Fantastic Fest Interview With David Robert Mitchell

To say I loved David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is something of an understatement. I’ve become evangelical about it. Stopping just short of accosting random strangers on the street. So I was understandably excited to sit down with Mitchell to discuss what makes his film so damn good.

It feels like horror as a genre has gotten so self reflexive. What I love about It Follows is that it plays it completely straight. It was almost a relief.

A lot of the horror films I love the most- the classics- tend to take the threat seriously. It’s a tonal thing. Now I love some of the more, you know fun horror and some of the meta horror. That can be great; I enjoy a lot of those movies. For me- I wanted to do something that imagined these characters with an element of naturalism. Imagine real characters thrown into a nightmare, how they might react. How you and I might feel if we suddenly found ourselves in this unreal situation. Real people in an unreal situation. When I’m telling a story or making a film I want to connect and care about those characters and try to understand what they’re feeling. How they’re feeling in this disturbing situation.

I thought the age group you wrote these characters at was very smart. Even though they’re considered adults they’re really just kids there’s a real sense of vulnerability and intimacy to them and they feel like real friends. How do you capture that as a writer?

The world of the film is a bit dream like, a bit outside of time, a bit otherworldly in a way and I think there’s a sense of floating. And I think that fits where the characters are.

The tone of the film is so remarkable I was trying to think of where I had ever seen anything like it before and the only thing that came to mind was Charles Burns Black Hole, was that an influence?

I read it years ago and loved it, and I’ve had a few people ask me if that was a direct inspiration. I can only say I read it once, I own the book, I loved it- but I wasn’t trying to make a direct reference. Did it seep in in some way? I’m sure that’s very possible- but no more than all the other inspirations in terms of film and literature and everything else.

In speaking of influence I’ve very curious how you came to the genre, lots of people make a horror film as their breakout and try to move on to other things. You on the other hand made your breakout film and then went back and made a horror film. Was horror something you always meant to do?

Well I like a lot of different kinds of movies. What I enjoy- I thinks it’s a pretty wide range of stuff that I really love. Things on all sides of the spectrum. I grew up watching horror movies and loving them. I’ve always been a horror fan. But it’s one of those things where it’s one of a few dozen of kinds of movies that I just love. It’s one thing. So I always intended to do one and I would like to do more. I would probably prefer to do a different kind of movie next because horror is very difficult. It puts you in a certain headspace, you’re in this- dealing with a world of anxiety on daily basis in terms of what you’re trying to achieve and create. It’s hard.

So I would like to do my version of different kinds of movies and jump around. The same way that I went from a drama to a horror film. My goal would be to do a bunch of different stuff and then come back and do, hopefully, a better version. So I’d like to make another horror film, but I’d like to learn from what I just did. Again I’d never made one before so there was a bit of a learning curve there. I watched enough, I understand how they work but then going through it I feel like I’ve learned some things so it’d be nice to take that and try to make something even better. And I don’t know what that is yet.

When you talk about the “difficulty” of horror, I think that’s a very interesting term, is that why you think that a lot of horror is so winking in tone nowadays?

Well I don’t know. Having fun with it, or leaning more towards the comedy, playing with the meta side of it- I’m sure that’s difficult as well. It’s hard to say. My guess is that’s maybe more of a movement based on what’s achieved. I’m guessing that it’s probably done more so it’s seen more so it’s popular for that reason.

I think the more sincere horror- the horror that does not wink- is definitely something that’s done less, definitely something that has fallen out of favor, probably because for a period it was done…Not too much, but was done so frequently and with- maybe a lack of passion to where people didn’t connect to it. But my gut instinct was if done right then people will connect. You watch a classic horror film that takes itself seriously and it works. You don’t need to do the other thing. It’s just about execution and tone.

It Follows

I love the style of the film, every shot is either very multi plane with competing action, or is very much felt as a weighted perspective. So almost every shot of the movie has the audience being an active watcher or being actively watched. How did that develop?

It really was just the idea of setting up the language of the movie. In the sense that things will not necessarily be pointed out to you in the exact moment that they happen. Some things will unfold in the background along the edges. Once you understand that- that the frame is composed in such a way to suggest that you should be interacting- scanning looking into the background- once it’s set up, it almost works for us as long as we compose the frames for there to be space enough to imagine something in.

One last question, where did The Nine Foot Tall Guy who will be haunting my dreams come from?

(Chuckles) I believe he’s the second tallest man in North America. Long story- short version he literally lives like a couple miles away from our production office. He’s a really great guy who lives in the area. We got very lucky. He’s a really wonderful sweet guy who I know is scaring people. He’s fantastic in it.

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The Author

Bryce Wilson

Bryce Wilson

Confirmed film geek and literary nerd. Writer for Paracinema and Art Decades Magazine, columnist for the San Luis Obispo New Times and author of Son Of Danse Macabre. Resides in Austin, TX.