It Follows, part 2: Nightmare in red

The freeze frames from It Follows used in this article are taken from a screener made available to Montages by the film’s Norwegian distributor. The article reveals the whole plot.


This is the second of three analytical articles about It Follows by David Robert Mitchell. The first article is a general discussion on the film, structured around ten different approaches to this many-faceted work. The third article revolves around the film’s staging and aesthetics.

This second article is about the film’s intelligent and deeply deliberate use of motifs. It leans heavily on freeze frames from the film and takes for granted that the reader is already familiar with the plot.

Everything is staged

The method is actually quite simple: objects, actions, colours, words in the dialogue, and so on, that occur “more than usual” – especially in situations without acute storytelling function – are per definition of interest. It is of no use wondering whether such overrepresented elements might mean something: films do not make themselves. Everything in the frame may be the result of manipulation, and existing large formations, like buildings and landscape, can be counted on having been shot in a way that best serves the work.

It is therefore reason to believe that overrepresented elements have special meaning in the film and are planted on purpose. Perhaps merely to create a sense of unity, but as a matter of interpretation it is more satisfying to uncover a specific meaning. It is not really required, but often a motif will be present in one or more situations where it is the object of special emphasis – so-called «enabling», an encouragement to look for the motif also in less emphasised occurrences.

The article shall now comment on the penultimate scene of It Follows – its delicate wistfulness makes it one of the film’s best – and touch upon a range of its aspects. This walk-through will also function as a useful introduction to the motifs, since all the important ingredients are in place. In the scene Yara (Olivia Luccardi) reads aloud an utterly depressing Dostoyevsky quote. It is about a man waiting for the guillotine, but can easily be interpreted as a metaphor of the unavoidable death awaiting us all. At this point the curse has been transferred to Paul (Keir Gilchrist) through his intercourse with Jay (Maika Monroe), the film’s protagonist. The Follower seemed to have been annihilated during the climax in the swimming hall, but no one can be sure that it was final. The scenes following the climax bear this out, since the film’s atmosphere is as bleak as ever, maybe even more so.

During an establishing shot where the camera is sneaking up on Yara, Jay and Paul, plus a close shot of Yara, she reads: When there is torture, there is pain and wounds, physical agony, and all this distracts the mind from mental suffering, so that one is tormented by the wounds until the moment of death. And the most terrible agony may not be in the wounds themselves…

sleep dostojevskij 0

[cut to Jay] …but in knowing for certain that within an hour, and then within ten minutes…

sleep dostojevskij 1
In this scene the important motif of red is connected to Jay at its strongest in the entire film. She is constantly fingering her cast («pain and wounds») where her red fingernails are playing a part to a certain degree. She has lifted her knee as if in protection against the world, like in the earlier bedroom scene, where Paul tried to persuade her into sleeping with him.

[cut to Paul, while the camera is, almost imperceptibly, closing in on him] …then within half a minute, now, in this very instant – your soul will leave your body…

sleep dostojevskij 2
Sleep is also important in the film. Paul has taken over the curse – in a way he is as doomed as the man awaiting the guillotine – but, paradoxically, he is blissfully ignorant of the bleak prospects about which Yara and Dostoyevsky are lecturing us. Is sleep here a premonition of «your soul will leave your body»?

[cut to Jay, while the camera is now also closing in on her] …and you’ll no longer be a person, and that this is certain.

sleep dostojevskij 3
The camera movement that binds them together suggests that Jay realises the special relationship she now has with Paul. The intensifying effect of the movement implies that she understands that the quote is a metaphor of the inevitable death of all human beings, a thought very few 19-year-olds are entertaining.

[cut to Yara] The worst thing is that it is certain. As some sort of full stop for the literary seance, Yara now takes a big bite of the sandwich, but even more important – in our hunt for motifs – is the action that ends the scene:

sleep dostojevskij 4
Yara also drinks from the juice. The film is so drenched in water and fluids, that when one becomes aware of it, it turns into some sort of motif humour when it occurs as “demonstratively” as here – which also serves as a worthy conclusion, since this is the film’s last appearance of the drinking motif. The fact that the film allows itself to dwell on something totally without narrative value, underscores the importance of the drinking. (Food is not as ubiquitous, but on the other hand strongly fetishised through the film’s two close-ups of plates of food, i.e. here.)

