When growing up, nightmares have the potential to be a prevalent, constant source of anxiety for children. However, what we specifically dreamt about, the terrifying images we concocted in our own sub-conscious, are somewhat difficult to recall – but what can still be remembered, and still be felt, is the sensation, the brief feeling of dread that would sweep over you.
It’s that very feeling that creates the chilling, indelible atmosphere in David Robert Mitchell’s sophomore endeavour It Follows – and when we had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with the talented director, he explained that the entire premise was inspired from nightmares he had suffered himself.
“The basic idea came from a recurring nightmare that I had when I was a kid, where I was followed by a monster that looked like different people, and nobody was able to see it but me,” he said. “It was very slow and was always walking towards me. I was like nine or ten, and I spoke to others about it and it’s a fairly common anxiety dream, but I always remembered the feeling from it, the feeling of dread and the images from it, so when I got older I thought it would be fun to turn that into a horror film.
“Ideas – some very strange and interesting – will just pop into my head and I imagine they’re probably things I have dreamt. I don’t know where they come from, but I’m very open to ideas and creating things, so I write down things that pop into my head and build on them.”
“I always intended to do a horror film at some point,” Mitchell said. “It’s my goal to do all kinds of films, my version of all different genres. I’m a big fan of all kinds of films, I grew up watching horror films and I love them, but I like all kinds of stuff. I like the challenge of trying something new. I would totally do a comedy. I’d love to do science fiction and mystery – all kinds of stuff.”
It Follows already marks a change of direction for Mitchell, as his preceding production The Myth of the American Sleepover was a teen drama, without any elements of horror. But he admits that despite the wildly different narrative, both pictures are set in the same, almost surrealistic universe.
“I thought it would be fun to imagine the same kids in that world a little bit older, and how they’d handle being thrown into a nightmare. It’s imaging that peaceful, safe world being invaded by something very dangerous and what do you do when there’s no true logic to it?
“The world is just at the edge of naturalism, but it’s not. It’s somewhere between naturalism and fantasy, and something a little bit dreamlike. I’m not so interested in just reality, it’s not necessarily achievable or desirable in a film, and I like the idea that the ground rules for the world don’t have to be the ground rules of the world that we know, because you’re creating a fiction. How dull is it to think that everything has to be exactly the way that it is?”
Another similarity comes in that again Mitchell has used teenagers as his protagonists, making up the vast majority of the cast.
“There’s a magic in that time, in a sense that there’s all kinds of possibilities,” he said. “In growing up and falling in love with movies, there were a lot of coming of age films that meant a lot to me, so I’ve always had an affection for them. I definitely will make others.”
One of the stars is Maika Monroe, who plays the leading part of Jay. For Mitchell, having somebody so talented and diligent on board made his job a lot easier.
“Maika made my job a lot easier because I never had to worry about her, performance wise she was always able to do more than I expected or needed – and there’s some difficult things within the film for her. You genuinely care about her and feel her vulnerability and you believe what she’s experiencing. That was fantastic and exactly what you want. She can do anything that she wants, I imagine she’ll have a very successful career.”
Talking of successful careers, it would appear that one certainly beckons for this particular filmmaker, as It Follows it without doubt one of the most innovative and terrifying horror movies of recent years. Hopefully we won’t have to wait very long for another project either, as Mitchell tells us that he’s got other ideas in the pipeline.
“I have two ideas in particular I’m really pushing for, but I don’t know what is going to happen next. Different genres. The next will most likely not be a horror film,” he continued. “I just want to do what I care about. I’m just going to try and live that way – whatever feels right to me, I’m going to do that. Some will be happy, some will not, some will want a certain thing – but I just want to make really great films.
“That’s my goal. To continue to improve and get closer to creating the things I have in my head in the way that I see them. That’s always a hurdle, of taking an idea and making it something real and turning it into something other people can experience, but it’s my goal to get closer to that core truth of what I’m trying to achieve, and that’s always hard. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that point, but I’ll aim for it.”
You can see all of our It Follows coverage right here, the film is out this Friday.