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‘It Follows’ Director David Robert Mitchell on Adolescence, Timelessness, and Test Screenings

Written by on March 12, 2015 

it_follows

Hitting theaters this Friday is writer/director David Robert Mitchell‘s It Follows, a defiantly simple horror film that manages to squeeze everything out of its concept to incredible results. This is a film that doesn’t rely on gore, jump scares, or even the typical sense of bodies for the slaughter. Instead, we are introduced to a concept that there is a creature that will stalk you, day or night, and the only way to “pass it on” is to sleep with someone else. There are nuances found within but that simple premise is enough to get you to intently watch as Jay (Maika Monroe) decides how to get out of this mess with the help of her high school friends, all the while avoiding the impending doom that relentlessly follows her.

There is a timeless sense to the film and it works on more than just a standard horror level, so non-horror fans should definitely give this a shot. Late last year the film made a stop at Fantastic Fest and I had an opportunity to sit down with Mitchell shortly after it debuted to a raucous reception. Together we talked about the simplicity of the curse and how he wanted to make it tactile and real in a way that most iconic horror boogeymen never seem. Additionally, we talked about him making it timeless and how the music played into that, how it was like to work with rising star Maika Monroe, and what it was like to cast the various people that play the creature. Finally, we also talk about the group mentality of adolescence and how he wanted to embrace a brief timeslot in young people’s lives, and whether he thinks this film could have legs and potentially spawn a franchise. Check out the full conversation below.

The Film Stage: One of my favorite things about this film is the simple concept and the actual way the creature works in this film. So many of the icons, whether it is Freddy, Jason, or Michael, they all have this relentless nature to them. They never run or seem rushed. They’re just going to constantly pursue and they’re here to kill you.

David Robert Mitchell: Yeah, one of the things that I had an idea of was just literally getting your sights on this thing and back up down the road, and this thing would walk with you for miles. You could keep your distance: you could get close or back off. But you could physically track it. In a lot of those horror films, there’s a mysterious way in which things disappear and appear. And I’m not saying we don’t do that. We do it. But I like the idea that you could imagine it it is actually moving through the physical world like a person does. We may not have explored it as much as I would have liked in this movie, but I like that concept.

david_robert_mitchellRight. Like if it has to get into a house, it has to break in. It isn’t just going to magically appear.

It won’t go through walls.

Right! So I’ve got to ask about Maika. I watched The Guest recently, and I’m not sure if you’ve seen it.

I haven’t yet, but I want to.

Well, she is blowing up right now. So I’m curious how you came across her. Did you see her in anything else?

She came in and read for us. We knew immediately that she was the right person. She made my job easier because she did such a great job. There’s just… you believe her. There’s a sincerity to her performance. When she is going through this, you’re genuinely concerned for her. You care for her. And that’s not an easy thing to pull off.

One thing I really enjoyed about this film that sets it apart is the friendships throughout and this group mentality. So often in films you might call someone or have a few people over. But at the end of the night, they all go their separate ways. You have Jay’s sister, and their good female friend, and then two other guys that are hovering. But it’s cool because there is constantly a group. It never fully goes down the Scooby-Doo trope either.

Well, we’re playing with that for sure. But yeah.

Jay uses them as a comforting thing. Even if…

They don’t experience the same things Jay is experiencing, they want to do whatever they can for her.

What was the impetus behind the group?

Well, I feel like that is how friendships were like when I was around that age. There’s just a closeness, a camaraderie there that is just different when you’re an adult. It’s not that it’s less. But there’s just something about when you’re young, there’s an intensity in that bond. I have a hard time believing that a gang of adults would stick together and it’s something that I imagine young people would do. There’s a period in teenage years where young people are moving away from their family and there is a distance that is created. In that short range of time, friends almost fill that role. But I think it’s very specific to a certain moment in life.

I love that this film has different people filling the role of the antagonist in the film. I’m curious how you went about casting for that. On the outside it might seem a simple thing to simply cast someone that is going to walk. They are interchangeable.

Well, it was actually very difficult.

Yeah, on the surface it seems easy. What did you have to go through?

A lot of it is just finding people. We cast them locally in and around Michigan. Some of those parts were easier to fill than others. But some of them were tricky. There’s an older woman we had to fill, and there’s some nudity in some roles. The hardest was finding the giant role. He’s like the second tallest man in North America or something and he lived nearby. It was like a week before we shot that scene after searching and searching for an extremely tall man that we found him.

So this film has a ton of buzz around it. It seems like a lot of people are really digging it. How much have you been exposed to that feedback?

A little bit.

[Watch Mitchell narrate a scene from the film below.]

Do you think this film has legs? I don’t see why it can’t become a franchise, and I’m not saying that is even what you want or not, but it could spawn something.

Look, there are other aspects to this that I already have in my head that could be done. But whether I would… it’s a tricky thing. I have things that I definitely want to write for this. I know that much. But I don’t know whether I’ll do that. It depends, really. The film seems to be connecting with a lot of people and that’s really cool. But as far as reaction, we premiered at Cannes and that was like six months ago. So I heard the reactions then and since then, but we didn’t even screen it before that so I didn’t even know if it would work.

Did you do test screenings?

We did one, but it was a small group of people and some friends. I couldn’t really get a sense of whether it was working or not, to tell you the truth.

Hard to get perspective.

Yeah, I mean I played it for some friends, but that doesn’t tell you what it will play like in front of an audience of strangers. So I had no idea. I was very scared going into our first screening in Cannes. First, they’ll boo at Cannes. They actually do that.

Yeah, they’re a very vocal audience and they have that reputation.

So I was kind of freaked out. But people started screaming at some places and I was like, “Okay, cool.” But short answer, I like to think that this could connect to a wider audience, but we’ll have to see. It’s hard to know.

One thing I really liked that you mentioned last night was that you wanted the film to inhabit this gray area of time. You wanted it to be fantastical, a bit, but more so just timeless. You have analog devices and the seashell reader thing. Is that real?

No, no. [Laughs]

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Okay, good. I was wondering what the heck that was.

If you look at it it is actually a phone with like an e-reader program. But I wanted there to be a phone in there with her reading on some weird electronic device. But I didn’t want to put an Android or an iPhone on there because it specifically dates it.

It does!

Then everyone knows what year your production was. So I thought it would be fun. It’s a 60’s shell make-up compact to make it into a strange cell phone. There are things that we understand and seem somewhat familiar, but it’s different. You can’t quite place it but you want to. “Is this from another country or culture?”

Based on that, I just wanted to say that I love the soundtrack [which can be streamed here]. There is almost this exact same feel. It’s got that electronic synth-heavy feel, but I can never date it. So my question is how much of that disjointed fairy tale feeling you were aiming for and how much the music came into play with that.

Well, I knew that the whole time. It was my goal. I mean it is definitely a reference, in terms of music, to horror films of the 70’s and 80’s, but what Rich [Vreeland] in Disasterpeace does is very modern and special. It’s his voice.

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It Follows hits theaters on Friday, March 13th and will expand the following weekend.


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