Maika Monroe on Her Obsession With Longlegs‘ Sinister World

5 minute read

Like a shape-shifting specter lurking just out of frame, the title of “scream queen” has been trailing in Maika Monroe’s wake since her star-making turn in the 2015 breakout horror hit It Follows. As Jay, the unassuming teenage protagonist of filmmaker David Robert Mitchell’s indie cult sensation, Monroe cemented her place in the horror pantheon playing a young woman pursued by a lethal supernatural entity after contracting a sexually-transmitted curse. It’s a bizarre premise that initially gave Monroe pause. "This can’t be good," she remembers thinking after reading the script.

And she was right—in a sense. It wasn’t just good. It was a commercial and critical smash, grossing $23.2 million worldwide against a $1.3 million budget and earning acclaim as a highly original genre gem. "I don’t think any of us expected It Follows to blow up the way it did," Monroe says. "Never in a million years."

Nearly a decade later, Monroe, 31, is again in the limelight as the lead in one of the year’s most anticipated horror films, Longlegs, in theaters July 12. With early reviews praising it as "a disturbing descent into hell" and "the scariest film of the decade," the new feature from writer-director Osgood Perkins (I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House) debuted with a perfect 100 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes ahead of its U.S. release—a rare feat for any film, but especially a horror movie.

Starring opposite Nicolas Cage, who is Longlegs’ titular menace—a disfigured, rasping serial killer with mysterious means to his ends—Monroe plays Lee Harker, a talented and reserved FBI recruit whose cryptic psychic abilities give her strange insight into her target’s methods. "It was one of those scripts where I was like, 'I need to be a part of this,'" she says. "I was obsessed with the world that it’s set in."

That sinister setting, built around a series of occult murders, reminded Monroe of two iconic ‘90s titles she came to love when she was old enough to start watching horror herself, The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Se7en (1995). She recalls the visceral reaction she had watching that type of truly terrifying film for the first time. "I would close my eyes a lot, but I just love that feeling," she says. "You don’t really get it from anything else."

Despite her early admiration for the power of cinema, Monroe didn’t grow up wanting to be an actor. Born and raised in Santa Barbara, Calif., she spent her preteen years pursuing dance and learning how to kiteboard with her dad. It wasn’t until a local film production reached out to her dance company looking for extras that a then-13-year-old Monroe took an interest. "Funnily enough, it was a really terrible horror movie," she says. "I just fell in love with being on set."

From there, Monroe got a manager and an agent and began to audition. But her attention was divided. Even as she pursued acting, she was proving to be an unusually talented kiteboarder. When she was 17, she moved with her mom to the Dominican Republic to train in the sport professionally (ultimately ranking as high as 32nd in the world). But she kept up with auditions here and there. "I probably sent in four tapes during that nine-month period, and I ended up booking one of them," she says in reference to her debut feature, the 2013 family drama At Any Price, which brought her back to Los Angeles.

Within the year, she had appeared in both Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring and Jason Reitman’s Labor Day. But it was the one-two punch of Adam Wingard’s 2014 horror-thriller The Guest and It Follows the subsequent year that linked her to the genre and carved a path forward. While Monroe has since taken on studio blockbusters like Independence Day: Resurgence, it’s her enduring success in the indie horror world—think 2019's Villains and 2022’s Watcher—that’s built the foundation of a career.

Thanks to its somewhat reductive history, the scream queen label isn’t always a welcome one—‘80s gore-fest icon Barbara Crampton notably derided the term as implying "that you’re good at two things: howling at the top of your lungs and being a woman." Still, Monroe says she feels "incredibly grateful" to be playing a part in the moniker’s evolution.

"I think back to some of the horror movies I would watch [as a kid] and it would be hot, blonde girls with half their clothes falling off covered in blood and running and screaming," she says. "Then all these movies like It Follows, The Babadook, The Witch started coming out and completely changed the genre. Now those are some of the best roles out there."

Monroe is slated to star next in Maxime Giroux’s crime thriller In Cold Light before reuniting with Mitchell for They Follow, a long-awaited sequel to It Follows that Monroe promises is going to deliver “what people want and more."

Then, she says, she’d love to do something more lighthearted, like a rom-com. “There’s a lack of great rom-coms right now,” she says. “It’s time for another When Harry Met Sally.”

But as the buzz surrounding Longlegs builds to a crescendo, Monroe’s main (spoiler-free) takeaway from the film speaks to why she’ll always be able to return to her roots in horror: For better or worse, the pool of inspiration is bottomless. “Evil isn’t going anywhere,” she says. “That’s just the reality. There really is no end.”

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