Apparently this film came from a fear you had as a child. Can you explain that? The basic idea came from a nightmare I had when I was a kid. I was playing with friends outside school and across the far side of the parking lot I saw this kid walking toward me. He was really far away and just walking really slowly toward me. I remember seeing them and just the way you instinctively do in a dream, knowing something was wrong and that kid was a monster. I remember pointing it out to the people I was playing with and nobody knew what I was talking about. It was getting closer and closer and eventually I ran away. I ran about a block from school and then stood and waited and eventually it turned the corner and kept coming for me. In the nightmares it could look like different people and I might be hanging out with my family and nobody else would react. So it was that idea of being followed by something that you can get away from if you’re aware but the horrible feeling is of constantly being followed. I’ve talked to many people who’ve had similar nightmares and apparently it’s an anxiety dream. I stopped having it when I was a kid but I’ve always remembered it. I thought it would be cool to make a horror film of that and all those thoughts and feelings. Then as an adult I added all the other elements. But that’s where it started.
So how did you marry it to the idea of a sexually transmitted curse?
Well ever since I started thinking about it I liked the idea of it being something that could be passed between people and it just made sense to me that something sexual would work. You’re connecting people both physically and emotionally through sex and it just seemed a good thematic link.
When you were trying to get the film made did everyone get the concept?
Weeeell. Mostly. It’s one of those ideas that if you say it the wrong way or read it on paper it could sound a little silly. It’s really about how we tried to approach it. It’s a tonal trick, if that makes sense.
There’s also the possibility that if you’d handled it wrong it might seem moralising?
I’ve had people read it that way. I certainly don’t mean that and I don’t think it has a puritanical message, but I like that people read the film in different ways. That’s kind of cool. For me, in the film sex is the thing that opens people up to this danger but the truth is it’s also the thing that can release them, at least temporarily. So it’s not that simple.
This is only your second movie and your first horror. Did you study any other horrors before starting?
I’m a big horror fan so I’ve seen a ton of stuff from horror classics to stuff coming out now, so yes, I watched a ton of it. I’m a big film fan period, but horror particularly, yes.
The film seems to be set in no particular era. Was that deliberate?
That’s intentional. We built the film from a production standpoint as if it were several different eras. A lot of stuff was from the 50s, 60s, 70s and there are some modern things as well. All of it was to put the film a little bit outside of time, so it’s closer to a dream. If you can’t quite place it then it’s intentional.
How did you decide how the followers were going to look?
The ‘Its’? They were all in the script in roughly the way they appear in the film and then we spent a lot of time on casting to get the right people. But they were all roughly what they were on the page.
IT FOLLOWS is at Irish cinemas from Friday Feb 27th