It Follows has quickly become the horror hit of the year, expanding into over 1,200 theaters this weekend after weeks of rave reviews and sterling word of mouth in limited release. The premise is irresistible—after hooking up with her shady boyfriend, Jay (Maika Monroe) learns she will be stalked by a shape-shifting monster unless she passes her affliction on to someone else through sex (though if the monster then slays that person, it will return to hunting Jay). But even after seeing the movie, fans still had plenty of questions about what it all meant and how key sequences were conceived. Vulture recently called up It Follows writer-director David Robert Mitchell to explain himself, and perhaps shed light on some of the story’s pivotal shocks. Be forewarned: The following interview includes massive end-of-movie SPOILERS. Don’t read it until you’ve watched the film! (And after this weekend, you’ll have no excuse not to.)
Talk to me about our heroes’ final plan to kill the monster in the pool. I was rooting for them, but I also felt like it was sort of naïve to think that plan would work, given how little they really know about the monster.
It’s the stupidest plan ever! [Laughs.] It’s a kid-movie plan, it’s something that Scooby-Doo and the gang might think of, and that was sort of the point. What would you do if you were confronted by a monster and found yourself trapped within a nightmare? Ultimately, you have to resort to some way of fighting it that’s accessible to you in the physical world, and that’s not really going to cut it. We kind of avoid any kind of traditional setup for that sequence, because in more traditional horror films, there might be a clue that would lead them to figure out a way to destroy this monster. I intentionally avoided placing those. Instead, they do their best to accomplish something, and we witness its failure. It’s probably a very non-conventional way of approaching the third-act confrontation, but we thought it was a fun way to deal with it.
Initially, they do fail to dispatch the monster, but after several gunshots to the head, the pool fills with the monster’s spreading blood and they can escape. At first, it’s a relief—it seems like the monster has finally been slayed—but as the blood cloud keeps expanding outward, it becomes a more and more ominous visual.
All I can tell you is that I’ve talked to people who have read that as a conclusion—they see that sequence and believe that the monster has been destroyed—and then there are other people who see it and feel that it’s a sign of their inability to destroy it, or for it to be destroyed, period! I imagine people can figure out how I feel about that shot, but I won’t say specifically.
Let’s discuss how you came up with the different forms of the monster. We’ll start with the very creepy school sequence, where Jay sees an old woman heading for her, whom she perceives to be the follower. It feels so malevolent and wrong right off the bat because the old woman stands out among all these teenagers.
When I wrote those scenes where we see different forms of the monster, I tried to just think about what was troubling to me in each of those situations. And I think what you’re saying is true, it’s about the contrast of this woman in its location. Instantly, you realize that something is not quite right. And people are not paying attention to her, although in any other situation, they would be.
We know that the monster can also take the form of somebody who’s familiar, which comes into play when it heads to Greg’s house to kill him. At first, when Jay sees the monster, it looks just like Greg. Later, when it finally kills Greg, it takes the form of his mother … which is doubly disturbing because it fucks him to death!
So why did I make it the mom, other than just saying it was one of the more fucked-up things that I could think of? [Laughs.] It’s also that within the film, we’re sort of avoiding the influence of the adult world, and so I thought it was interesting to only enter into that space through the trope of the monster. There are other forms that tie into other characters, too. Some are very clear and people get it, and some are much harder to pick up on. There are a couple that I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone even ask about, because we also tried to be true to distance. We tried to keep the camera closer to the location of the actors, so if there’s a point-of-view shot from their perspective, we didn’t necessarily throw a longer lens on so that that form of the monster would be closer and clearer.
You’re very circumspect about the amount of gore you chose to show in this film. The kills are very brief, and it’s more about the shock of, “Whoa, what happened here?”
There are a few moments of gore, but it’s not really the point of the film. I was drawn to the movie as a way of making a film about dread and anxiety, and I think a certain amount of gore can put people in the headspace to feel that, but I think it’s more about the feeling of waiting for something. You understand how terrible things can get, but you don’t know when it’s going to happen, or how, or where. There are incredibly gory films that I’m a huge fan of, but it just didn’t feel right to put too much in this.
I had to laugh at the scene where Jay’s friend Paul offers to have sex with her. He’s positioning it as this very noble attempt to take on her affliction, but at the same time, he sees this as an opening to finally get with her!
Yeah, it’s funny to me. The only person who would be so foolish to even put themselves into that situation would be a teenage boy in love! I think maybe that’s an age and a moment in time when it would almost be too easy to not realize how bad the consequences are. I don’t think that Paul is being manipulative—I think there are genuine feelings there—but at the same time, it is humorous, at least to me.
When they finally do hook up, Paul asks her, “Do you feel any different?” That’s a line you often hear after movie characters lose their virginity, but boy, is it fraught with new meaning in a film like this.
Yeah, I enjoyed that, I had fun with that line. I’ve heard a few different interpretations of their connection—or their lack of connection—and I would never want to overexplain that or give it away, but I do like that some people see it as them connecting in a kind of real way, and other people see it as a sad moment that’s maybe one-sided. I like that there’s at least a certain amount of ambiguity there, in the sense that I’ve heard both interpretations embraced by different viewers.
The movie ends with Jay and Paul walking home. A ways behind them, we see a teenage boy walking in the same direction … it might be the monster, or it might not. Was that always the final shot?
Yes, for sure. We had a couple variations on it—I think we had some where he was really far back, and then some where no one would ever miss him —but we settled on the one where he’s there, but not too close. It allows people to make up their own mind of what it means.
I talked to you at your Cannes premiere last year, and you said that you have some ideas for where the story could go if it becomes a franchise. I would have to think, based on how well the movie is doing, that maybe there have been tentative discussions about exactly that. Can you say anything about it?
It seems like the response has been very strong at this point, but any specifics [about sequels]—that, I couldn’t say. I have a lot of different kinds of projects in many different genres, so I don’t know that a sequel would be the next thing that I would do, but I’m certainly open to it. I just kinda want to see how things play out. But I do want to say that when I wrote this, I had some bigger setpieces, a few things that I sort of simplified, and some stuff that we chose to cut out because of the budget and time, so there’s all kinds of fun things that could be done with this concept and story.