Maika Monroe is killing it right now. From professional kite boarder to scream queen, first in Adam Wingard’s thrill-chiller The Guest and now David Robert Mitchell’s slick indie horror It Follows, she’s spearheading something of a renaissance in the genre.
A big hit stateside, the buzz preceding It Follows’ arrival down under hit fever pitch. Monroe thinks the film’s success is down to Mitchell’s refreshingly original take.
“Horror movies today are usually very loud and in your face,” she says. “There’s an elegance to It Follows and a simplicity that you just don’t see in the genre right now.”
Mike Gioulakis’ spooky cinematography comes straight out of the John Carpenter school of making everyday suburbia seem terrifying, as does the menacing synth score by Disasterpeace. Monroe attributes their work, along with Mitchell’s keen eye for subverting standard horror tropes, including sex = death, as a winning combination.
Monroe plays Jay, an unfortunate Detroit teen whose boyfriend unsportingly reveals that their bump and grind session in the backseat of his car has put her in the firing line of a terrifying shape-shifter who’ll hunt her down unless she passes on the curse by getting jiggy again. Yep, that’s right. The only way to escape the slaughter is to have more shenanigans.
It Follows is a far classier proposition than that set up might seem to suggest, with the sleek presentation only adding to the all-pervading menace. Monroe felt she was in good hands with Mitchell. “He’s incredible to work with, especially on a film like It Follows, which is very intense. He’s just so calm, a rock, a real leader, I know he’s going places. He’s got such an incredible vision.”
Growing up, her dad was a big horror fan and he got Monroe started early. She recalls the pair sitting down to watch Stanley Kubrick’s take on Stephen King’s The Shining when she was only 11. Hooked form the outset, she’s always been a big fan of the women who fight back against the monster, and she’s glad to add Jay to that list.
“Jay’s just living a normal life and then she’s suddenly thrown into something insane and has to deal with it,” Monroe says. “She’s not a damsel in distress, she becomes a hero. I don’t think initially, when you meet her, she thinks of herself as strong, so I like that arc.”
Can we expect to see Monroe pop up in a sequel? “People have started talking about it, I don’t know,” she offers, tentatively. “If David came up with a cool concept, I’d love to work with him again. We’ll see.”
With pretty much all the major horror franchises getting at least one reboot, maybe we’ll see It Follows in a new iteration 20 years down the track? “Oh god, isn’t that funny? I’ve never thought of that, someone else being me. That would be pretty cool!”
Below, Monroe shares her favourite scream queens and tells why each was so affecting.
Shelley Duvall, The Shining (1980)
Stephen King was infamously unhappy with auteur extraordinaire Stanley Kubrick’s take on his best-selling novel, with one of his main beef’s being that he felt Duvall’s take on Wendy Torrance lost a lot of her fighting spirit in defending her son from her psychotic ghost whispering husband, Jack (Jack Nicholson). Both Duvall and Kubrick were nominated for Razzie awards, but Monroe doesn’t agree.
“There’s just something so intense and simple about it that I love,” she says. “Shelley does such a good job, showcasing female strength in the face of absolute terror. I just love her in it, and think she’s amazing. It’s also a great example of the soundtrack and the cinematography creeping you out.”
Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween (1978)
The unholy rampage of sibling-killer Michael Myers was the seminal horror hit for a generation, sparking multiple sequels and a less than stellar reboot from Rob Zombie, with yet another ‘recalibration,’ apparently in the works. But John Carpenter’s original remains its finest outing, with Curtis’ performance as Laurie a game-changer.
“She’s no damsel in distress and I love that,” Monroe says. “She’s badass. That was so unique back then, especially in the horror genre. This was one of the main films David had us watch before we started to film It Follows, along with The Shining. I definitely drew inspiration from Jamie for Jay.
Linda Blair, The Exorcist (1973)
Based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, whose adapted screenplay scored an Oscar, as did Robert Knudson and Christopher Newman for Best Sounds, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist proves that the soundtrack is integral to scaring the pants off of your audience. (It took Jaws to knock it off its perch as highest-grossing film of all time.)
Blair’s pea green vomiting, torrent of profanity and unmentionable behaviour with a crucifix shocked audiences worldwide, and her performance, for which she got a Best Supporting Actor nod, certainly open the eyes of a young Monroe. “Some of those images just never leave you.”
Janet Leigh, Psycho (1960)
Filmed on a closed set amidst intense security, Alfred Hitchcock also bought up every copy of the Robert Boch novel he could find in order to keep Janet Leigh’s shocking shower scene set to Bernard Herrmann's seminal screeching score a secret.
It worked, with audiences worldwide blind-sided, and Leigh scoring a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Oscars. “This is one of the film’s that scarred me for life,” Monroe says. “I’ve never looked at a shower in quite the same way ever again. Dad really loves the horror classics and we worked our way through them.”
Tippi Hedren, The Birds (1963)
Hedren, Melanie Griffith’s mother, has publically recounted the price of stardom, claiming that her snubbing of Alfred Hitchcock’s advances led to the famous director making her life a misery both on set and off.
“I love how the threat from the crazy birds just appears and then all of a sudden they’re gone again,” Monroe says. “There’s an element of that in It Follows, and I know David wanted to base Jay’s look on the Hitchcock girls, capturing some of that feel. I guess that puts me in pretty good company?”