Many people have many theories about the unseen and unnamed malevolent force that terrorizes the young people of suburban Detroit in David Robert Mitchell’s 2014 art-house horror hit, It Follows, but I know the true answer. It’s not AIDS or STDs or the wrath of Jesus. It’s you.
I hadn’t thought about the movie for a few years until rewatching it in order to talk about it on a podcast cohosted by the editor of this fine publication. I don’t generally look to art—be it film, book, painting, or song—to solve puzzles or mysteries. It’s not a game and I’m not trying to win. So, when reading up a bit on the reception and criticism of It Follows for background, I was a little irritated to revisit the speculation about the source of the evil terrorizing the kids in the movie. Why do people need everything explained and answered? Doesn’t anyone want mystery and wonder anymore?
Then, while recording, Mallory asked me, so I couldn’t equivocate or sidestep it anymore. I was on the spot. So I told her my theory: the “it” in It Follows is guilt and other bad feelings. It’s the baggage we all carry from one relationship to the next. The lousy ways we treated them, the shitty ways they treated us, the way we can’t ever entirely escape the snail-like trail of our past. There’s a reason the stalking exes in the movie move so slowly, yet persistently. They’re the memories gnawing at the periphery of our consciousness even when the present seems perfectly fine. No drug has yet been invented to wipe the slate so clean when you meet someone new that all your failed relationships don’t at least whisper to you every now and again.
Mitchell has steadfastly refused to reveal the mystery and I hope he never does. Art isn’t made to answer but to question. The fact that this “it” has spurred so many discussions and theories is proof to me that Mitchell has made a piece of art that will endure. Landfills overflow with discarded potboilers, mysteries, whodunits, and the like, because there’s no reason to hold on to them once the killer’s face is revealed. Better to keep their visage obscured, that way we keep wondering. But, as I said at the top, in the case of It Follows, I believe I’ve uncovered the culprit’s true identity.
It’s you that keeps following. Because you can’t let go of what you did or what was done to you. The stalker may appear in the guise of a long-time ex-girlfriend or a regretted one-night-stand, but they’re all projections fashioned by your own mind in order to keep you from moving forward or living in the present.
So blame AIDS or herpes or Jesus if it makes you feel better, but you have no one to blame for what haunts you but yourself. Or is it me? Maybe it’s more complicated than I thought…