Her characters have been stalked by a sexually transmitted harbinger of death (It Follows), pursued by an insidious and chiseled super-soldier (The Guest), and terrorized by a friendly-seeming old woman (Greta). In her latest, Villains, out September 20, she’s held captive by a rural couple with strange, sinister proclivities.
Aside from blonde hair and expressive eyes, the main trait that Monroe’s girls have in common is that they survive. Ever since her starring role in the acclaimed 2015 movie It Follows, Monroe has been reinventing the trope of the “final girl” in a series of intelligent, acclaimed indie horror flicks.
In classic ‘80s slashers, the “final girl” is the sole teenager who emerges, blood-drenched, from her ordeal at the hands of a killer. Unlike her racier, sexually confident friends, quick to be plucked off, the final girl typically has a quivering, virginal sensibility. Think Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween — a doe turned wolf by horror.
What makes Monroe’s four “final girls” so refreshing — and revolutionary — is that they’re never punished for their sexuality or forward personality. Jules in Villains is one half of a bumbling Bonnie-and-Clyde duo. Even when chained up in a basement by the movie’s real villains (Kyra Sedgwick and Jeffrey Donovan), she’s still in the mood to make out with her other half, Mickey (Bill Skarsgard, also a face in the horror genre).
Villains, directed by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, borrows just as much from the comedy tradition as horror, especially mining Mickey’s dopey nature for laughs. Still, there’s enough in Villains to watch through through your fingers (including a scene in which Jules gets her tongue ring ripped out) to merit a spot in Monroe’s oeuvre of forward-thinking, gun horror movies.
We spoke to the long-time horror obssessee on the experience of making history in her favorite genre.
Refinery29: You’ve been in a string of off-kilter horror movies — Greta earlier this year, now Villains. What drew you to Villains? How do you see it fitting in the pattern?
Maika Monroe: “Initially, reading the script, what I liked was that Villains had horror elements and a lot of different genres. I saw a Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino mash-up. I had never done anything quite like it. Definitely, there’s horror and thriller to it — but Jules felt like a new character.”
Right, but there is a true gross-out element to Villains. Particularly the tongue ring scene. How did you film that?
“We had some real challenges with the tongue ring. It’s hard to do a fake tongue ring. What ended up happening was they made a really gross-looking fake tongue with a piercing through it. So I put the fake tongue in my mouth. Bill would grab the piercing in the fake tongue and rip it out. They put a little blood in it. Not going to lie, it was pretty gross.
Do you ever get queasy when your character is going through gross scenes?
“Definitely. I get grossed out by things very easily. The tongue was gross to me. I was grossed out.”
What compels you to keep playing characters that are in these extreme situations, even if you personally are grossed out? You seem to keep getting yourself into that situation.
“I grew up loving horror films. You have a feeling watching a horror film that you don’t feel on an average day — or I hope you’re not feeling on an average day. There’s something powerful about genre. It Follows changed the horror genre game, which is wild to think about. People were shocked by its elevated horror. People are making really good genre films. There’s no plan with this career. I just got sent scripts and think, This is a freakin’ good script. I want to be a part of this.”
It Follows was credited with reinventing the final girl trope. How can horror be an empowering genre for women?
“It’s interesting to watch...you meet a girl at the beginning of a story. Maybe she’s got an average job, living an average life. She’s thrown into this insane situation and realizes that she’s more capable or more powerful or stronger than she thought that she was. She comes out this badass. It’s empowering. The horror genre used to be silly. The girls are naked and they’re scared. There’s a change in Hollywood. Seeing these badass girls, it’s important. I can’t help but be drawn to characters like that.”
You and Bill both are known for your roles in horror. Did that come up on set? Would you try to scare each other?
Would you get scared?
“No, because he looks like Bill. I’d seen the first IT before really knowing him and was like Wow, this dude’s amazing.”
After starring in so many horror movies, do you still get scared watching them?
“Yeah. I just went to see the second IT last night and was like, This is really scary. I had to keep reminding myself while watching — it’s just Bill!”
Would you ever want to play a villain?
“I would love to. I don’t know if it would be too crazy to play Freddy Krueger. But that would be my dream.
You’re ready to cross over.
“After having this conversation, I think I am.”
What challenges do horror movies pose compared to drama?
“With the drama it’s a little more relatable. You’re able to find pieces of your own life. But with the horror genre I’ve never experienced these things in my life. You’re drawing from something different. It’s a fun challenge.”
Has acted in movies like these made you feel more capable if something scary happened to you?
“Yeah, I feel very prepared for a lot of different insane situations I could face.”
Would you be a final girl in real life?
“Oh, hell yeah. No question.”