“Urban Legends”: Exploring The Meaning Behind “It Follows”

During sleepovers, many of us are told the weirdest of stories. Some are about ghosts, others could describe our future, while the rest are just the typical friendship dramatic tales. But if I had been told a story that was anything remotely similar to the horrors that occur in It Follows, I would have run out the door and called my mom for a ride home ASAP.

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WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD

THIS PIECE IS MY OWN PERSONAL INTERPRETATIONS OF THE MOVIE, AND NOT FACT. 

The film tells the story of Jay (Maika Monroe), a bright and beautiful teen whose life drastically changes after having sex with a mysterious guy named Hugh. He informs Jay, post intercourse, that he has passed on a curse to her. This curse has no real rules, no back story, other than the simple bare bones facts:

” an entity which can only be seen by those with the curse, and can take on the appearance of any person, will follow Jay at walking pace. If it catches her it will kill her and pursue the previous person to have passed it on. “ (SOURCE)

Though to many this seems like an easy fix, It Follows does not deal its cards so simply. In fact, the film is full of vague statements, ones that usually would drive a viewer crazy, but when put into the right hands, can help elevate the material past the usual tropes of the genre, and become an important piece of entertainment. It Follows definitely qualifies for those sorts of compliments, but only if you are able to grasp what many of the moments presented in the film truly mean.

Maika Monroe and Jake Weary in It Follows

The Curse and Its Meanings – Visually

First, beyond going into the specifics, it is best to know another important rule regarding the curse. According to Hugh, it can take on the appearance of someone that is familiar to the person being followed. Now, during first viewings, most will disregard this notion and not stop to think who these people could be to the person under the curse. What is the significance of them seeing this specific person?

Based on what you will read below, I can’t help but feel that most (if not all) of the people seen by Jay and the other cursed teenagers, are somehow related to past, present, or future sexual experiences in their lives. From people that have been a threat, a crush, a fear–anything related to their sexuality is explored within the rules of The Curse.

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Jay (Her Family/Parents)

Based on appearances, Jay seems nothing more than the typical teenage heroine, but as the film unravels, we begin to notice some odd things related to her family in general. First off, Jay’s parents are not often mentioned throughout the film, and at best are only shown in either brief cameos or cut aways of old photographs on the walls of the house. Another instance occurs when we peak into a conversation between Jay’s neighbors, who state that her family has “been through a lot.” But what exactly do these moments mean?

If we flash forward to the big confrontation in the film, between Jay, her friends, and the mysterious entity, we notice that the figure our leading lady sees is someone very specific: Her Father . If Jay’s family has been known throughout their community as the troubled sort, and the father was seen as a villain to Jay during this sequence, could Jay’s father have possibly been considered a threat when he was around? Was he killed or put in jail for some sexual related crime? Or was he abusive towards Jay and her sister? All of these could be possibilities, but like Jay’s neighbors have hinted, it is possible that her father was not someone to be considered trustworthy or lovable by any means.

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Greg and His Mother

Typically referred to in most horror movies as the “ladies man,” Greg personifies the usual tropes of teen heartthrobs in horror films – he’s sweet, good looking, and full of confidence in any situation – even going as far as to “help” Jay with her problem by sleeping with her in the hospital. Greg, unlike Jay, does not easily see “the curse” as she does. In fact, he is convinced the curse is made up, until a certain moment confirms that it is indeed very real.

While Jay is sleeping, she awakes to see a person, who looks like Greg, break a window to get inside his own house. She then runs across the street, and leaps through the window to try and save Greg. When she climbs the top of the stairs, Jay finds a familiar figure knocking on Greg’s door – His Mother. Though she appears to be in her nightgown and looking natural, it is revealed that this isn’t actually his mother – but the curse taking on her form. When Jay turns the corner, we see his mother having sex with Greg’s dead corpse on the floor, with her restraining him by holding his arms tightly.

Like with Jay’s father, this one scene leaves much to be questioned. One has to wonder why the curse would take on the form of Greg’s Mother in the first place, and why it would kill him in such a way. It seems pretty clear to me that, in the past, Greg and his motherly figure had some sort of sexual relationship. Whether it be one that was consensual, abusive, or just flirting, I feel that his mother being the version of the curse that killed Greg off was not just a random decision by any means.

This also is an important moment, in that this is the first and only instance where we actually see “It” kill someone on screen. We had seen the remains of prior victims, or been told of what it could do to someone, but we’ve never seen the crime at hand. This then begs the question, does said curse murder its victims by having some form of sexual intercourse with them? That would logically make sense, since that is also the way “it” is passed on in the first place, and “it” could punish the teens by killing them in what should be a pleasurable experience, but it would be interesting to know if that is indeed its confirmed method of killing.

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It Follows and Virginity

Though many will argue that It Follows is strictly a story that relates to the fear and struggle with getting STD’s, I happen to think that a case can be made that the film is just as much an allegory for losing your virginity.