The recitation has accompanied single shots of everyone in the room, underscoring their common fate in the struggle against the Follower. But while the camera has observed Yara in a stationary way, the camera movements binding Paul and Jay together emphasise their special relationship: they have slept together and are among those who are/have been afflicted with the curse. Nevertheless we have the feeling that Jay alone perceives the certainty of the role of death in human life. Paul is asleep and Yara is reading in a monotonous and matter-of-fact voice, as if she does not grasp the full implications of the quote. Mechanically, she then takes in nourishment without at the same time taking in the irony of maintaining life in this unthinking manner, in the light of what she has just read.

It is also of interest to dwell upon the timing of certain keywords. Yara takes her very first bite of the sandwich after having said «moment of death». «Certain» occurs three times: (1) after having sat with downcast eyes, Jay looks up right after this word and then remains attentive; (2) there is a cut back to Yara right after the word, marking the end of our gaze at Jay in the scene; and (3) the word is concluding the entire quote.

It Follows operates with motifs like water and sleep – central elements in the maintenance of life, and red also fits this “importance” pattern as the most striking of the primary colours – in meaningful interplay in a film permeated by basic concerns of life, like sex, death, fear and family. The motifs create patterns that supplement, enrich or interconnect the work. Since cinema provides unique opportunities to sneak in symbolism, under the radar, through objects naturally present in images whose (seemingly) primary function is to tell a story, the use of motifs seldom becomes too overt in the hands of a careful director.


sleep 13

Do the frequent occurrences of sleep in It Follows mean something more than contributing to the somewhat drowsy, sleepwalkerlike mood of the film? In the first article (item 6 and 7) we talk about rites of passage between childhood and adulthood, innocence and decay, the adult generation as threat. The teen years are a stage between childhood and adult life, like sleep is a position between life (the state of being awake where we have control of our faculties) and a kind of death (sleep, where we are at the mercy of the subconscious and dreams, living their lives independent of social conditioning and culture). One also speaks of «the sleep of the innocent». In Macbeth the protagonist kills a sleeping person, leading to him being unable to feel safe in his own sleep, and suffering from life-destructive insomnia.

The paradox of It Follows is that sleep is always shown as a safe zone, while it is reality that is the threat, like a nightmare in daylight. While asleep one is a helpless victim of dreams, while awake the characters of It Follows are helpless victims of the Follower. (Another aspect of all the sleeping is that in real life, people suffering from anxiety and/or depression often take refuge in sleep because reality is so exhausting to face.)

It is definitely something dreamlike over the entire It Follows, and at times we have the feeling that the Follower is just a figment of the mind of the victims, especially since it can only be seen by the ones afflicted with the curse, as if a hallucination. Another film with a somewhat unreal, dreamlike mood is Signs (M. Night Shyamalan, 2002), which also has an overrepresentation of sleep. (Described in part 3 of my analysis of that film.) At every point, however, Signs emphasises the very awakening from sleep, often marked by a sudden jolt, connecting sleep to a mood of tortured existence, very different from the serenity of sleep in It Follows.

In this context, it is interesting that Mitchell was inspired to do the film by a childhood recurring dream where Follower-like entities were haunting him. Even though it is difficult to envision two films more different in form and approach, he has also mentioned A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984) as a highly important source of inspiration. There the teenagers are fighting against falling asleep, because Freddy Krueger is terrorising them in their dreams (were they to be killed there, they would never awaken again). So the situation in It Follows is turned completely on its head compared to A Nightmare on Elm Street. (There are also other references: a non-understanding, uninvolved parent generation leads to the teenagers having to deal with the Follower/Freddy on their own, and the alcoholised mother in It Follows is a more subtle echo of the heroine’s mother in the earlier film.)

