It Follows as a Portrayal of Modern American Rape Culture

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One out of every six women in the United States have personally experienced rape or sexual assault at some point in their lifetime, according to the Central Minnesota Assault Center. Conversely, of the approximately forty percent of rapes that are ever even reported to authorities, only about sixteen percent of these rapists will end up serving jail time (“Central MN Sexual Assault Center). This statistic is alarming as it highlights the large frequency with which women are attacked compared to how infrequently anyone is held accountable for their trauma. It Follows metaphorically and unapologetically calls out the issue within America regarding the perception of both the female rape survivor and the accused male perpetrator. David Robert Mitchell’s 2014 horror film, It Follows, discusses the aftermath of sexual assault from a female’s perspective, gives insight into the concept of rape culture that has become so prominent in today’s society, and explores victim blaming, all while depicting how 21st century America is nothing short of a living nightmare for women.

It Follows opens with the visual of a terrified teenage girl in the middle of a suburban neighborhood, apparently running from an entity that only she can see. This is the viewers’ first exposure to Mitchell’s metaphorical monster. Enter Jay and Hugh, the heroine and the bad boy that is the “rapist”. Jay and Hugh engage in what she characterizes as consensual sex until he drugs her and she awakens tied up in an abandoned parking garage. He explains to her that through their physical relationship, he has passed on “It”, which is a monster that can take the form of any person and will follow and attempt to kill the infected until it is passed on through sex with another victim. The film then follows Jay and her friends in their attempt to protect Jay from the entity and save her life. This monster, or “It”, as well as Jay’s behavior and emotions resulting from the transmission of this monster will serve as the basis for Mitchell’s hidden agenda regarding modern rape culture.

A main component of the entity is that only the infected victim is able to see it. To an individual that has not been followed by the entity, or, symbolically, someone who has not been assaulted, the victim appears to be paranoid. Outsiders are unable to fully understand the weight that the victim is now carrying. Jay frantically and desperately wants those around her to see the entity that is constantly following her, yet no matter how hard they try to look, nothing ever appears to them. This characteristic of the entity is symbolic of the psychological trauma that the victim of an assault is forced to cope with without the understanding of those around them. Nasrin explains, “PTSD is a severe condition that may develop after a person is exposed to one or more traumatic events, such as sexual assault … symptoms such as disturbing recurring flashbacks, avoidance or numbing of memories of the event, and hyper-arousal (high levels of anxiety) … ” (Nasrin 431). Jay exhibits signs of PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, several times over the course of the film. She numbs herself to her reality directly after as she depicts to the police that it was simply a consensual encounter and that nothing regarding it requires any further investigation, showing that she is at first only willing to deny what happened to her. In addition, Jay’s high levels of anxiety just one day after the rape becomes visible as she runs from her classroom after spotting what she believes to be the entity coming towards her in the form of an elderly person. Jay’s actions after Hugh transmits the entity to her are used as a tool to depict a rape survivor’s day to day struggles after their trauma.

Another detail of this monster is that it has the capability to shape shift. Over the course of the film, Jay is followed by the entity looking like complete strangers but also looking like people that are close to her. This aspect of “It” is representative of the distrust survivors feel towards those surrounding them after an attack. Nasrin discusses a specific case study in which a rape survivor states, “Whenever I meet any person I do not find any faith to him or her. Both male and female are evil” (434). This distrust is especially evident in Hugh, who although is portrayed as the rapist, was also at one point a victim of the entity. While being confronted by Jay’s friends, Hugh begins to panic as he sees a young, innocent girl walking towards the group. However, it becomes apparent that the girl is actually a real person and she is not an incarnation of the entity. This fear that anyone and everyone has horrific intentions is common among victims of sexual violence.

Mitchell also touches on another prevalent aspect relating to American rape culture; the vast majority of male perpetrators go unpunished while women are left not being believed by the general public. Hugh is able to absolve himself of all his problems by sleeping with Jay and now is virtually unhaunted by the entity which once followed him. This perhaps metaphorically represents how men are commonly able to commit crimes against women and are allowed to continue living their lives as if nothing ever happened. In this, Mitchell highlights an alarming concept within modern rape culture; even when a female victim does come forward, society tends to believe the man. Ramaswamy tries to explain this phenomenon saying, “Prosecutors believe that jurors are particularly reluctant to punish young men at the start of their lives … What a man might be matters more than what a women has been brutally forced to become” (Ramaswamy “Desperate to Believe”). It Follows comments on this topic as Hugh is seen exactly once after the attack and faces no consequences and is seemingly unbothered by what he did to Jay. He is merely relieved that he is now safe and protected from the entity.