First, after Jay has sexual intercourse (though not her “first”) with Hugh, she goes into a short speech about how she always thought love and dating would be a certain way when she was younger, but now as an adult she views it differently. Though it could be said that this chunk of dialog is nothing but fluff to lead into the next sequence, I couldn’t help but make my own personal connections to Jay’s words, as I believe I uttered a similar speech when I unjoined the V-Club. And, when one loses their virginity, it normally isn’t the magical, fairy tale, movie experience pop culture has groomed us to expect, but rather it can be scary and almost paranoia filled for some. Am I pregnant? What will my parents think? Am I a bad person? Your mind can, in some cases, be racing with any thought imaginable. The curse can, in some cases, be a representation of those emotional reactions. And considering the possibility that Jay might have been sexually abused by her father, these fears/reactions are very possible.

But the aspect that brings even more of the losing virginity theme into the film is represented in the character of Paul. We are told in many instances, through looks and bits of dialog, that Paul has had a crush on Jay since they were kids. They shared their first kiss together, looked at adult magazines for the first time, and experienced many other important milestones in each other’s company. So it would make sense that Paul (though there is no immediate instance that says he is a member of the V-Club) would want to lose his virginity to Jay. And, when the two finally do have sex, Jay is on top of Paul – implying that she is the more experienced one of the two.

When they have finished their intercourse, the two ask each other the stereotypical question, “Do you feel any different?” For Jay, her response relates to “it,” as if to ask if she feels she no longer cursed. But when the question is addressed to Paul, it could either mean does he feel the curse has been passed onto him, or does he feel that he is a different person because of losing his virginity? I vote for both, but an argument can be made for either side being the definitive reason.

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Though most of these are just my own interpretations, It Follows is the kind of film that allows for its audience to view and enjoy it whichever way they please. There is no right or wrong answer, but discovering your own conclusions is half the “fun,” so to speak. Whether you view it one way or another, the fact that a simple horror movie like this can create such discussions, must mean it is something special, which I definitely believe to be true.

So, what did you think of It Follows? Do you have your own theories? Comment below and let’s discuss the complexities of this new horror hit!

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7 thoughts on ““Urban Legends”: Exploring The Meaning Behind “It Follows”

  1. Great read. I do feel like David Robert Mitchell was saying something about virginity thematically; with one such endorsement for this being the exaggerated (almost cartoonish) blood in the pool coming from “it.” That shot lingered not just for effect, but like there was some symbolism at play. Symbolism I attribute as sexual maturity and menstruation.

  2. Jay wasn’t a virgin by the time she had sex with Hugh. She admits this to Paul, commenting that she had sex with Greg in high school. How do you think the redhead from the beginning of the movie fits into the sequence? She could not have passed it to Hugh because it came for her.

    1. You are correct that Jay is not a virgin at the beginning of the film, per her dialog, but many people have different ideas of when they actually have lost their virginity. Some say it is, in fact, when they physically have had sex for the first time – while others have a more emotional milestone when coining the term. I tend to think, as per the comment above about her father, that he could have been the person to truly take her virginity, hence the blood that Robert mentions above.

      As for the redhead at the beginning, she still stumps me, since you are correct in that it would make no sense since Hugh was still alive – IF we are thinking chronologically. Since she is never referenced past the opening, you could make the argument that she is actually a victim in the future, that came from Paul’s involvement in the curse, and because he and Jay were possibly killed at the end of the movie (by the figure following them) then the redhead could be next.

      1. The redhead received it from Hugh. When she was killed it went back to following Hugh. Therefore Hugh had to look for a new recipient just like Jay does multiple times through the movie

      2. I think you make a good point about Jay’s father and the blood in the pool. It would then make sense that her climatic showdown has the entity appear as her father, the possible originator of her sex life; and forcing her to physically confront her sexuality.

        Actually, the part where Jay is running to the car (and then crashes it) from the beach, the entity appears as the girl from the beginning. This suggests that she died before Jay inherited the curse. I believe that Hugh passed the curse to the beginning girl, killed her and then went back to pursuing Hugh. This could explain how Hugh felt safe enough to start going back to normalcy, i.e. going on dates with Jay instead of just looking for another one night stand. Then in the movie theatre, he realizes the entity is after him again, and it’s time to pass it on to Jay. What’s weird about the beginning girl, she’s seen in her suburban neighborhood running in her pajamas but also has on a nice pair of red high heels, the last thing you’d want to wear when running for your life. It’s just very odd. If anyone has a theory on the symbolism or whatever about wearing the heels, I’d love an explanation about that.
        Just wanted to say I really enjoyed the film!

  3. I had some trouble following the movie the first time I saw it. Yes, though I do believe it might just be a psychological pass on. However, this thing isn’t that powerful. It can’t go through anything, It’s like a vampire that has to be invited in practically. I just don’t like a movie that leaves me confused.

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