What Follows? Temporal Indeterminacy and Socioeconomic Durée in It Follows

Curator's Note

It Follows (Mitchell, 2014) tells the story of Jay (Maika Monroe), a suburban girl who “contracts” a stalking, ghostly, killer after having sex. While critics and audiences were quick to point out the way in which the film cleverly mediates the general experience of entering adulthood, such a reading problematically ignores the tension between historical specificity and temporal indeterminacy marking the film, and the ways in which this dialectic fundamentally refigures how the film addresses questions of “growing up” and experiencing time.

 It Follows manipulates temporal clarity diegetcially and formally. The (sub)urban decay of post-recession Detroit serves as the backdrop for a story that positions its characters in a temporally indeterminate space through intertextual references and anachronistic mise-en-scene ranging from 1950s monster films playing on tube TVs, to a Carpenteresque synth score. Spectatorial time is similarly confused as the plodding pace and disinterested camera clashes with the suspense of the diegesis. In Creative Evolution, Henri Bergson proposes that the present is never a singular moment but one inherently bound by/within memory. It is through a Bergsonian understanding of time, in which past/present/future are integrally coexistent, that a new interpretation of the film’s temporal confusion can be found. One focused not on a general sense of “entering” adulthood but rather on a historically specific, and socioeconomically/generationally shared becoming.

This horror bildungsroman takes place at a particular point in historical time yet, through the virtual interconnectedness manifested in the diegesis and the mise-en-scene, temporalities are juxtaposed as prosthetic memories each with a unique embedded history. Intertextually, Detroit’s 1950s prosperity comes into contact with the 1980s neoliberal turn while both exist within a post-recession landscape where (sub)urban decay, declining opportunity, and crippling debt weigh physically and mentally dramatically reshaping how time is experienced. The film’s dragging formal time should be understood not simply as a means of building suspense but as the manifestation of a collectively shared subjectivity where past and present are cut off from future potentiality and experiential time slows to a crawl leading to a subjectivity frozen in a purgatory of the present. Jay and her friends must enter adulthood within the context of economic decay and disappearing opportunity lending new meaning to Jay’s question, “Now that we are old enough to leave, where the hell do we go?”


Really cool argument, I appreciate it a lot. The "dragging formal time" that you argue for is, I think, also present in the Paranormal Activity movies, where there is a similar dread of durée. Because so little happens, we project fear into the empty frame. Interestingly, in connection to your argument about being cut off from future potentiality, the many sequels to Paranormal Activity are mostly prequels, thus going further into the past, rather than develop "more future." Also, although not presented through derelict buildings and urban blight, the PA movies also confront economic decay and collapse. So, despite these movies being very different from each other (It Follows and Paranormal Activity), it seems to me that there is both a formal and thematic overlap.

Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Steen! I hadn't made that connection between the PA films and It Follows but since you've brought it up I am now planning a PA binge (full disclosure, I've only seen the first one). I especially like the way you're opening up this idea of reading a closed-off future potentiality across a series of films which is, admittedly, something I had not considered!

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