Here is a slide show of the sleepers in It Follows (plus two related situations: Jay awakening from the sedation administered by her boyfriend, and awakening from unconsciousness after the car crash):

Sleep Myth
An amusing point is that one of the few adults whose face is seen at close quarters in Mitchell’s debut film The Myth of the American Sleepover (2010) – a similar strategy as in It Follows – is pictured asleep (the inspector in the hall where the twins are sleeping over).


water 1

One of the film’s few explicitly gruesome images shows the girl of the prologue, mangled against the background of a sea (with an echo in miniature in the form of a small pool of liquid under her body). Her death is provided with a bittersweet lyrical undercurrent – is the the body of water supposed to create a perspective of eternity? That the sea is important is suggested in the night scene while the girl awaits the Follower, where a lighting effect draws attention to the existence of a body of water in the background:

water 2

Below follows a small slide show displaying other situations where larger bodies of water are important: Jay and her boyfriend have a date at a shore. The sea is visually prominent in the scenes at the cabin owned by Greg (Daniel Zovatto), Jay’s neighbour and classmate. One of the Follower bodies turning up there is filmed with the sea conspicuous in all her three shots, giving it an even more unsettling air since “she” resembles the girl of the prologue. Finally, Jay swims out to three boys in a boat to engage them in sex.

The importance of water in It Follows reaches its zenith in the film’s climax, which takes place in a swimming hall (see the third article). Water also seems to have decisive importance for the characters’ success in overcoming the Follower, since it seems unable to withstand being shot while immersed in the pool. (Also in this, It Follows has something in common with Signs, since water was the aliens’ weakness, and Signs too used occurrences of glasses of water as a premonition of this fact.)

The swimming pool in Jay’s backyard is a story of its own, in addition to being a harbinger of the swimming hall. In the first article (item 7) we saw that it played a part in a general depiction of decay in It Follows, but it has even more functions. The pool occurs in four scenes, appearing to suggest an increasing degradation of Jay’s innocence:

  • In Jay’s introduction scene, symbolising safety and a trusting attitude to the world. She shows the same innocence after the first intercourse with her boyfriend, which is depicted as an unconditional pleasure. But suddenly she is exposed to a world that is cruel – sex is now not only shameful but linked to mortal danger, represented by the Follower who can be seen as a symbol of an adult world insisting that sex is not an innocent activity, emphasised by the Follower’s obscene nudity. Bound to the wheelchair, Jays is forced to become part of this perverted worldview. Later, the adult world will in fact force her into prostitution.
  • In a brief glimpse among the moody exterior shots leading up to the scene where Jay’s friends sleep over at her place to protect her against the Follower. She will soon meet the Follower in the kitchen in the form of an abused, half-naked woman, possibly a prostitute – again a perverted image of sex.
  • After having slept with Greg at the hospital, since he has offered to take over the curse from her. She is unable, however, to free herself from her paranoia, fleeing into the house to isolate herself in her bedroom. Through the intercourse she has in a way prostituted herself to get rid of the curse, an act that becomes even more dubious since it is highly uncertain whether Greg in fact believes in the curse, or is just a womanizer wanting to conquer her. (While she is in the pool, a news report is rolling on TV about a fire – the opposite of water – that threatens to spread out, like the threat of the Follower.)
  • After she has had sex with one or more of the boys in the boat, the pool is shown empty of water and soiled with rubbish. Just like after the previous pool scene, she shuts herself inside the bedroom (this time with her female friends). Again the pool appears in the wake of sex, the connection even stronger now, because she swam in the sea to reach the boys. The prostitution is now even worse, more brazen and ruthless, since she has doomed one of the boys to certain death through the curse.

When Jay finally also sleeps with Paul, even then she cannot escape the ambiguity Greg represented. Neither she nor we are convinced about the extent that Paul sincerely wants to help her or just fulfills a sexual conquest he has coveted since childhood. The mood after their intercourse is far from happy, while the rain is hammering down as a reminder of the Follower. We also sense that sex was a reward for Paul having had the plan that led to victory over the Follower. In the last scene, the potential Follower seems to have «sprung from» the couple’s folded hands, as a sign that their companionship is built on compromise, prostitution and necessity, not pure and innocent love. (In this scenario, it is thus eminently suitable that Paul is pondering to pass on the curse to some prostitutes.)

