Tuesday, March 31, 2015

THE GUEST IT FOLLOWS: An Examination of Maika Monroe's Breakout Genre Performances


Seemingly overnight, horror fans were delivered a new goddess in which to pay their respects in the form of actress Maika Monroe.  Armed with girl-next-door good looks and the ability to deliver a sense of authenticity with her performances, Monroe has skyrocketed to the title of "Scream Queen" in the truest sense of the word.  Starting out as a professional kiteboarder, Maika Monroe's breakout role as Anna Peterson in the Adam Wingard/Simon Barrett flick THE GUEST put her on the radar of horror fans everywhere.  Quickly following with her leading role as Jay in IT FOLLOWS, and Monroe has all but solidified herself as the reigning queen of horror.  At 21-years-old, Monroe has successfully captured the post-coming of age characterization often ignored by horror films.  We've all been that age. Eager to start life on our own, ready to tackle the world head on but what usually helps widen up the most jaded and disgruntled youth is when doom and disaster meet them at their own doorstep.  Maika Monroe's "Anna" and "Jay" have both met two extremely different forms of disaster, and tackled them in two entirely different ways.  However, they both share a similar through line; sex.  Typical "final girls" tend to be virginal, sweet, and innocent, but neither of Monroe's characters follow these "rules."  Instead, Monroe represents the modern final girl, armed with 21st century feminism and sex positivity.

As Anna Peterson in THE GUEST


While THE GUEST is centered strongly around Dan Stevens' Jerry Dandridge-esque "David," THE GUEST is arguably Anna Peterson's story.  Although the audience is introduced to the family as a whole, we are experiencing the film as an outsider or through the eyes of Anna.  We as an audience know that "David" is not who he seems, and Anna is our only ally.  Anna Peterson is the small town rebel we all had a crush on in high school, but didn't say anything to out of fear that she'd kick our ass.  Monroe effortlessly gives us a sharp wit, "can't be bothered" attitude, all while maintaining the gusto of the most bad-ass female horror heroines.  Anna represents for the audience, that time in our lives when we dated someone we knew was no-good, but loved unconditionally.  The age where appealing to our preferred sex was a staple of our personality, and our clothes reflected our identities as boldly as humanly possible.  Life moves on after high school, and that awkward transitional period where we're no longer seen as children, but not respected as adults is perfectly personified with her character.  Anna's sex appeal is subtle, but important.  Thigh high leggings, short skirts, and tousled hair give her a natural desirability, but it's her attitude towards sex that skyrockets her to the modern era.  Her closest friend has sex with "David" and it's not addressed as the "end all-be all" the way most sexual encounters are presented in cinema.  She's shown with her boyfriend denying him sexual advances, not because "she's pure," but because she is a strong woman making her own decisions about sex. We know this because later on when David approaches her in only a towel, Anna is visibly flustered by her attraction towards him.  We've established that Anna is a strong and independent woman both personally and sexually, but what of her villain? Dan Stevens' "David" oozes sex. He's lust on legs. And he's coming straight towards her as Death incarnate.  Sound familiar?

As Jay in IT FOLLOWS


IT FOLLOWS is a film completely centered around sex. The promotional material would make it safe to assume Monroe's "Jay" is a total sex kitten, but she's the polar opposite.  With the exception of the scene we've all seen in the trailerss, Jay is a rather conservative dressing young woman, right down to the infamous trope of the pink dress. However, IT FOLLOWS offers the same exploration of youth being ripped into adulthood with consequences beyond their comprehension. Here, the varying attitudes and stigmas associated with sexuality are put on parade. But as we wait for the villain to pass by in that parade we realize it's been sitting curbside with the real culprit of this sexual indemnity; ourselves.  The character of Jay is the proverbial childhood crush you can never get over, but never falls into the trap of the "manic pixie dream girl."  She's assertive with her own sexual choices, but isn't defined by those decisions.  The monster of IT FOLLOWS is passed like an STD, but we see Jay's horror not as something she's "deserving" for having sex, but we instead root for her survival.  Because for many of us, this is territory we're all too familiar with but never get the chance to see explored on film.  Despite what most films have tried to tell us, sex isn't always this life-affirming experience, but many of us are defined by our sexuality.  Whether we're gay, sexually fluid, promiscuous, abstinent, or made a few mistakes in our past, it's something that many people have difficulty ever looking past.  Monroe's character in IT FOLLOWS is being tortured by something sexually driven, that only she and her other partners can see, but those close to her know that it exists.

still from IT FOLLOWS


And while it may be easy to dismiss both films as cautionary tales to keep it in your pants/don't trust strangers, both beg the question that often goes overlooked by those afflicted by their sexual proclivities - is life worth living after all this trauma? How can someone that's endured these tragedies assimilate into "polite society"? THE GUEST and IT FOLLOWS offer the same bleakness for those that managed to survive to the end. They've only cheated Death, they haven't won. David survives THE GUEST. The shapeshifting being of IT FOLLOWS is still out there. How can you keep on knowing that? Death is coming for Monroe and everything she cares about, and it won't stop. It's been engineered to never let up.

...and to do so to a snazzy fucking soundtrack.

1 comment(s):

Zena Horror said...

Absolutely love that you wrote about her! When I first saw Maika Monroe in The Guest I was completely blown away by her awesome acting and outfits. I'm looking forward in seeing her movie. :)

I also enjoyed the soundtracks on The Guest & It Follows!

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