Interview: Writer-Director David Robert Mitchell On ‘IT FOLLOWS’

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it-follows-official-poster-headerCole Clay // Film Critic

David Robert Mitchell, a name you will soon remember, directed a terrific little film a few years back about wasting long nights in suburbia titled THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER. That film came and went pretty quietly, but his latest film, IT FOLLOWS, premiered at Cannes last year to great acclaim from fans and critics alike.

Mitchell’s second film 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.

Fresh Fiction was fortunate enough to speak with the talented filmmaker on a rather noisy, but fascinating phone call where we discussed horror tropes, childhood nightmares and sex.

You can also view our interviews with star Jake Weary (here) and composer Disasterpeace (here).

Jake Weary and Maika Monroe star in IT FOLLOWS. Photo courtesy of RADiUS-TWC.

Jake Weary and Maika Monroe star in IT FOLLOWS. Photo courtesy of RADiUS-TWC.

I got the chance to see the film at an early morning screening at Fantastic Fest. How did the premiere go?

David Robert Mitchell: “It was great. The audience seemed to receive the film quite well. Lots of shrieks and scares.”

How about applause?

Mitchell: [Laughs] “Yeah, there was some of that, too.”

It’s well deserved. I can’t wait to see the film with a full-house.

Mitchell: “The show?”

No, A FULL HOUSE! [Laughs]

Mitchell: “Gah, I’m sorry. It’s just so noisy in here.”

Don’t sweat it.

Mitchell: “Does that sound better?”

Infinitely better.

Mitchell: “Great.”

IT FOLLOWS reminded me of a great hangout film. It was a Jim Jarmusch movie fused together with sheer terror. What compelled you to blend these aspects?

Mitchell: “Well, to me the film is about dread, anxiety and waiting. I was just interested in the idea of the characters and the audience knowing that something horrible out there is slowly coming closer. So it’s about those quiet spaces in between moments of chaos because the most frightening part is playing the waiting game. It’s the things we don’t see in horror films. It’s just way more important to execute this aspect properly in order to build that anxiety.”

Absolutely. Even small things like waiting for a phone call can make people a bit anxious.

Mitchell: “Yeah, for sure.”

Have you seen Gia Coppola’s film, PALO ALTO?

Mitchell: “No, I haven’t. I want to see it.”

I felt that film borrowed a lot of style from your previous film MYTH OF AN AMERICAN SLEEPOVER.

Mitchell: “Really?”

Yeah, not in a bad way. It’s just that each of those movies have a dream-like quality that covers the screen. I love that aspect.

Mitchell: “Right on. I’ve heard it’s good, and yeah, I like to think that being youthful is at times magical, hence the title MYTH OF AN AMERICAN SLEEPOVER.”

Keir Gilchrist and Maika Monroe search for answers in IT Follows. Photo courtesy of RADiUS-TWC.

Keir Gilchrist and Maika Monroe search for answers in IT Follows. Photo courtesy of RADiUS-TWC.

For sure. I have been looking behind me down every hallway. So thanks for making me infinitely paranoid. Where did the idea for an entity that’s tormenting teens come from?

Mitchell: “Well, it’s not just about tormenting teenagers, but the form we gave the ‘monster’ – for lack of a better word –  just came from what I found to be interesting and disturbing to me at that moment. But, the overall premise for the film came from a recurring nightmare I had as a child growing up. I was being chased by my loved ones in the creepiest way imaginable. I tried to run-away, but it was like I was running in quicksand. Later, when I decided to take those feelings and build it into a film, I added all the other stuff with connecting people through sex emotionally, which links people to the past. I don’t want to spoil it for anybody, so I will just leave it at that for now.”

Perfect, yeah. The best way to go into the movie is blind. I also haven’t seen sex play an important factor in a horror film in quite some time. A decade ago it was Japanese supernatural films, then found-footage blew up, and now you gave us this little indie horror film that was kind of a throwback, but completely reinvented so many clichés we have grown accustomed to over the years.

Mitchell: “Yeah, I’m glad you noticed that and it is a trope– in a good way. Sex, the way I see it, is something that opens the character up to danger, but also can save an individual is absolutely fascinating to me. My goal wasn’t to moralize the story through sex, or articulate some puritanical viewpoint. I think if somebody sees it that way, it would be a little disappointing to me, but if they want to think that, it’s OK. It’s just not the way I see the movie because sex is a very normal part of life. This is a film that doesn’t condemn as so many horror films do. I didn’t want to pass any blame, or judgement on the character. Sometimes sh-tty things happen in life, and that’s the point of the film.”

Pretty simple, but well said.

Mitchell: “Yeah, I don’t mean to sound grim, but we all deal with mortality on some level. It’s about trying to find a way to be OK, to have connections with people, to have sex and push away the fear and coming face to face with the fact that we only have a limited amount of time here. It’s something that’s always there, even if you push it away, it’s always coming closer no matter what you do.”

That was deep.

Lili Sepe and Maika Monroe. Photo courtesy of RADiUS-TWC.

Lili Sepe and Maika Monroe. Photo courtesy of RADiUS-TWC.

David: “[Laughs] Well, that’s just one read on the film.”

Yeah, well, it really hit me after the film ended on several different levels.

Mitchell: “Cool. Thanks!”

Especially the score. It was just a driving force behind the mood of the film.

Mitchell: “Yeah, it’s great. His name is Disasterpeace. I loved the work he has done, and I already knew going into the film I wanted an electronic score. I was playing a video-game called FEZ that he did the score for. So I got in touch with him and asked if he wanted to work on the film. It’s beautiful with melodies with moments of controlled noise. It’s confrontational and abrasive in all the right ways. The collaboration worked out perfectly.”

Well, I haven’t sat through a horror film in along time where I genuinely cared for the characters and their well-being. You had control of every aspect of the film. It was patient, poised and tender. I just can’t give you enough praise on the film.

Mitchell: “Thank you so much.”

I can’t wait for a wide-audience to see the film.

Mitchell: “Same here.”

IT FOLLOWS opens in limited release tomorrow and will open in the Dallas area next Friday, Mar. 20.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.