Follower last scene

The journey from innocence to perversion is also mirrored in a miniature version of the trajectory. In childhood Jay and Paul found a stack of porno magazines, but when the consternated adults discovered this, both received «sex education» by their parents, in a transition from the child’s innocence to a more grown-up (and shame-infested) world. Then Paul finds a new collection of such magazines in the house where the teenagers are looking for the real identity of Jay’s boyfriend. An almost imperceptible, soft music starts playing on the soundtrack, as if in allusion to sweet memories from childhood. But the past innocence about the magazines is now irrevocably changed into something dirty and coarse, both through their knowledge of the curse and the surroundings of the «degenerated», decaying house.

There are more larger bodies of water in It Follows. All three paintings we see in Jay’s home, in the living room and the corridor towards the kitchen, contain subjects to do with seas and rivers…

kitchen painting collage
…but there are even more rectangular framings joining in, because the science fiction movie on TV takes place by a sea, probably on an alien planet. In the middle TV image above we see, as extra emphasis, water spraying around a female figure. Earlier we have heard in the TV dialogue: «Almost sounds like a girl »; «A girl?»; «Perhaps – or a monster,» which is also a very fitting remark about the Follower that Jay will soon stumble upon in the kitchen…
water follower
…in the form of an abused woman, she too connected to liquids, since she is peeing on herself. Her naked breast connects to the Follower who later kills Greg in the body of his own mother. The breast suggests (mother’s) milk…
water follower fuck
…and even the murder process is connected to humidity, pouring from the arm of both the Follower and Greg. In addition, but difficult to see in this image, the Follower’s entire abdominal region is dripping wet.

Amusingly, fluids are also a contributing factor in Greg’s demise. He does not really believe in Jay’s story about the Follower; he was busy urinating when the Follower attacked on the beach, so he missed the event that convinced everyone else about the existence of the Follower.

Fluids for drinking

drink 2

The big water surfaces and swimming pools in It Follows are propagated on a smaller level, in water and fluids drunk by the characters. One of the most beautiful examples is served in the above image, where water-drinking is fetishised through an odd composition (and an unusual way of drinking). It is difficult to say, of course, how much of this shot’s purpose is to create a general feeling of strangeness – in which the film is drenched – and how much it is supposed to emphasise water as symbol and motif. But since we can never fully know the filmmaker’s intention – besides the possible result of unconscious processes in the director – we have no other choice than productively dealing with what actually exists in the film.

The below scene is central, because it introduces Jay in the film. In all eight frontal shots of her, there is always a can of soft drink near her head. (The can also ties into the red motif.)

red pool montage xy
Upper row: (1-2) She looks up at the squirrel; (3-5) and talks to Kelly. Lower row: (1-3) She reacts to the neighbourhood boy who is spying on her together with a friend; (4) as soon as she has entered the house, she picks up a cup of drink from the kitchen worktop; (5) and positions herself very close to her mother and the latter’s glass of wine.

Soft drinks and beer are often imbibed in the film, almost like a ritual. Below is a montage of a number of scenes where an assortment of cans (and a pocket flask) are in action:

drink collage

Far left in the lower row, Kelly grimaces after a taste from Paul’s can, which he has spiced up with liquor from a pocket flask (from which we later see him drink directly). Paul has to endure a lot of ribbing from Kelly and Yara, and he does not seem particularly popular with them. Nevertheless he is tolerated as part of the “gang” – may the reason be that he, being a bit older than at least Kelly, is able to provide them with alcohol?

One can suspect, of course, that all these cans are simply product placement. Even so, it is seamlessly integrated in both the characters’ universe and the film’s larger water motif. But «Coolidge Cola», which is quenching their thirst in the largest image does not appear to exist in reality, so the product theory is dubious. An example of subtle emphasis on drinking comes in the first scene from Greg’s viewpoint: it is striking how it starts with lingering on him fishing a can of beer out of the fridge (far right, lower row above), and then follows him transporting it into the living room.

drink collage second
More drinking: during the sisters’ long walk along the suburban street, both drink from large cups. When Greg appears for the first time in the film, Kelly takes a sip as she looks at him, while through the car-washing Greg «answers» her with his own liquid. Jay’s boyfriend brings cans of beer to their date at the shore, and just before he sedates her, he places a can just beside her, an action that seems rather superfluous from a narrative point-of-view.

