I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Editor
The Sundance Film Festival’s Midnight section has launched breakout horror films ranging from 1999’s THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT to 2014’s THE BABADOOK, and the latest contenders have been announced for the 2015 fest. One of those titles is David Robert Mitchell’s dead-teenager scarefest, IT FOLLOWS.
We saw IT FOLLOWS back in September in Austin, TX, at Fantastic Fest, and since then we haven’t been able to shut up about it. It’s one of those rare horror films that is as much scary during as it is afterwards.
The film is only Mitchell’s second feature, and it takes an entirely plausible occurrence, such as an STD, and instead of getting a few pesky bumps you get a supernatural entity calculating your every move. IT FOLLOWS plays a waiting game that most genre fare neglects to revel in, and while still relying on a few jump scares, it’s what you don’t see that is utterly terrifying.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with star Jake Weary, who plays Hugh in the film. We talked about his stirring performance, his process for getting on board, Rich Vreeland’s haunting score along with Weary’s own fresh beats.
Hey, Jake. How’s it going, man?
Jake Weary: “It’s going great.”
Good, good to hear. This movie is awesome. I cannot stop talking about it with my friends.
Weary: “[Laughs] Yeah, me neither.”
So, how did you come to find this unique project?
Weary: “Yeah. Well, it pretty much came to me like every other project. Obviously, I have an agent, and she sends me out on these auditions. I got the script, and there was something about it that immediately drew me towards it. I got it as an email and it was this 20 page .PDF file that was basically a look-book for the film. But it also contained style references, images, and how David wanted the film to look and feel.
After reading it, his vision for the film was just so clear to me. The way that he put the script together, you could tell that he really cared about the actors and wanted them to feel comfortable and on board with the process before we started shooting. I really appreciated that because you never really get that with auditions. Most of the time with auditions, you walk in blind and you have to figure out the character on the spot. But I had an idea of how to approach it through his description of the film, and I feel like that really helped me in the long run.
I originally went in for the role of Greg, played by Daniel Zovatto in the film. I didn’t think I booked it because I hadn’t heard back from David after the final audition. I finally got a call from him two weeks before shooting, maybe a week before shooting. He said for some reason me playing Greg didn’t really fit, but he couldn’t stop thinking about me playing Hugh. I guess there was an energy that I brought to the role that ended up working out better for Hugh. And obviously, Danny was so, so good in the part of Greg [Laughs]. So it didn’t really matter.”
Yeah, for sure. Honestly, I was really drawn to your character. I feel like one of the scariest elements of the film is that constant paranoia. Always looking over your shoulder, trying to appear normal, and I think you showed that very well in the film.
Weary: “Thank you, man. It was definitely one of the harder roles I’ve ever had to play, mainly because the character had so much depth to him. He had so many layers, and it was intense. At first, he is like this calm, cool and collective and kind of charming guy. He was really interested in this girl (Maika Monroe’s character), so he had this thing about him. But at the same time, you see that there was something else going on with him, and that he wasn’t quite right in the head. But after all that, he’s still trying to protect this girl. Then near the end you see him as this really emotionally unstable person. He’s all over the place. I think that was the hardest part, you know, to remain true to each layer of the character.”
The film’s concept is one of the most original ideas for a horror film in quite some time. When we spoke to David, he said it spawned from a recurring nightmare that he had as a kid. I can remember as a child having nightmares very similar to this. I think that is what makes IT FOLLOWS so scary: we can relate to it, and the thought of being followed is something that is universally terrifying.
Weary: “Yeah, totally. It’s funny because I can remember having the same dreams, too. A lot of my friends who have seen it have also said that they had the same kind of dreams. So maybe it’s some kind of reoccurring thing or feeling that we have. I don’t know, maybe it’s stressed related, especially at at a younger age, too, when your mind is developing. It’s really profound in a way.”
And the cool thing is because of all that, David made daytime scary. Most horror films are at night, but David made day time terrifying.
Weary: “[Laughs] I know. It’s like you never really know when they’re coming. Except for like John Carpenter movies, you never really see the pursuit during the day. It’s always at night. I guess people just assume that more people will be scared at night, but the reality is the dread of it. It’s so natural, and it can come from anywhere, even during the day. I think that’s what David did such a great job with. Visually, he’s so good at capturing dread.”
Speaking of, what did you think of the whole style of the way he shot it? I personally loved it. It had a whole retro, 80’s classic horror film feel to it. One of my favorite films is DRIVE, and Cliff Martinez’ score mixed with very steady camera movements really made that film for me. Disasterpeace’s score here along with the visuals are really damn good.
Weary: “Yeah, Rich Vreeland of Disasterpeace is incredible. That was actually one of the first things I asked about because I am also a musician. Coming into the film I didn’t know what the score was going to be like. Even during filming, Maika and I asked David what his thoughts were for the music, and he told us he wanted something synthy. I was kind of expecting it to be the way it was, but it really blew my mind and caught me off guard. Rich did such a good job co-existing with the visual of the film. It really makes it that much scarier, because it’s so abrasive and haunting. But it’s melodic and beautiful, too. I even reached out to Rich after I saw the film on Twitter or something, and told him how much I appreciated his score.
But I knew David was talented after watching his first film, THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER, once or twice, just to get a feel for his style. He just took what he did with MYTH and brought it into his own. His use of stillness- it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s so crazy that a shot that is so still can be so captivating and can hold so much intensity. He’s so good at creating this mood. It kind of sets in and takes you over.”
Yeah. He lets scenes breathe.
Weary: “Oh yeah. His movies have a pulse. There is never a dying moment; it’s constantly rising, building and fluctuating. You’re totally right; his movies breathe and let you absorb everything on screen.”
Definitely, man. When I looked you up, I listened to your stuff on your website and your Sound Cloud, and I was amazed that it aligns with the kind of music I listen to on a daily basis, such as Washed Out and James Blake. It’s really great stuff, man.
Weary: “Thanks, bud. Thanks. I use a lot of synthesizers in my music. I really like to play around with my voice, too. I don’t sing as much as I used to. Recently, I have been experimenting with these voice samplers and synths- making music using my voice and transposing it onto my keyboard, goofing off with it and having fun, building tracks around that.
But yeah, I’ve been making music since I was 17. It’s been a long journey. However, it’s really hard to take it seriously though, when I’ve been focusing more on my acting career. It’s always been a balance. But it is my hope to one day direct my own movies and score them as well, or score other people’s movies. I was really inspired by what Rich did. I think I might someday delve into that.”
That would be cool. And lastly, before I let you go, I’ve asked this to everyone involved with this movie that I’ve talked to, but IT FOLLOWS is one of those films (excuse the pun) follows you long after it’s over. Do you have any films that have followed you after you finished it?
Weary: “It really takes a lot for a movie to stick with me once I leave the theater. BLADE RUNNER is one of my favorite movies of all-time, and every time I watch it, it puts me in this strange mood [Laughs]. It never ceases to amaze me and make me think. I really want to some day make movies like that. It’s so visually stunning and ahead of its time. So yeah, probably BLADE RUNNER.”
Well, you could do BLADE RUNNER 2 since Ridley Scott is not going to direct it.
Weary: “I know. I heard about that. I don’t know if I would want to do it if Ridley’s not.”
[Laughs] It’s going to be a lot of pressure on whoever directs it.
Weary: “Yeah! But I remember as a kid wanting to direct one day, and even acting out BLADE RUNNER. Yeah, dude. Maybe. If I could audition for that sh-t. [Laughs].”
IT FOLLOWS opens in March, and is also screening at Sundance this month.