Maika Monroe is 21 years old and makes her living for part of the year as a professional kiteboarder, the sport wherein a wakeboarder is essentially pulled jauntily along by the paragliding kite they’re roped to. That’s how the striking, blonde Californian spends a chunk of her summer. But when she’s not in the waves, she’s been busy starring in critically acclaimed genre fare, from Adam Wingard’s The Guest to her newest, It Follows, the incredibly buzzy new horror film from director David Robert Mitchell. Paste itself heaped quite a lot of praise on the film in our recent review, and after seeing the movie for myself this past week, I had to agree: Even by the standards of a jaded horror geek, It Follows is equal parts beautiful, thoughtful and inventive. It’s one of the best indie horror films of the last several years.
Little of that would have been possible without Monroe, who stars as the lead character, Jay, a college-aged young woman in suburban Detroit who is stalked by a supernatural entity that is passed from person to person via sexual contact. After receiving “It” via sex with the boy she’s dating, Jay must come to terms with both the reality of the monster (which only she can see) and the seeming impossibility of dealing with the threat, which continues to slowly walk toward Its target no matter what obstacles lay in Its path. It’s a truly disturbing concept, a plodding destructor and symbol of entropy itself that can’t be reasoned with or slowed down. It’s slow, but not stupid, and It will never, ever stop unless the curse is passed on to the next person in line.
Monroe’s Jay, a character with a twist on the female protagonist whose innocence is stripped away.
Fittingly, the film has been rewarded for both its universal critical acclaim and sold-out preview showings with a national release—what was meant to originally go straight to VOD has become a film currently playing in 1,200 theaters, giving many more horror fans a chance to see it. And make no mistake, this is one you’ll want to see in theaters, especially given Mitchell’s masterful use of space and backgrounds to build suspense and tension. The big screen allows a much better venue to carefully scan each background, searching for “It.”
We caught up with Monroe on Monday to talk about her biggest on-screen role to date and what makes for a new horror classic.
: So, I imagine this was an interesting weekend with the movie in theaters. How did you feel, knowing it was going wide instead of VOD?
Monroe: I just never thought that this would be the outcome; this just doesn’t happen too often where plans change. It’s been a bit surreal, and so cool how many people are loving the movie … it’s been a crazy ride for all of us. We’re all just shocked and incredibly happy, and so excited for more people to be able to see it in the theater. On Twitter and social media everyone was telling us about driving an hour or two hours to go see it in limited release, and a lot more people are able to see it now.
: How familiar are you with the types of ‘80s horror films that It Follows evokes? It really is a treat for genre geeks—are you big into horror at all?
Monroe: Well, some of my favorite movies are like The Shining, Halloween, Blue Velvet, A Nightmare on Elm Street—all of those are what I watched and loved as a kid. Those are the horror movies I knew, but I don’t know if I saw something similar to those in this script when I read it. I had a small idea of what [director Mitchell] was evoking, but the thing is: making a movie is so much different from watching the completed thing. There’s very major pieces that you aren’t able to see as a performer until it’s finally put together.
: You worked with Adam Wingard on The Guest, and I love Wingard—he’s one of the best young horror directors out there. How did that compare to working with David Robert Mitchell on It Follows?
Monroe: There was definitely no planning involved in making two horror movies; I read The Guest script and thought it was hysterical and scary and amazing. I had watched You’re Next to get a feel for his style of an entertaining, referential horror movie and see how that female lead was portrayed. Neither movie is your typical take on the horror genre. Then while I was on The Guest I got the script for It Follows, and I wouldn’t have particularly been looking for that specifically, but they’re each so unique. I’m not loving the horror movies these days; it seems like the bigger ones are trying too hard to be something specific and marketable.
Now, working with each of them is very different. The Guest has two hysterical writers (Wingard and Simon Barrett) and it was a much more lively set. It Follows is just so much darker and more serious. David is an extremely calm presence—anything could happen and he keeps it all under control. It’s a very peaceful vibe, which is amazing for a movie with the intensity of It Follows.
: The movie’s visual aesthetic is so interesting—all the tech is super old, and the kids don’t even try to learn about “It” online, which is so different to not show in 2015. There’s a lot of unreality.
Monroe: That’s totally true, it’s a bizarre visual movie. This idea originally came from David’s nightmares when he was a kid, and that fact fills it with this dream-like feel. There’s objects and technology in it from the ‘80s and a few objects that exist now and even a few things that don’t exist at all in our world. I mean, you never even see a computer in the film, how weird is that? That’s what David wanted to create.
Mitchell’s use of wide angles and deep focus draws our eyes to far-off dangers, constantly scanning for any sign of “It” approaching.
: When people write about It Follows they want to talk about it being about teenage sex or STDs, but I thought the sex was more of a means to an end to tell a story about people struggling against inevitability and hopelessness in life. Is that fair to say?
Monroe: Yeah, especially when I read the script originally, I didn’t see the sex as a focal point, it’s more of a method and mechanic for telling the story and not necessarily the main theme. Of course everyone has their own opinions, which I like, but I definitely agree with you.
: The antagonist is scary as hell to me. What do you think is the most frightening aspect of the “It” in It Follows?
Monroe: I think knowing and recognizing It taking the form of a family member would be the most terrifying thing ever. Like when she recognizes It’s in the form of her Dad in the pool scene, that’s the scariest to me.
: What factor is most vital to an indie horror film that rises above the pack in a crowded genre?
Monroe: It’s just … I think horror movies these days don’t have the meaning behind them that they occasionally used to. When a movie comes out that has depth to it and people are drawn to it, those are the ones that stand out. In It Follows, the music, the cinematography, it all works so well together that it makes an immediate, lasting impression. You can’t forget it.
: You’ve done a couple horror flicks by young luminaries in the industry now—if you could take on a role in any type of film next, what would it be?
Monroe: Well, I have a project that I’m going to start working on called Tribes of Palace Verdes, with a very cool story and character. It’s a drama, about a dysfunctional family and how this girl deals with it.
I do like horror, though. To me, I could do four more horror movies back to back if there are scripts and characters that I love. You just can’t plan anything in this career, you can only continue to challenge yourself and hope you can find cool, unique roles and talented people to work with. That’s all I can hope for, and I’m really thankful.
: Would you be interested in a sequel? Mitchell has already said he’s interested, and the conclusion certainly leaves plenty of room for it to continue, you know … following.
Monroe: Yeah! Of course, I would love to work with David again, I think he’s just incredible. We’ll see what happens.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor and full-time horror junkie. You can follow him on Twitter.