The cinema scene is an inferno of drinking and water references. Jay and her boyfriend play a game: which one of the cinemagoers would they wish to change places with in life? He surprises Jay by having chosen a child instead of her candidate, a man standing with a beautiful woman and…

water kino
…all three shots of the candidates connect them to the film’s drinking and water motif.
drink pointing
When he points at a woman who turns out to be the Follower (because Jay cannot see her), a cup of drink even takes part in the gesture. This receives a dramatic echo later in the film, where Jay is immersed in water in the swimming hall. Incidentally, the cinema interiors are awash in red, another important motif.

Drinking is even further connected to the Follower: at two occasions crushed cans have been hung up in windows, as an alarm signal if a Follower should enter. Jay’s hysterical, rather odd exclamation «I need water!» when she is afraid that a Follower at any time could enter the bedroom, also fits the pattern, as well as glasses of orange juice being a vital part of the two stylised shots of plates of food (here). Very soon after the first occurrence, the camera is mysteriously gliding along the kitchen worktop before it ends up gazing at the mothers of Jay and Greg, drinking wine together. One motivation behind this movement is probably to have the faucet appear in the shot. Finally, Jay’s mother is almost always depicted with wine glasses and bottles nearby.


The below montage is six shots from the «I need water!»-scene, where Jay has taken refuge in her bedroom after having met the Follower as the woman in the kitchen. On the wall a red cloth (a towel or some clothing) is hanging – incidentally, the same colour as the Follower’s skirt – and the situation is staged so that Jay repeatedly returns to a position close to the cloth.

red cloth 1 and 6 montage
Upper row: (1) She storms towards the wall, then sinks down on the floor below the cloth; (2) she rises when the others want to get in; (3) after having let Paul and Kelly in, she returns to the cloth where she remains standing, shouting at them. Lower row: (1) She slides down to the floor again in despair; (2 and 3) when someone yet again knocks on the door, she rises to her standard position, the cloth staying visible while the film cuts back and forth between her and the others, who now stand by the door.
red cloth 15
Furthermore, the area by the door is constantly bathed in a reddish light.
red cloth 11
The Follower is let in together with Yara, and the cloth, until now having symbolised a smoldering anxiety, explodes into acute horror.

As the most striking of the primary colours, red is also the most useful one in matters of coloured coding. With a colour-seeking gaze one does not have to see much of Halloween (1978) or The Sixth Sense (1999), two works referred to in the first article (item 4 and 5), to see that red plays an important role. (This is far from a superficial trick resorted to by “commercial” filmmakers. For example, the Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu was supposed to have been obsessed by red; for example, the colour is present in small daubs as often as he could in Equinox Flowers [1958]).

Cinematographers prefer to avoid strong colours because they might distract from the storytelling, and this is one reason that so many Hollywood films have a virtually monochrome, almost black-and-white-like look. The trick is to apply the colours one wishes to ascribe specific meanings in a delicate and precise fashion, and in the extras on the The Sixth Sense Blu-ray, M. Night Shyamalan tells how he banned all other use of red except in objects intended to conjure up meaning.

An analyst’s search for red objects in It Follows becomes a bit like the characters’ paranoia about the possibility of discovering the Follower in any situation. Red means danger, among other things, something that may sound banal, but there is nothing trite about how the colour is woven into the film.

In the scene where Jay and her boyfriend are at a restaurant, she is surrounded by red (this is even before she knows about the Follower, so red is here functioning as an alarm signal):

red restaurant
First Jay is flanked by two persons clothed in the exactly same shade of red, and when the camera is closing in and focus is shifted to the background, we see that also the curtains and an object outside is in red. Furthermore, the street is bathed in red, and on top of everything, a possible Follower arrives, clothed in red. (Please note that the focus is pulled in combination with the drinking motif, because it happens at the same time as she leans forward to drink.)

