There’s something endlessly creepy about a slow-moving figure that relentlessly stalks and pursues its victims. It’s a bread-and-butter trope of classic slasher films, and now it’s inspired one of the best horror movies of the year. It Follows centers on a young woman (Maika Monroe), Jay, who has a traumatic sexual experience only to learn that she’s contracted a sexually-transmitted stalker – a ghoulish, shape-shifting figure that follows its prey over, under or through any obstacle until it catches and kills them. The film expands theatrically this weekend, a rare feat for indie horror these days, and not only is it eerie as hell, it’s a beautifully shot, well-acted film that’s well worth the price of admission.
Yesterday, I jumped on the phone for an exclusive interview with Maika Monroe. We talked about why It Follows resonates with audiences, director David Robert Mitchell‘s approach to working with actors, and why you should see the film in theaters. We also talked about one of my favorite films from last year, The Guest, and her upcoming YA sci-fi adaptation, The 5th Wave.
First of all, congratulations on the movie. I finally got a chance to see it last night, and it’s great.
MONROE: Well, thank you!
You’re welcome! Tell me a little bit about what it’s been like for you going from filming a low-key indie film to premiering at Cannes to now getting an expanded theatrical release.
MONROE: Wow, it’s been crazy [laughs]. I had no idea this was going to happen. Filming it, I could tell there was something special, but I didn’t think it would do so well to this extent. It’s been very surreal.
I think one of the natural reactions to watching the movie is to try and strategize how you would get away from It. Do you have an It survival plan?
MONROE: I talked to someone today, and they said that they would want to work on a cruise ship so they could consistently be moving from place to place, and I thought that was brilliant.
That’s very smart.
MONROE: Yeah, very smart right? I like that. I had not thought of that, but now I think that’s what I would do.
It’s a good call…unless you get caught on the ship with It.
MONROE: On the ship with It – there’d be very big problems.
This doesn’t seem like it was an easy role, and horror films are notoriously difficult to film – emotionally and physically – tell me about your time on set.
MONROE: It was a very difficult movie to shoot. I think specifically with the horror genre you have to make it very believable because it can come across ridiculous. So for me I wanted to make it as real as possible, so I had to use my own experiences and go to a darker place while shooting it. So it was not easy. Every day was another battle, whether it was running for your life or screaming or sobbing. It was very difficult.
Yeah, you have to go to pretty much all the darkest emotional places.
MONROE: Yeah, the corners of your brain.
You’re also a professional kiteboarder, so did that athleticism help you get through the more physical sequences?
MONROE: Oh yeah, I’m sure it did [laughs].
Tell me a little bit about working with your director, David Robert Mitchell. He has such a strong aesthetic in his images, how does he work with actors?
MONROE: He knows exactly what he wants, which is very nice when you have complete trust in the director. He’s very hands on, he’s right there. He’ll pull you aside and say, “You know what? Let’s try this. Let’s try to end with that.” He’s incredible to work with. He’s got such a unique way of telling a story and a unique style to him, so it was just incredible working with him.
For a horror film, there’s a level of loveliness to the way it’s shot.
What was your reaction when you got to see the finished product?
MONROE: It was crazy – the music and the cinematography add so much to the movie, which you don’t get as an actor. You don’t get to see that part until after. So seeing it..there’s just such an elegance to the film.
In terms of the script, how much did it change from when you signed on to the finished product? Or is what you first read what ended up on screen?
MONROE: No, there were definitely some changes. For me, it was nice because David was open to dialogue changes just to make things come out more natural. So there were definitely some changes to the script, for sure.
There’s a nice relationship between the characters in the film and they’re all likable. It’s not like a lot of horror films where you hope they get to dying soon.
MONROE: [Laughs] Yeah.
What was the dynamic like for you guys on set?
MONROE: I mean, we all became such good friends on set.. We were all staying together in the hotel in the middle of the suburbs outside of Detroit. There’s not much to do so in a sense we were forced to hang out with each other, but as we hung out more and more we became actual friends. I’m still hanging out with these people today.
The film has really taken off, and most indie horror films don’t reach this kind of audience, why do you think It Follows connects with people?
MONROE: I don’t know, I think there’s just something so refreshing about this take on the horror genre. Like I said before, there’s an elegance and a simplicity and a beauty to a film that you just don’t see in the genre today. There’s a lot of loud in your face blood and gore and guts in genre, but this is just so different. So I think people are really liking it.
Was there a moment where you knew that It Follows was going to be a success?
MONROE: When we went to Cannes and it got really great reviews, I knew that people were going to like it and it was going to be received well. I did not know that it would become so massive in the sense of how many people are talking about it and the wide release. I just never expected that.
It’s pretty rare for an indie horror to get this kind of theatrical release. I love horror on VOD, but it’s usually better on the big screen. I watched this via a screener on my computer, and it was still great, but do you think It Follows is better in theaters?
MONROE: Oh yeah, the soundtrack is everything and seeing the movie on a massive screen you’re always looking for something in the background. I think it’s so important to see it in theaters.
MONROE: [It was] incredibly fun. It was such a fun movie to film. Just because Simon [Barrett] and Adam [Wingard] are two of the funniest people ever, and we just had an absolute blast on set.
It’s a cool thing too, because The Guest is a holiday film, it’s something people will revisit over the years at Halloween. It will probably be a popular film to screen in October.
MONROE: [Laughs] I never really thought about that, but yeah, that is really cool.
Both The Guest and It Follows, among many other recent releases, are both retro-inspired films. Why do you think that throwback trend is kind of sweeping the horror genre right now?
MONROE: They have so many great horror movies made in the ’80s. I mean, the old-school horror is so good. So I feel like people are wanting to bring that back. And the music is so important in these movies. You have great soundtracks and great sounds to these movies.
Absolutely. The Guest soundtrack is fucking great. It gets a lot of play in my house.
MONROE: It’s amazing.
You have The 5th Wave coming up, which is a pretty popular book. What is it like for you stepping into a role that has such a big pre-existing fanbase?
MONROE: It’s a little bit scary, because the fans have expectations and they want certain things from the characters that they’ve become so close to reading the series. It’s scary, but it seems like the fans are just so excited about the movie and very excited about my character, so I think it’s going to be fun.
You get to play a weapons expert. Did you go through any training for that?
MONROE: Oh yeah. [Laughs] Serious training. There was a lot of fight training, gun training. I worked with a SWAT guy who would break down the tactics, because I had to be better than basically everyone else at fighting, guns, everything. So there were about two months of training,
What can you tease for fans of the series about what how the film is approaching the material?
MONROE: I think that they’ve got some really incredible actors for these roles, and I think the fans are really going to like that. There’s so much action, and it has everything, so I think it’s going to be a really fun ride and a really fun movie. I’m excited for people to see it.
It Follows is now in theaters.