Horror Films are often cathartic expressions of some of mankind’s deepest, most innate fears. Those fears frequently revolve around our attempt to grapple with death and our own mortality, but these horror films are explorations of the dark, murkier side of dating and modern romance. These flicks capture some of the millennial generation’s fears, most notably, dating anxiety.
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It Follows is a movie that may very will give you a severe case of dating anxiety if you don’t have already experience it. The storyline sees teens finding that intercourse leads to being haunted by a paranormal entity. Our main character, Jay, is an innocent, curious teenager embarking on what she believes will be a new romance with a boy she recently met. Her life is simple, sweet. Her room and dresses are shades of pastel pink. But after sleeping with her new boyfriend, Jay is horrified to awaken tied to a wheelchair in an abandoned building. Her prince charming tells her that he has given her a sexually contracted curse in which she will be stalked by a shapeshifting being that will kill her unless she passes on the curse to a new partner.
Following the encounter, Jay’s life becomes rife with complexity and fear. Her entire world is turned upside down as the result of a one-night-stand. This film is largely allegorical for how dating and sex can complicate life in sometimes very scary ways. This becomes especially nuanced when we factor in how prevalent the STI has become and how what seems like an innocent romance can result in life-changing consequences.
This pitch black horror-comedy’s protagonist is Dawn O’Keefe, a high school student and abstinence advocate who struggles to reconcile her faith and desire to remain a virgin until marriage with her burgeoning sexuality and attraction to a boy named Tobey.
After Tobey tries to rape Dawn, robbing her of her autonomy, Dawn’s feminine parts bite off Tobey’s genitalia, protecting her from his unwanted advances. Dawn’s toothy downstairs is the only way she can protect herself from vicious men which is allegorical for the lack of control women often have in making decisions about, and protecting, their own bodies.
Dawn’s toothed pudenda also represents a broken dream and the death of her teenage innocence as she comes to the realization that she will never get her happy ending and lose her virginity to her soulmate. Once Dawn accepts this, she no longer views life with the same sense of righteousness and naïveté. She loses her fears about men and is empowered by the weapon between her legs.
[Spoilers Ahead] The film closes with Dawn trapped in a car with a creepy man that is eyeing her like prey. Instead of seeing fear in Dawn’s eyes, we see a smile slowly creep across her face. She knows she is in control and that he is the one in danger. [End Spoilers]
Sissy Spacek immortalized Carrie White, a 16-year-old telekinetic high school student who is constantly mocked and bullied at school. Carrie is painfully shy and ostracized by her peers. This intensifies when Carrie gets her period for the first time and is pelted with tampons. Carrie is petrified as she believes she is dying. Carrie’s lack of knowledge on menstruation and puberty represents both the lack of awareness of puberty and some of the scary changes that come along with it.
Carrie’s deeply traumatizing experience is an over-the-top expression of how painful fitting in, dating, and finding a sense of belonging can be during adolescence. When Carrie is asked to go to the prom by Tommy, a handsome, popular student, she begins to formulate a dream and an illusion that she will finally belong and experience love.
Carrie’s hopes are cut down abruptly as she is doused with pig’s blood while accepting her Prom Queen crown. The pig blood represents the cruel reality that differs so drastically from the idyllic dream Carrie had in mind.
Carrie is left disgraced and uses her telekinetic powers to extract revenge on all of her bullies and classmates. While she succeeds in getting revenge, Carrie will never get what she actually wanted: to belong and to fall in love.
Rickie and J.T. are high school misfits with non-existent sex/love lives who each suffers from his own version of dating anxiety. J.T. is cynical when it comes to girls, while Rickie is an idealist. Rickie is enamored with his childhood sweetheart, Joann, whom he has “lost to puberty” as she is now popular and refuses to associate herself with Rickie. This speaks to social divisions within dating structures in which popularity and looks callously designate who can date whom.
After skipping class and trespassing into an abandoned mental asylum, Rickie and J.T. find a zombie-like, mute, naked woman tied to a table. Rickie’s first instinct is to go get help, while J.T. sees an opportunity to use the woman as a sex slave.
The zombie girl symbolizes “the perfect female companion”. Unlike Joann, the zombie girl cannot up and leave them or make them feel socially and sexually inadequate, like they do in everyday life. Rickie symbolizes man’s inner goodness and desire to do things in a moral manner, while J.T.’s sociopathic, narcissistic tendencies represent man’s selfish desire to take things by force, including dominating the zombie girl.
Deadgirl is a statement on how cruel adolescents can be towards each other. J.T. regards women as sex toys and Joann is cruel to Rickie in terms of how coldly she expresses her lack of feelings toward him. Rickie’s desire for true love and devotion goes unreciprocated until he reaches a state of disturbing apathy that surprisingly exceeds even J.T.’s disposition.
May is about a lonely 28-year-old woman desperately attempting to forge relationships with those around her. She suffered from social rejection throughout her childhood due to a lazy eye. Her mother gifts her with a doll, Suzy, a replacement for the void of meaningful relationships in her life. This pattern of social inadequacy and dating anxiety continues into adulthood and is amplified by a series of failed attempts at belonging. May starts a relationship with Adam, a mechanic. During a make-out session, May bites Adam’s lips. Weirded out by the experience, Adam brashly breaks up with May. In a fit of sadness, May tries to cozy up to her lesbian co-worker Polly, with whom she has begun a brief affair but discovers Polly in the arms of another woman. May experiences rejection after rejection until she realizes that she only likes parts of her friends/lovers and not the sum of all of their parts together. May remembers her mother’s advice: “If you can’t find a friend, make one.” May then tries a Frankenstein-like creature built from dismembered parts belonging to all the people that have rejected and abandoned her. Well, that’s one way to cope with dating anxiety.
More than a horror film, May is a statement on how brutal dating can be and the disposable attitude that is so common in our culture. No one looks past May’s flaws long enough to see her worth. May is constantly thrown away when her imperfections begin to show and that is allegorical to how short-lived modern romances can be. The rejection May faces in adulthood seems to even eclipse the rejection she faced as a child with a lazy eye. May’s fixation on certain parts of everyone (Adam’s hands, Polly’s neck, etc…) is symbolic for how imperfect every mate in the dating pool is and how frustrating that can be. May doesn’t find her perfect whole, only pretty parts.