Below is the start and end point of the film’s most elaborate and art-film-like scene – the teenagers visit a school to find the real identity of Jay’s boyfriend – a 91-second take where the camera twice swivels around its own axis, before it closes in on a situation framed by a door:

red school 3
The shot starts with a person in red centred in the frame and ends with the female official, her top being fetishised in almost overwhelming fashion.

Below is the film’s most wonderful “scare moment” where the entire audience jump in their seats by the sudden sound of a ball banging against the bathroom window (this is far from primitive, cheap manipulation: it is essential that the viewer get to experience exactly the same shock as Jay, whose nerves are utterly on edge at this point of the film):

red ball 1
Afterwards, the camera zooms in, slowly and extraordinarily meaningful, at the ball (it is also shot through a window pane, which makes the ball «wave» in an unsettling, enchanting manner). This situation leads directly to the peculiar shot where Jay drinks from the faucet – one can say that the motifs of red and water here are intertwining.
Følger boy
The ball was thrown by the mysterious neighbourhood boy – who may be in cohorts with the Follower? – and who is dressed in red all three times that he occurs.
red girl
Later, as the film builds tension before the scene where the Follower breaks into Greg’s house and kills him, we see yet another ball (white this time), thrown by a girl in a red top.

The following scene – the situation where Jay through the classroom window discovers the Follower approaching in an old woman’s body – occurs directly after the ball against the window, as if the ball was an urgent signal to look for more red objects:

red ball 2
This is the scene’s start and end points. First we see the classroom from Jay’s point-of-view. Then Jay spots the old lady and flees the classroom. The scene ends with Greg looking after her with a surprised look. But we also see a girl in a red hat – strangely enough, she has it on indoors – and the scene started with the same hat centred in the shot.
red ball 3
The girl is positioned close to Greg, making her play a part also in this shot: Greg glances at Jay, who is staring as if hypnotised at the old woman. Mitchell also manages to sneak in another person in red at the edge.
red ball 3a
A study of red nails and Jay’s increasing panic as the Follower comes closer.
red ball 4
Here Jay flees the school. Can it really be coincidence that there is a single red car among all the others in the car park – even in a shot showing a rear mirror, in which a Follower might turn up?
red ball 5
As Jay then exits a tunnel, the image explodes into red.
red car
This is from the prologue, where the girl’s car is bathing the surroundings in red – and the front lights look like the eyes of a demon.
red car 2
It is fascinating how red objects lurk in the background of so many shots in It Follows. To the right, a red car is itching at the shot’s edge; to the left, significantly the film’s very last shot, a red car is at the other edge. Previously we have seen, here, that the unnerving neighbourhood boy cycles past two red cars when he observes the teenagers before they leave for the swimming hall.
red misc 1
The walking scene opens with a red car far away, carefully positioned between the characters. The girl from the prologue has red shoes, her father a red top – the parent generation’s absence and betrayal constitutes an important undercurrent in the film – and the same goes for the guy with the rake in the final scene. The potential Follower in the background has a small dash of red in his clothing.

Actually, all six shots of the final scene (see the first article, item 10) contains small elements of red: (1) the man with the rake; (2) the fire hydrant just over Paul’s shoulder; (3) the man again; (4) Jay’s nail in the close-up of the couple’s hands; (5) the potential Follower, and then the man is also added; (6) the car at the edge of the shot.

red misc 2
More red: the “Old Maid” card is centrally placed among the seven cards – is it coloured red especially for the film? (Kelly’s black nails form a contrast to Jay’s red nails.) The mother of Jay’s girlfriend, one of the very few adults whose face is shown, has red hair.

