Scream Queen

by Norman Wilner | Last Updated 2 days ago


Photo By: Kathryn Gaitens

The Midnight Madness crowd is going to love Maika Monroe.

The 21-year-old actor is bringing two films to TIFF this year – It Follows and The Guest – and both are screening in the notoriously raucous late-night genre program. Not only are the movies themselves solid (see accompanying reviews), but she’s terrific in both of them.

By the time the festival wraps, Monroe could find herself edging dangerously close to horror-idol status.

It promises to be a radically different experience from Monroe’s first trip to Toronto, when she accompanied Ramin Bahrani’s drama At Any Price to the festival in 2012.

“That was my second film festival ever,” she says. “I went to the Venice Film Festival and then Toronto, so I’m so, so excited to go back and have two films that I’m so proud of. It’s gonna be really fun.” It’s also going to be a workout.

TIFF can be a meat grinder at the best of times, and staying up for midnight red carpets and 2 am Q&A sessions is a marathon in itself. Fortunately, Monroe is an actual athlete – her other job is competitive kiteboarding – so she’ll be up for the challenge.

Of course, acting in horror movies is its own kind of cardio.

In David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, she plays Jay, a young woman who picks up a sexually transmitted demon that will stalk and kill her unless she passes it along to someone else.

And in The Guest, the new thriller from You’re Next creators Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, she goes head-to-head with Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens as the one person in her recently bereaved household who suspects Stevens’s pathologically helpful visitor is not the gentleman he seems to be.

Both movies let Monroe play variations on the horror trope of the Final Girl, the plucky and resourceful young woman who might just keep herself from the clutches of malevolent forces.

Rather than condescend to the genre or play a self-aware version of a horror hero, Monroe finds her role’s emotional reality and bears down on it. We believe these impossible things are happening because she believes it – and where The Guest knowingly has fun with its situation, It Follows is deadly serious. And Monroe is the key.

“I saw her audition, and it was intense and wonderful,” says It Follows writer/director Mitchell.

“There was a deep vulnerability, I just immediately cared for her, felt worried for her, believed her,” he says. “A lot of the film is low-key and gentle – there’s a softness to the dialogue and the performances. But there are also moments where it becomes incredibly intense, and she’s an actress who is able to do both those things, and you believe it.”

Monroe says she’d never read anything like it before and didn’t know how the script was going to come across on film.

Talking with Mitchell and screening his indie drama The Myth Of The American Sleepover gave her a better sense of the project, especially when Mitchell revealed that the concept of the implacable monster came from his own nightmares.

“I was like, ‘Okay, I want to do this,’” she says. “David is such a huge part of these characters – [they] kinda come from kids he knew in high school, and his own self. Working with him and bringing this girl to life, making her as real as possible, was so much fun because he has every little detail figured out in his head. So it was really fun creating it together.”

Wingard and Barrett’s The Guest, Monroe explains, was another case of signing on to a movie just to see how it would turn out.

“I watched You’re Next, and that’s an amazing movie,” she laughs. “So meeting them, I was super-?excited – it’s just such an awesome group. And I watched Dan Stevens’s work and I was like, ‘Hmm. Okay.’ I couldn’t picture it. I felt I had to do the project, just with their history. It was something different, something I’d never done.”

Screenwriter Barrett says the timing couldn’t have been better for Mon­roe, though he isn’t sure she was aware of that when she auditioned.

“She was at this weird point because she did professional kiteboarding,” he says. “She wasn’t sure if she wanted to pursue that as a career, or acting. And I think that led her to just being totally relaxed and not really caring if she got the part, which was exactly what we were looking for.”

“We saw a ton of actors for that part,” director Wingard says, “and Maika was always the top choice. What it boiled down to was ‘Who can really make this [character’s] sarcastic wit funny, and not just seem lame or annoying?’ A lot of actors, if the character’s written as sarcastic, they take that and go over the top with it. She made it funny and likeable.”

I ask Monroe whether she got her spin on Anna from the page or from the energy in the room, and she laughs.

“I don’t know what my process is. It’s so different for every project, and sometimes you just have to wait till you get on set, see how everyone works together and kind of figure it out there.”

She does want to warn Midnight Madness audiences that the whole scream queen thing isn’t something she’s actively pursuing.

“I try and do very different projects,” she says. “I’m probably gonna stay away from horror now. I like challenging myself and pushing myself, because I feel like that’s the only way you can grow.”

She recently wrapped the thriller Bokeh, which casts her and Matt O’Leary as a couple on an Iceland vacation who wake up to find they may be the last people on Earth.

“We’d shoot in the middle of the night so it could feel like no one was there – and in Iceland there’s three hours of darkness, so we were shooting at 2 in the morning and it was still daylight out.”

Monroe is currently making The 5th Wave, an alien-invasion thriller based on Rick Yancey’s bestselling novel.

“I have this really awesome role,” she says. “I play this badass, kick-ass girl. And there again, I’ve never done anything like that.”

The only downside of so much work is that Monroe is likely to go a full year without getting back in the water.

“Usually, when I know I have time off, I take [kiteboarding] trips,” she says.

“So over Thanksgiving and Christmas I went to Brazil with my family and we spent about a month kiteboarding, which was amazing. So prob­ably this Christmas, that’ll be the next time I’m really able to kite, just because it’s been such a crazy year. We’re starting to look at different places we want to go explore.”

Once she’s caught her breath, that is.


Interview Clips

Maika Monroe on being raised in an active family:

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Monroe on acting realistically in horror movies:

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Monroe on the futility of planning out a career for herself:

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normw@nowtoronto.com | @normwilner


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