Mitchell may also be trying to touch on the popular new idea of “victim blaming”. By forcing Jay to deal with this alone while Hugh, the previous victim of the entity, is able to return to normal, Mitchell is symbolically showing that this is now Jay’s problem and it is her mess to clean up, much like how victims are commonly viewed. In a study done regarding the perception of rape victims, female medical students commonly said of victims, “it would help if they either avoided the situation or contact with the perpetrator … ,” effectively shifting blame from the rapist to the survivor (Jayalakshmi, et al. 26). In another study, one case subject explains how she felt she was perceived by those in her community, “ … but the people passing made many bad comments to me and to my family. My family also misunderstood me. I was a victim of circumstances but they blamed me along with the rapist” (Nasrin 437). The stigma regarding rape survivors is utilized in It Follows by Jay being forced to live with this thing seemingly on her own even though she has the support of her friends. Ultimately it is her mess, and something she will need to decide how to handle by herself.

Although there is strong evidence that Mitchell is calling into question American rape culture and the survivor’s aftermath, there is also some evidence that perhaps Mitchell is simply trying to have a discussion about sexually transmitted diseases and safer sex practices among youth. In a review of Mitchell’s film there is an assertion that, “In the horror film genre, teenage sex almost inevitably leads to demonic possession, baleful retribution, vampirical stalking or death at the hands of some serial killer more often than not, one given to extreme vivisection” (Anderson “Horror film It Follows”). Under this assumption, It Follows is simply another lesson on abstinence and the consequences of a physical relationship. There is a good amount of merit to this idea, as the entity is passed on much like a dreaded sexually transmitted disease is in real life. If the viewer is to look at the film this way, it may be easy to see a message of abstinence as the only certain way to avoid the entity is to avoid sexual promiscuity. However, this is almost too literal. There is an important message being ignored that is constantly being represented in Jay’s actions and feelings following the traumatic event as well as the key components of the entity. For It Follows to simply be regarded as a warning about premarital sex and diseases would be to abandon the message behind the new psychology the heroine displays after contracting the entity.

Although It Follows predominantly comments on how negative the stigma around rape victims has become in modern society, perhaps there is a subtle point that Mitchell is making that there have been some recent positives arising for survivors of assault. In the film, Jay’s friends are extraordinary supportive, despite not being able to see whatever it is that is following their friend. They are willing to believe an incredibly outlandish story for the sake of their friend’s safety even though it would be easy to cast her aside as crazy or paranoid. By portraying Jay’s friends as protective, understanding, and supportive Mitchell is pointing out that there is hope that the modern attitude surrounding rape and survivors is changing and that the change is beginning with the numerous services made available to survivors. Nasrin explains several resources and treatment plans in her study including shelters, mental health assistance programs and numerous kinds of therapy (439-443). Jay’s friends are perhaps a representation of all the positive things that communities are trying to enact in order to make women feel safe, cared for, and valued after an assault. By doing this, Mitchell provides viewers with a reason to be hopeful as well as a desire to make a change.

It Follows depicts the true reality of a female rape victim and her psychology following an attack in a horror movie setting. Although Jay is never actually sexually assaulted, Mitchell metaphorically sheds light on the issues that survivors face as a result of the new stigma surrounding rape and women, specifically in America. It may seem as though the film is simply a warning to American teens about promiscuity and sexually transmitted disease, but that would be simply to take It Follows at its surface level. Viewers cannot ignore the underlying comment Mitchell is attempting to make. He needs viewers to recognize that the way women are treated in society is utterly unacceptable. He does this by discussing a victim’s psychology by creating an entity that resembles elements of the aftermath of an assault such as distrust of others, anxiety, victim blaming, and PTSD. In addition, Mitchell utilizes Hugh’s apparent freedom after he passes on the entity to Jay as a way to highlight how few rapists are ever held accountable for their crime. Lastly, as a contrast to the dreary picture that Mitchell paints regarding the treatment of victims, he shows Jay having extremely supportive and caring friends to depict the recent upturn in resources for survivors and to suggest that there is hope that America can make a change for the better on this massive issue. Mitchell is telling America that there is hope, but that the change needs to begin soon, before more women are devalued and left traumatized by men who have never become adjusted to the word “no”. Although It Follows received fantastic reviews for simply being a thrilling horror film, the comments it makes regarding America and modern rape culture is truly the most important thing that viewers are able to gain from heading to the theater.

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It Follows as a Portrayal of Modern American Rape Culture. (2019, Jun 19). Retrieved from

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