It is reasonable to connect the left shot above, Jay in a T-shirt with an image of a woman holding a red balloon, to the red ball that smashed against the window – the most obvious expression of Jay’s paranoia about a disaster that at any time can throw itself at her. It is fitting, then, that Jay wears this T-shirt during the film’s most monstrous incident: Greg being sexually murdered by the Follower in his mother’s body. The girl on the T-shirt is blond like Jay, and even though she is laughing, the grimace of her mouth could also be read as a terrified scream.

red bush 2
From the opening scene: even though they seem to be of the same type, only the bush to the right is dressed in autumnal colours. Is this an intentional device to strengthen the mood of imbalance and abnormality governing the scene? Several other bushes and hedges shown by the camera during its circular motion also look unusually red.

The red motif also provides comments on the perversion of Jay’s sexual innocence, as discussed in connection with the swimming pool. Having sex with her boyfriend in the car, we see Jay in red/pink underwear, which is also strongly emphasised in the iconic scene where, bound to the wheelchair, she meets her first Follower. When she later in the film wakes up on top of the car hood, she then walks through the grove and down to the sea. There she undresses and swims towards a boat with some boys, evidently to pass on the curse to them by having sex.

red underwear
We have no idea what makes her walk away from the car (she hears something, music noise from the boat, but it is mixed so low as to be almost inaudible). But her T-shirt has been pulled down, so that the red underwear, so emphatically connected to sex in the earlier scene, serves as an subconscious signal to us about what is going to happen.

One of the saddest scenes of It Follows occurs when Paul, pondering passing on the curse, rounds a street corner with two haggard prostitutes under a leaden sky in a post-industrial wasteland. The scene ends with one of the prostitutes shown from behind, and the angle and her red pants seem to form a direct connection to the next scene: here the camera closes in on Jay from behind, and she is dressed in bright red, her most powerful connection to that colour in the film. (Paul is also present, reinforcing the connection.) Another link in the loss of innocence and the prostitution that are besmirching Jay:

red prostitute c
An amusing point is that Jay’s boyfriend (the thin slice far left) wears red underpants, revealed when he too turns the back to the camera. Like Jay, he is “prostituting” himself to pass on the curse to her. He is present in three sequences in the film, and both times he represents a threat to Jay – during the dates – he wears a red top.

Below is one of the most discreet occurrences of red, where the colour usage is of course impossible to detect consciously, at least the first time we see the film, immersed in the drama of the situation. Here Jay runs from the Follower at Greg’s cabin, before she drives off the road, injuring herself:

crash 1
On a side road there is a person in red, and as Jay comes closer “the danger signal” increases in strength (and it becomes “clearer” that the person sits on a tractor)…
crash 11
…then a car appears (here it would be too easy, however, to claim that the rear light plays a part in the red motif, since it is present on all cars – about the equivalent of including the characters’ eye pupils in a motif of circles)…
crash 21b
…but this is more interesting: when she drives off the road, there is a red object on the mailbox, which is teared loose and is flung at the windshield.

Purple is a colour related to red. The colour scheme during the swimming hall climax is tinged with purple, but this device also occurs earlier:

purple car
The image of the driving teenagers is one of the most beautiful in the film, but not just the car, but the landscape and sky are swathed in purple, as if making the urban wasteland even sadder. The rust stains on the car hood look like psychedelic clouds.

A car body similarly drenched in purple also occur when they are about to leave for the swimming hall, as if a harbinger of the climax’ purple haze. Here they are observed by the mysterious boy, who also chimes in with the colour scheme, since both his pants and bike are dark purple (even more evident here):

purple 2

In It Follows one always feels there is an uncanny link between Jay and the boy who appears to be stalking her. In this scene Jay is for the first time dressed in deep-red clothing. This plays a part in a curious coincidence, because the boy is always in red, and the bicycle he now suddenly turns up on, appears to the same Jay used to escape a Follower earlier in the film. It is unclear who actually owns the cycle, but object, action and colours form a peculiar knot of connections:


Red nails

We shall end this article by following one of the film’s most memorable patterns: Jay’s red nails. In the scene where she spots the old lady at school, her nails are discreetly contributing to the mood, by her constant fingering of a pencil. Throughout It Follows, her nails function like a stigma – the infection/curse of the Follower refusing to let go. Jay has red nails right from the start of the film, but it is only when she has been “infected” through sex with her boyfriend that they are given prominence in the mise-en-scène. The following walk-through concentrates on certain heavily stressed stations of the nail pattern, forming a clear line through the film.

