, we see him in the background pacing, waiting for her.

“Jay? You awake?”

She is awake and she is afraid. He slowly approaches her, flashlight in hand. “I’m sorry”, an empty statement, especially in light of her situation.

“You are not going to believe me, but I need you to remember what I’m saying, okay?” She looks at him in confusion. “This thing. It’s going to follow you.” Is he talking about the sex? The loss of innocence and violation that he put her through? OR something more, some invisible force that others can only see if she lets them into the most intimate part of her, the part that he has damaged on this night. The specter of this assault will hang over her for the rest of her life, waiting for it to come and get her, to steal her life away and move on to another, attacking the young, the once happy. The same way it hangs over him. And the person before him, and the person before them. Like every other person who ever has or ever will experience it.

“It could look like someone you know, or it could be a stranger in a crowd. Whatever helps it get close to you. He could look like anyone, but there is only one of it.” The monster is both literal and figurative. It is a thing and an idea, her assault and her tormentor, and anyone around her could trigger it. The only way to survive is to let someone in, or trick someone else into taking it, continuing this cycle of violence.


“Sometimes I think it looks like people you love, just to hurt you.” We need this scene for us to make sense of the movie, to understand the rules and logic by which this universe operates, but at the same time, it sets up the meaning. Of a rape survivor and who they think they can trust, about the tearing away of personal boundaries and how they might never come back. It is a heavy topic, one not easily dealt with. The only time we ever see someone successfully fend it off is when they accept others, letting them in willingly, with consent to help them fight this monster that prowls their every moment.

“I see it.” He rushes over and grabs her chair, camera affixed to the front as it bounces and jostles to the edge. A naked woman walks across the train tracks below them towards the factory. “What is it?” They retreat. “Get rid of it. Sleep with someone as soon as you can. If it kills you, it comes after me. Do you understand?”

“I’m doing this to help you.”

We watch as the thing comes closer, naked body exposed to the camera. Jay struggles and cries for help before they finally run. “Never go into a place that has only one exit. It may be slow but it is not dumb.”

The terror of this movie is not only in the monster that is stalking Jay, it is in what this monster might actually be. Frequently naked, mired deeply in the idea of nonconsensual sex, the monster of
It Follows might not be the demon, it might be the person next to you.



Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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