[Part whatever in this blog’s series/installation: Is This Marxist Film Criticism or Only a Parody Thereof?]
1. David Robert Mitchell cites John Carpenter and Halloween, as is respectable to do, but It Follows is more in the vein of Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street, a film that never appealed to film connoisseurs as Halloween did, but which is no less well-made and intelligent. Both Nightmare and It Follows pit a group of teens against a monster that only one or some can see; both set an initial approach of the monster in a literature classroom; both partake of dream logic. Craven’s film has the advantage of lacking excessive self-seriousness (though it is as sexually aware as It Follows); his winningly intrepid heroine and viciously humorous villain have a vitality drained from the posed and hyper-aestheticized cast of Mitchell’s film, which may be read as A Nightmare on Elm Street crossed with the somnolent Virgin Suicides. Craven was using the suburban 1980s—his present—as materia poetica, which is different from putting it into a frame that makes us excessively conscious of its deliberate arrangement as objet d’art in the manner of Coppola and Mitchell, for whom aestheticizing the late-twentieth-century suburbs is the point; it is like the difference between medieval painting and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
2. Typically for American pop culture, what seems to be a story about sex is a story about class. Jay is not a virgin, for instance, so she is not being “punished” by the narrative for having had sex at all; rather, she had sex with a man who picked up a woman in a bar for a one-night stand, which passed the “curse” to her. The punishment is for non-bourgeois “promiscuous” or potentially class-exogamous sex practices; the punishment is for leaving the middle-class suburban community for sex.
3. The film is about cultural stagnation. It takes place in the kind of eternal 1980s in which we have lived for over a generation (the Marxist critic would say “the age of neoliberalism”), hence the indeterminacy of its timeframe. Its specified Detroit setting makes the ideological point more sharply: the white middle-class characters live in a suburban bubble that is only ever penetrated, via non-bourgeois desires and practices, by menace. For the climactic battle in the abandoned “ruin porn” pool, the suburbanites enter urban space to take on its putative aspect of violence so as to resist the enemy that emanated from that same space. Significantly, this attempt fails. The characters resort instead to a bourgeois solution: Jay and Paul make love and appear to enter a monogamous relationship, while Paul considers (or actually performs) the offloading of the menace onto a population of working-class prostitutes. Thus, we remain, at the film’s end, in the eternal 1980s, in the bourgeois bubble.
4. Yara is the film’s moral center. She is the only character with personal access both to history (Dostoevsky) and to the future (the not-yet-existent e-reader on which she reads Dostoevsky). She knows what is outside the suburban bubble, not because she seeks to slum there like a predatory male but through intellectual sympathy. Accordingly, in the scene where the characters enter urban Detroit, she spells out the film’s political stakes in an angry monologue about being forbidden by her parents to cross 8 Mile. Furthermore, she occupies a body that exhibits human needs beyond the sexual; the only character whose bodily functions are dwelt on in a non-sexual way, she eats, farts, snores, and clips her toenails. If we look past the easy imputation of misogynistic grotesquerie to the filmmakers, we will see that these evidences of universal physical need, even more than sex (so readily assimilable to the aesthetic), are the source of her wide-ranging sympathy, which crosses the suburban boundaries. In that sense, she is the author’s avatar, however abjected. Insofar as we will bring the 1980s to an end, it is Yara we must become—or rather, recognize ourselves as being already.