For the full benefit of the analysis, we should first look at trees and greenery – other elements strongly connected to Jay, including in this rather emphatic echo:

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Jay’s introduction scene, when everything is still fine, where (surrounded by the water motif) she looks up at the trees.
After having fled the Follower that killed Greg, she wakes up as if from a nightmare: she looks up at the trees again, the situation now forming an ironic contrast to the innocence and security she felt at the start of the film. Here, however, she does not save the ant in the pool, but immediately proceeds to “kill” one of the boys in the boat by sleeping with him.
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In the introduction scene’s very first shot we see Jay encircled by greenery, and when she climbs into the pool it is af she is merging with the tree.

Jay is definitely connected to grass, bushes and trees. In three other situations we see her gaze, almost instinctively – as if searching for her former safety – being drawn up into the trees: while awaiting a possible Follower at the playground, while keeping an eye on the street before Greg is killed, and before falling asleep on the car hood. Red for danger, green for harmony – this leads our thoughts to Mitchell’s source of inspiration, Nightmare on Elm Street, where (according to the IMDb) the original colour scheme for Freddy Krueger’s sweater was red and yellow. This was changed, however, when director Craven learned that it was red and green that formed the strongest contrast for the human retina.

Now we are equipped for a look at one of the most memorable scenes in It Follows, and later the pattern springing from it:

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In the protracted shot where the camera is approaching the car where Jay and her boyfriend make love, the camera starts here, including the plants in the foreground. At the very end of the take, just as the intercourse is over, Jay’s nails are given emphasis for the first time in the film, when she is caressing his head.
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Afterwards, while he allegedly gets beer from the trunk, we again see the plants in the foreground, of the same type as in the next shot:
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Here the nails are virtually iconised: while the camera is gracefully lowered and Jay is touchingly philosophising about life, they interact with the plant on the ground (which has white flowers, the same colour in which most of the Follower bodies are dressed).
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It is not beer, however, but a sedative he has fetched. During the struggle Jay is pressing her hands and nails against the body of the car, with plants again in the foreground…
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…and as Jay loses consciousness, her hand limply falls down (and touches the plant), while the camera is reversing its earlier movement – rising, it creates a bittersweet symmetry between the situations.
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During the police interrogation, we again look down at the nails, which are now bestowed with a touch of tragedy. Jay also has an “X” tattooed on a finger, very much in evidence here. The tattoo is first prominently shown when Jay sits bound to the wheelchair – newly infected, does the “X” mean that she is “marked” by the curse?
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The next time the nails are prominent is in yet another scene with her boyfriend, when the teenagers have found his real address and is discussing the situation with him…
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…again vegetation plays an important role…
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…the voices of the others seem to live their own lives, while Jay is totally lost in her activity…
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…in this shot, the camera is even closer to her knee – the resting place for her hands during interrogation – and the blades of grass may symbolise the Follower’s line of victims (and there are five straws, one for each finger on the hand)…
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…and like in the assault scene, with the lowering and rising camera, this little intermesso starts and ends symmetrically.
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This is from the preparations for the swimming hall climax, where Jay’s hand in the water seems to conjure up the dissolve to the exterior shot of the building.
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While they wait for the Follower, the mirror effect of the pool surface creates multiple hands and nails, in shifting patterns.
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The Follower has now been shot in the head, but since only Jay can see it, it is she who has to peek into the pool to check on the situation. Her hands gradually work their way forward while the camera is following them, in one of the many stylised manoeuvres in the climax sequence…
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…subjected to hauntingly evocative lighting, she looks like a ghost…
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…while the camera is descending – the movement reminiscent of the assault scene – the image explodes in red, in an overwhelming culmination of the red motif.


Water is transformed into blood, as the film’s two most important motifs converge, while the submotif of the nails has constantly played its supporting role. The motifs tell their own abstract “story”, in parallel to the surface story’s literal narrative.

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