Maika Monroe Needs No Coaching in How to Be Scared

In our interview, the star of "Watcher" (and "The Guest" and "It Follows") shows once again that she's the modern-day scream queen we deserve.
Maika Monroe Can't Keep Away from Horror - Interview
IFC Films, exclusive to IndieWire

From indie gems like “It Follows” and “The Guest” to the sci-fi chiller “Tau,” the pitch-black “Villains,” or the uproarious “Greta,” Maika Monroe has become our modern-day scream queen. However, her true obsession is working with exciting new filmmakers — who, more often than not, just so happen to make brilliant horror movies.

“It’s a conversation that I’ve had with my team, just to be on the lookout for up-and-coming filmmakers that are making interesting and different stuff,” Monroe said during a recent interview with IndieWire. “We all are trying to be up on the short films that come out of film festivals and the smaller movies. I try and pay attention to that as much as possible. It’s part of my job.”

Monroe was an instant fan of Chloe Okuno after seeing her 2014 short film, “Slut.” Years later, when Monroe received the script for the “Watcher,” she was thrilled to recognize the filmmaker’s name on the title page. The pair soon connected over Zoom, where they shared stories of feeling disconnected when they lived in foreign countries. What’s scarier than real life?

“She had lived in Russia out of school and I had moved to the Dominican Republic out of school,” Monroe said. [We talked about] having this real feeling of isolation and being alone in a country that we didn’t really speak the language. And then she told me her ideas for this film and wanting to have this real Hitchcockian vibe to it.”

A hit at Sundance back in January, Okuno’s feature debut follows an American actress (Monroe) who moves to Bucharest with her husband and is horrified to discover she’s being watched in her new home.

To prepare for “Watcher,” Monroe screened films like “Rosemary’s Baby” (another movie with “the apartment building is like another character” vibe) to “Lost in Translation” (nailed the ex-pat discomfort). As for the feeling of being watched by someone else, the sense of creepy unease that can come with being a woman in a world, and the fear of all that not being understood — on those points, Monroe needed no coaching.

Maika Monroe appears in Watcher by Chloe Okuno, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

“This story is very grounded and very realistic and yes, they’re heightened moments and thrills because it is a movie, but it’s a story that anyone, especially women, can relate to,” she said. “It’s absolutely something that I’ve experienced, the amount of times that I’ve put my car key in between my fingers, prepared because I can feel someone behind me, or walking down the street and someone whistles at you or looks you up and down. As a woman, you’re just raised to think that that is normal and I think honestly, with this shift in films and the #MeToo movement, it’s starting to change where it’s like, ‘No, this shouldn’t be normal.'”

Okuno’s film builds to — no spoilers — a banger of an ending that puts a pretty fine point on the concepts Okuno, co-writer Zack Ford, and Monroe build on for 91 nail-biting minutes. “When I was reading the script, I really didn’t know where it was going to go,” Monroe said. “But then I love the ending that’s, without spoiling it, very blunt.”

The final sequence required three days to shoot and sustaining that level of terror made Monroe feel as if she was “constantly on the verge of having a mental breakdown.” By the time they landed the final shot, Monroe said, she was “just so fucking ready. There was just this feeling of satisfaction of getting through that. I hope it plays, but definitely, there were a lot of feelings on that day.”

For Monroe, playing scared — hell, maybe even being scared — is another day at the office. Learning how to leave it at the office is a work in progress.

“I’ve definitely gotten better at it,” she said. “I’ve learned that for me, for my mental health, I have to be able to let go of it at the end of the day. A lot of the movies that I do are very dark and very intense, and it doesn’t do me any good to live in that space for longer than I needed to. For these movies, I want the characters to be grounded as possible, so to do that, [I have] to pull from my own traumas and my own experiences and that obviously is very overwhelming. But, for me, it is very important to be able to let go.”

“It Follows”

Practice makes perfect. She grew up “absolutely in love” with horror movies and pointed to the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise as a perpetual favorite. For Monroe, David Robert Mitchell’s “It Follows” was the same kind of game-changer, the sort of film that showed just how many facets horror can actually tackle with styles and scares to spare.

“I really got lucky with ‘It Follows,'” she said. “It sort of changed the game for the horror genre. I think back in the ’60s and ’70s and early ’80s, there was some really amazing, elevated horror in the genre, and then something got lost somewhere and it was about hot girls and sex and blood.”

Monroe said she’s still surprised by the enduring power of “It Follows,” which served as the first entry in what became this most recent run of the “elevated horror” genre, along with films like “The Babadook” and “The Witch.”

“Of course I had no idea what it was going to be,” she said. “I had seen David’s previous film, ‘The Myth of the American Sleepover,’ that was so beautiful and so dreamy, and I was like, ‘OK, maybe this style mixed with a horror film could be very interesting,’ but I had no idea the effect of it and that it [would be] such an important film to so many people, so many years later.”

Monroe self-taped her audition for Mitchell while in production on “The Guest,” not realizing that both films would arrive in 2014 (“The Guest” premiered at Sundance in January, and “It Follows” arrived at Cannes in May). That set her course as a scream queen for a new generation. Almost a decade on, rumors of sequels still abound.

“The Guest”Picturehouse

When IndieWire spoke to “The Guest” director Adam Wingard last year, he teased the possibility of a “Guest” miniseries and alluded to the creation of an official “The Guest 2” soundtrack, which he later released this past April. So, would Monroe be game for an actual film sequel?

“One hundred percent!,” she said. “I just had such a blast shooting that film. I love Adam. I love [writer] Simon [Barrett]. Obviously, Dan [Stevens] is fucking genius in that movie.”

But not everything is scary for Monroe, nor does it have to be. Her upcoming slate shows off still more range: Currently in post are the “incredibly intense and very different vibe” of Nick Cassavetes’ “God Is a Bullet” (“I am covered head to toe in tattoos and I have a crazy bowl cut”) and the dark comedy “Significant Other,” which re-teams her with “Villains” directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen opposite Jake Lacy (Monroe is a big “White Lotus” fan).

So what else does she want to do? Not missing a beat, Monroe laughs. “A lighthearted comedy!”

IFC Midnight releases “Watcher” in theaters on Friday, June 3.

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