It Follows, by Joshua Grimm
Reviewed by Alison Bainbridge
Review of Joshua Grimm's It Follows, Auteur Publishing (Devil's Advocates), 2018.
Joshua Grimm’s work on It Follows (2014, dir. David Mitchell) is an excellent addition to Auteur’s Devil’s Advocate series, which seeks to provide brief, accessible monographs on individual, significant films of horror cinema. Accordingly, this book touches only very lightly on heavier film criticism and avoids overly-academic language, which makes it ideal for students interested in horror studies or as a companion to taught modules on contemporary horror that include It Follows. Grimm offers a broad analysis that covers a multitude of themes and contextual materials to situate It Follows among other horror classics and in doing so has created a monograph that highlights aspects of the movie worthy of further investigation.
In the first chapter, Grimm provides a detailed breakdown of It Follows’ plot, emphasizing several of the topics further explored in later chapters. The second chapter is dedicated to the malevolent entity that stalks the film’s protagonist. Grimm uses this chapter to draw comparisons between the entity’s abilities and those of the movie monsters of zombie flicks and teen slashers--both of which genres inform It Follows. This is by far the strongest part of the book, and Grimm returns to the entity several times throughout the text, tying it in to the rest of his analysis. In the third chapter Grimm briefly analyzes the film’s use of Detroit as a setting, laying out the implications of the film’s depictions of class. Given the significance of poor, working class, white Americans in Trump-era US politics, a deeper analysis of It Follows’s set and character demographic would have been beneficial to Grimm’s central argument that this film is about more than sex. Instead, the themes of the third chapter are only very lightly touched upon as something of note. Chapter four explores the film’s metaphors for age and adulthood, with a particular emphasis on water as an allegory for childhood innocence. This chapter includes a brief but timely discussion on rape culture and consent issues, which would benefit from further unpacking, particularly in the current #MeToo climate and from Grimm’s academic expertise in sex, gender, and communications. The most interesting part of the fifth chapter discusses how the film’s protagonist Jay fits the emerging horror trope of the Only Girl--a final girl who is isolated for the duration of her movie rather than forced to watch the deaths of her friends. This promising analysis too could have benefited from more development as it feels lost next to the fifth chapter’s other theme: the use of color in It Follows to depict safe spaces and the way white is used to signify threat. As such, despite the interesting arguments put forth in the fifth chapter, the rushed and jumbled presentation means that it comes across as the weakest part of the book. The final chapter acts as a conclusion, situating It Follows as more than a horror movie about the perils of sex but as a film that explores adolescent attitudes towards sex and sexual communication between peers.
As an introduction, Grimm’s It Follows covers much fertile ground. One issue that does stand out, however, is that despite the clear interest in the entity and its abilities, and the fact that Grimm does an excellent job of tying the entity into his other analyses of the text, he neglects to mention the incestuous trauma of the entity’s decision to stalk Jay while wearing the appearance of her dad, or its choice to stalk Hugh/Jeff and sexually assault and murder Greg while wearing the forms of their respective mothers. This is a notable omission not only because incest has been a common theme in horror and the Gothic since the publication of Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1796), and has had a significant presence in horror films ranging from Spider Baby (1968, dir. Jack Hill) to Cabin Fever (2002, dir. Eli Roth). As Grimm spends significant portions of his first and second chapters situating It Follows within the horror genre, and because he discusses the ramifications of all of the entity’s other forms, the fact that he chooses to ignore the implications of these incestuous forms is surprising.
Devil’s Advocate: It Follows is a fascinating introduction to a contemporary horror film that is destined to become a classic. Written with great enthusiasm for the subject, the book offers insight into the themes of a complex and nuanced film. Covering many angles on the film, Joshua Grimm provides interested viewers of It Follows springboards for their own research.
-5 May 2019