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Maika wears faux-fur coat by Coach; sequinned dress by Jil Sander Navy; silk shirt (worn underneath) by All Saints; suede lace-up sandals by ChloéPhotography Jeff Henrikson; styling Emma Wyman

Maika Monroe on going through hell for It Follows

The young actress draws upon her demons for an electrifying turn in the year’s best horror

Horror has a new face – actually, it has lots of new faces – in It Follows, the cracking second film from David Robert Mitchell. Stemming the tide of hack-like horror movies that’s blighted Hollywood for what seems like an eternity now, Mitchell’s eerily beautiful film depicts the plight of a teenage girl, Jay, who is stalked by an evil presence after having sex with a guy while out on a date. This malevolent being, which can be vanquished only if Jay has sex with somebody else, can take any number of human forms – which is a very scary premise indeed, since you’re never quite sure what it is you’re looking out for. But It Follows would be nowhere near as scary without its star, Maika Monroe, who builds on the cooler older-sister charisma of her turn in Adam Wingard’s blackly comic thriller The Guest to anchor the film in a grounded sense of reality, turning the terror dials up to 11 when required. She really goes there, in short – and, says Monroe, filming was no less of an ordeal.

Were you inspired by any horror movie heroines for your performance as Jay?

Maika Monroe: I grew up watching horror movies – shitty ones and good ones – so I’m sure I was influenced by that without me even knowing it, no question. A lot of horror movies being made now I don’t really like. They tend to be really loud and in-your-face, whereas this was a throwback to a more terrifying, psychological type of thriller. I worked with David on what we wanted to create with my role. He wanted a very specific look, like a Hitchcock girl with the bangs going to the side.

You’ve said elsewhere that you empathised with Jay’s toughness and that you felt like you’d had to overcome your own obstacles early in life to get to where you are. What obstacles did you mean?

Maika Monroe: There are things that happen in your life that are painful or hard, and for me they’re all super-close, so it’s very easy to tap into for a movie like this. Horror movies can be, I don’t wanna say not real, but so over-the-top – you can get scared ’cos things are loud and in-your-face, but these are real emotions that I'm using. There are things that are painful whichhave happened in my past which I was able to use, so I hope it comes across as a bit more real than the typical thing.

The scene where you’re tied to a wheelchair in your underwear was shot in sub-zero temperatures in Detroit. Was that fun?

Maika Monroe: It was pretty bad! We shot the scene in this abandoned car factory, and already it feels like you’re in the apocalypse because there’s no one there and you have all these buildings where nature has taken over. We were actually supposed to be there two weeks earlier, but we had to change the schedule because there was a girl murdered at a college and the body was found there. You know, that kind of place! So we get there and at this point it’s been five weeks driving myself insane screaming and running – physically and mentally exhausting. They wrapped me up in blankets (between takes) and then when they called ‘action’ I just had to focus so my body wouldn't be shaking. I was trying to get it nailed really quickly but David is really specific, he wants the framing to be right, and acting-wise he’ll be like, ‘Lets do it where it’s subtle’, or, ‘Let’s do it bigger!’ It was not easy. This was the first movie where I was in just about every scene, so I've never had that experience of working 12, 14-hour days, it was so intense. The Guest, which I did before this, was much easier – I had days off and it was a more light-hearted film with comedy in there, so people were lighter on set. But this was way more involved.

“We were actually supposed to be (at an abandoned car factory) two weeks earlier, but we had to change the schedule because there was a girl murdered at a college and the body was found there” – Maika Monroe

Your character in The Guest had a kind of toughness about her as well, is that something you look for in a character?

Maika Monroe: It’s funny because you start seeing a pattern, and even the next project I’m doing I play this super-kickass character for this young adult novel called The Fifth Wave. But it’s nice to play the tough girl, I like that.

I heard you do all your own stunts? Got into any scrapes lately?

Maika Monroe: Yeah, there’s a fight scene (in The Fifth Wave) which I have with this other actor who's about 6’2” and I'm, like, 5’6”. So I'm punching him and I take him and throw him down, and then he swoops me under my feet so that I slam down on the floor. The next morning I woke up and I had never been so sore in my life! I made a salt bath and just lay there; I was in so much pain. I come from an athletic background (Monroe is a professional kiteboarder) so I’ve been sore many days in my life but this, oh my god, I was limping everywhere!

Are you still finding time to go kiteboarding?

Maika Monroe: It’s getting difficult, which is a bummer. But any time I have for holidays I’m usually trying to find a windy beach where I can just escape. When I’m filming it's in the contract – ‘NO KITEBOARDING’, ha ha. I’ve cracked my head open before, I’ve had some great injuries. So I have to do it on the side now. I cracked my head open kiting before a competition in New Caledonia. The water was shallow and I missed a trick and hit my head on a rock. There was a medic on the beach who had to stitch me up right there on the sand with NO pain medication. My mom fainted.

It Follows is out in cinemas today

hair Sylvia Wheeler at Atelier Management; make-up Gloria Noto at Atelier Management; styling assistants Virginia Fontaine, Cassie Walker; special thanks Rich Tigpen and Miguel Chenal