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Exclusive Interview: It Follows director David Robert Mitchell

03.13.2015by: Eric Walkuski

The horror world is about to welcome an exciting new voice to its chorus, and unless you've been living in a cave (and who knows, you may have been), you know that voice belongs to David Robert Mitchell. For almost a full year now, we've been hearing about Mitchell's sophomore feature, IT FOLLOWS; it has bounded from festival to festival, earning raves and respect wherever it goes, with many calling it the scariest movie they've seen in years. And it is indeed quite scary. The spooky film boasts an unusual but persuasive premise: a sexually transmitted disease takes the form of a frightening specter that ceaselessly follows whoever is infected, and the only way to rid yourself of it is to pass it on to someone else. Strange idea to wrap your head around at first, but as Mitchell says in the below interview, a nightmare has no logic, it just is. That's what makes IT FOLLOWS so compellingly eerie.

I recently caught up with Mitchell during one of his many press tours for IT FOLLOWS, which is finally being released to the public this weekend (March 13th). We spoke about the movie's premise, if he wants to make a sequel, being pigeonholed as a "horror director," his charming leading lady Maika Monroe and whether or not Hollywood is knocking at his door.

First off I have to congratulate you - not just on the movie, but on all of the accolades the film has received. What's the last year or so been like?

DRM: It's been busy, it's been cool. The movie's played a lot of film festivals all over the world, so a lot of traveling, a lot of getting out there and trying to promote the film. A lot of work, but very cool. Anytime you make a movie and somebody slightly cares about it, it's a nice thing.

The buzz is high and almost all of the critics who have seen it have loved it, but now that it's coming out for the general public to see, is there still some anticipation or nervousness on your part?

DRM: I don't know about nervousness, I hope people go to see it and I hope it does well, but I can't control that. I do everything I can do, but we'll just have to see what happens.

Have you been involved with the marketing campaign at all? The trailers sell the movie really well; what are your thoughts on the promotional side of it?

DRM: I'm impressed by it. I haven't personally done any work on it, though I've certainly chimed in about it. It's been really great, all across the board, it's been a really cool campaign.

When did you first come up with the idea for It Follows?

DRM: The idea came from a nightmare I had when I was kid, about being followed by something that is always walking toward me. That was the starting point, just remembering that nightmare. As an adult, I've wanted to make a horror film and I thought back to that nightmare and started piecing it together and ocming up with the story, and obviously adding the sexual element to it. It wasn't until 2011 that I decided to write it, I gave it a title and sat down and wrote the script.

Is the final product pretty close to what that original vision was?

DRM: Yeah, except I think there were some set pieces that were larger, some things that would have been pretty cool to do, but most of the movie is the same as what I wrote in the beginning. There are a few things that I changed or deleted to make it doable, make it actually possible to do it. We're certainly not a large-budgeted film.

Was it a tough movie to get into production?

DRM: It was not easy, but it happened. [Laughs] In that sense, it was easier than others because I've done some other things where it just becomes impossible. The fact that it happened is positive.

There's something very natural about the way the teens act in the film, what was your process working with them?

DRM: It's hard to explain. I think it's just about caring about the characters and not talking about them in terms of plot and narrative structure, but just talking about them as people in this situation.

Maika Monroe is really wonderful, and with this and THE GUEST she's already a genre favorite. What made her right for this?

DRM: She's a fantastic actress and I knew we needed a really strong performer in that lead role. In all of the roles, but whoever is playing Jay is basically carrying the movie, there's a pretty big range of emotion. Being able to play terrified and traumatized and to do that in a way that's believable is tricky. There's a deep vulnerability in performance, just watching her you're like, "I really care about this person and I want them to be okay." So you really worry about her and you really worry for her, that's just part of her natural talent, being able to convey that.

Obviously there's a lot left ambiguous plot-wise, you don't force-feed us any easy explanations. Have you gotten any heat from people who wanted more answers?

DRM: No one's harassed me in the street about it [laughs], but I'm sure some people want that. It's not what I wanted from this movie, it's not the origin story of how this thing started. My idea for the movie was always, imagine if you're thrown into a nightmare. When you're in a nightmare, there's no logical way to get out of it, it can't be solved. Nightmares by definition defy that. So I always thought about this as these characters being thrown into a nightmare, and there isn't necessarily an escape from that. I didn't want there to be some sort of magical thing to have made this happen, or some event that led to this thing. It's about something that doesn't make sense, that is straight out of a nightmare, and it can't be avoided by natural logic. But yeah, there are people who want the other thing, but that's not what we're trying to do with this film.

Do you have the whole mythology mapped out, like how this supernatural disease all started, why it's passed along the way it is?

DRM: I have an idea of what this really is and what it's about, but ultimately it's just a guess. If you think back to a dream, there isn't necessarily a reason you had it, it's simply the reality of your world. That's much stronger than having something that has a logical beginning. Things like this don't need a logical beginning, they just simply exists.

Have you thought about making another installment?

DRM: When I wrote it, it was just about doing this film, this one thing. I certainly have a ton of ideas for things that could happen, either with these characters or other characters in this situation, but I don't know. Right now I'm not planning to do that, I have some other films that I'm trying to put together that are different genres. I like the idea of jumping around and doing different kinds of movies. A lot of people I know didn't expect I would make a horror film, but I love horror films and wanted to make one. I like the idea of continuing to do that and surprise people. I do intend on making another horror film, I don't know if it would be connected to It Follows or some other thing, because I feel like I learned a lot of things making this and it would be fun to try and do something better, to be honest. If people really wanted it, if that ends up being the case and there's a desire for more of this, I would think about it. As of this moment, I haven't decided.

This isn't your first film, but people who make really strong horror movies - especially early in their careers - usually get pigeonholed into being a "horror director," we've seen it happen to so many of the greats. Is this something that concerns you, something you want to avoid?

DRM: I'm not worried about it. When I say I want to do some other stuff, it's not even about avoiding being pigeonholed. If I had a great idea for a horror movie right now and I had financing for it, I'd go do it. I don't have that at the moment, but I have some other things that I really love and want to make. I just want to be excited about whatever I'm doing next and I want to feel challenged. So I'm not personally worried about that, but I understand it being a concern and that it's happened to people. But I love horror films and I'll do more when the time is right, but I just want to be a filmmaker who does different kinds of things.

Has Hollywood come calling yet? Have you been offered remakes and sequels?

DRM: [Laughs] Yeah, I've gotten some stuff. And I'm totally open to doing some bigger projects at some point, maybe a studio film at some point, but right now I want to work on the things I'm writing, the things I can control. I have an idea for the kinds of films I want to make.

In your first movie you had a horror movie playing in the background during a sequence, and then you made a horror movie. And in It Follows you have a sci-fi movie playing prominently playing in the background, so does that mean you're making a sci-fi movie next?

DRM: I've written some science-fiction and I'd love to do a sci-fi movie at some point, but it's not the next one. But I will make one if I can, I would love to.

Extra Tidbit: IT FOLLOWS opens in theaters March 13th.

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