**Mild spoilers for It Follows.
I can still see my worst nightmare.
I’m sure I’ve had countless more that terrified me to my core, but this is the only one I can clearly remember experiencing as a child that still gives me pause. It does not follow a linear timeline - no clear beginning, middle, and end. There is a veil, and a light source that is not very bright, but it illuminates the room enough so that I can clearly see the silhouettes of the figures on the opposite side. I’m standing and watching helplessly as the stepmother from Cinderella stabs the mice - yes, including Gus - slowly, over, and over, and they fall to the ground, shrieking and moaning terribly. There is some sort of awful music playing at the same time, a whining organ, or some sort of horn. The stepmother’s face is terrible to behold, all pointed eyebrows and bloodthirsty grin. She stabs and stabs, over and over again, and I can’t run, can’t move, can only watch in frozen horror.
When I finally, blessedly, awoke from that dream, I could not do what I normally did after a nightmare as a child: rip back my covers, throw open my door, and thunder up the stairs to my parent’s bedroom, gaining speed as I flew, lest the shadows from the slumbering house nip my toes, grab at my vulnerable ankles. Normally, I’d launch myself into their bed and burrow beneath the covers, trembling and sobbing with relief that I’d made it to my safe haven. I never had nightmares in my parents’ bed; it was a force field of strength and protection.
No. That particular night, the distance from my bed to my door stretched miles long. The darkness was too deep and thick to traverse. I could not fathom what might lay beyond my door, and tried to visualize the innocuous stairway landing, the bathroom and its innocent toilet, the window, but what might be looking in?? - until even the imagining became too much. I lay in my bed, frozen with fear, plastered with sweat, shaking, curled into a tight ball of heaving flesh and bone until sleep found me again.
I do not have as many nightmares now - pregnancy, and the severe sleep deprivation that immediately followed, produced incredibly visceral and vivid dreams that were sometimes disturbing, but rarely scary. I’m not sure what to call it, what I experience now: they aren’t night terrors, and they aren’t fantasies. Fear. I’m just afraid. And it’s embarrassing.
It happens after I’ve watched - always against my better judgment - a scary movie. I have friends who revel in these films: the sinister score, the silence that precedes a BANG of some sort, the quickening heart rate and creeping dread. Even the blood and the gore. I am not as leery of movies with copious helpings of the latter; the Saw movies, for instance, I find more disgusting than genuinely frightening. My friends dragged me to the movie theater when they premiered in high school, and while I shuddered and peeked through half-lidded eyes for the entire two hours, my sleep did not really suffer that night. Nonetheless, I can count the number of horror films I have seen on one hand. And every time, I regret it. Every single time.
Despite my misgivings, when Eric suggested - pleaded - for weeks - that we watch an Australian movie called The Babadook a few months ago, I acquiesced. The premise alone was incredibly chilling: a terrible creature that originates from a children’s book. It’s the same sort of trope that make movies like Chucky (seen it) and The Poltergeist (haven’t seen it) so unsettling: they rely on our natural inclination to find children and their toys adorable. When that inclination is turned on its head, we flinch in dismay. It’s a winning formula. The Babadook, however, was hard for me to shake. I spent hours lying awake, eyes darting into the shadows, feeling the same cold dread I did all those years ago in my childhood bedroom. I felt incredibly immature, muttering “It’s just a movie” repeatedly in my head, but I could not deny the very real fear I felt. The only thing stronger than that fear, however, was my pregnant bladder, and so every night, despite every instinct screaming that I stay put, I would slide out of bed - quickly, quietly - and slip into the bathroom, looking at everything and nothing, humming, thinking of sunshine and daisies, until I flushed and walked - just a bit faster - back into the bedroom. Eric would be fast asleep, but so warm and safe, and I’d mentally rail against any uncomfortable comparisons between our bed and the force field at the top of the stairs before settling back into an uneasy sleep.
This past weekend, it happened again: we watched the movie It Follows. The title itself offers an accurate peek into what makes this movie so terrifying: the ominous simplicity of the plot, the single-minded force that drives the narrative, the menacing, inscrutable anonymity of ‘it’. Frankly, this film is masterfully done. The slow, revolving camera often gives the audience the disquieting feeling of being the ‘it’ that is following. This is juxtaposed by the omniscient view that shows you the pursued among the crowd, so that your immediate compulsion is to scan every body in the scene, desperate to locate the creature you know will be walking towards the protagonist. Following her. I can appreciate the art. Beautiful, riveting. And I can’t get the creature - rather, the idea of the creature - out of my head.
More than I am embarrassed, I truly resent my fear. I do not have the mental resources and physiological bandwidth to sustain these neuroses. I have a small child, a job, and a large apartment with many windows. I am a few years shy of 30. I do not relish this phenomenon like I know some people do: the hair-raising chill, the shivering apprehension, the stomach-tightening insistence that there is a something just outside the door, with gaping maw and soulless eyes. Soon, I will be the one wiping damp foreheads and soothing panicked tears, reassuring and allaying the very fears that plague me in the forbidding night. So much of adulthood is pretending to be an adult, anyway: prancing around in too-large high-heels, signing checks in a lackadaisical cursive I still don’t believe in. I suppose this is just one more area in which I will be a gentle, loving hypocrite. Double-checking my own closet every night, after I’ve secured her own.
I should probably stop watching scary movies.