What is it? Ambient dread and modern paranoia in it (2017), it follows (2014) and it comes at night (2017)

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This article finds its impetus in the curious convergence of three twenty-first-century horror films around the ambiguous ‘It’ foregrounded by their titles: Andrés Muschietti’s 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel It, David Robert Mitchell’s 2014 It Follows and Trey Edward Shults’s 2017 It Comes at Night. In each of these films, the titular ‘it’ is difficult or impossible to pin down; it can assume the form of anyone (or, in the case of Shults’s film, infect anyone) and appear anywhere; it cannot be reasoned with, explained or swayed from its course; and conventional sources of protection – the law, and particularly the family – all come up short when confronting it. In this way, the ambiguous ‘its’ of these three films can be seen as crystallizations of a twenty-first-century zeit-geist in which monstrosity seems particularly difficult to locate and defuse. In the age of terrorism, mass shootings and ‘stranger danger’, climate change, and global pandemics, these films suggest that contemporary anxieties cluster around the ambiguous nature of modern threats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-220
Number of pages16
JournalHorror Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


  • Ambient dread
  • Ambiguity
  • Horror film
  • Infection
  • Invisibility
  • Monstrosity
  • Pandemic
  • Paranoia


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