In It Follows, a teenage girl named Jay has sex, and it ruins her life. Jay’s partner tricked her into the tryst so he could pass her something—not an STD, but an evil spirit. She can only ward it off by having sex. And that only works temporarily—the demon has a collection of infected victims to cycle through, and it’ll return to Jay sooner than later. Everyone’s carnal desires are biting back with a vengeance.
So much for the virginal “final girl” of slasher movies past. Jay is the final girl’s worst nightmare—she can only survive by sleeping around. Director David Robert Mitchell knows that he’s evoking slasher films of yore: He replicates the wide-lens photography of John Carpenter, rarely references modern tech, and layers a synth score over the whole thing. We got him to talk about how he worked with the traditions of his chosen genre—and about how he messed with them.
The standout imagery in your film is sexual: Weathered Playboys, red heels, pink underwear.
David Robert Mitchell: On some level,that is a direct reference to horror films of the past. It’s about the types of [sexualized] images we’ve seen, and about wanting to alter them or re-interpret them.
I’d like to talk about that, but you’re probably averse to commenting on specific readings of your film …
True! I think the charm is letting the audience interpret the film any way they want. Sometimes I agree, or disagree, or love, or hate those interpretations …
What kind of interpretation do you hate?
I’ve had people imagine that the film is a puritanical statement. Which is irritating to me.
I wouldn’t have used the word “puritanical,” but the film did feel afraid of female sexuality. It reminded me of Jacques Tourneur or David Lynch … like you were exploring unconscious male anxiety about women having sex.
I can see that. I think it’s about sexuality in general, more than “fear of female sexuality.” But if people see it that way, I wouldn’t want to dismiss that.
Well instead of the innocent “final girl,” your actress has to constantly have sex. And the film takes on a melancholic tone as she grows more disheveled … Aren’t you subverting tradition?
Sure, yeah. But I also think that some of the analytical opinions about horror films that we’ve collectively agreed upon—like the stuff that’s in Scream, which is a re-interpretation of academic analysis—is wrongly assumed to be fact.
So what’s your reading—do you disagree with that take?
I think even John Carpenter has come out and said that it was not his intention in Halloween to craft a scenario where the virgin survives because she’s avoiding sex. But we’ve accepted that one particular academic interpretation. I’m not saying that’s wrong—I’m just saying it’s only one interpretation.
An interpretation that you’re now screwing around with.
Well … I mean … maybe. [Laughs, coyly.] To some degree.