Maika Monroe: The thinking woman’s scream queen will not go quietly into this gaslit night

The “It Follows” star is in two new thrillers this spooky season, making her a contender for the bloody crown

By Alison Stine

Staff Writer

Published October 9, 2022 11:00AM (EDT)

Maika Monroe as ‘Julia’ in Chloe Okuno’s "Watcher" (Courtesy of IFC Midnight)
Maika Monroe as ‘Julia’ in Chloe Okuno’s "Watcher" (Courtesy of IFC Midnight)

Astrology is not my thing, but I did smash that "like" on a social media post labeling the ones born under my sign as always right in a horror movie

That would be Maika Monroe too. The actor has made a name for herself playing the heroine in horror. The one who knows and stubbornly persists. The one who is ignored, mistreated and disbelieved. No one listens to Monroe in the movies and they should. Quietly insistent, her performances in recent fare have made her a forerunner for that most uneasy of titles: scream queen. 

Picture: the prom crown of Carrie, covered in blood. The moniker "scream queen" emerged first as a label for damsels in distress. Though the appearance of women in scary movies dates back to the silent film era, it was in the 1970s when scream queens took off with films like "Black Christmas" and "The Last House on the Left." Marilyn Burns closes "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" screaming in the back of a truck. Bloody and hysterical, her screams turn to relieved laughter in what may be one of the best horror endings ever. Burns was really, really good at screaming. 

You don't have to actually scream to be a scream queen. Though Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode does, her babysitter turned bitchin' vigilante is smart and capable in the "Halloween" films. And the cries of a teenager turn to the determined shouts of a grandmother as Laurie ages and grows more determined as the series goes on. Laurie and Michael will have a showdown once more later this October in "Halloween Ends," rumored to be the final installment in this trilogy timeline of the scary story.

Significant OtherMaika Monroe stars in "Significant Other" (Paramount +)Monroe seems like the natural inheritor of Curtis' legacy. Her performances have the smart, considered nuance of Curtis in other horror roles like young hitchhiker Elizabeth in "The Fog." Monroe wields the competent strength of a classic final girl, perhaps because she's an athlete in real life. She intended (and still intends) to be a professional kite-boarder, like her father. First acting professionally in a Pizza Hut commercial, her first major film was 2013's "Labor Day," followed quickly by her break-out part in 2014's "It Follows."

No one sees what she sees, which is a common thread in Monroe's films. No one believes her.

Monroe plays Jay in "It Follows," a traditional final girl name in a horror film that is anything but traditional, where her teen character is followed by a mysterious and malevolent supernatural force after a sexual encounter. The film is brooding, dark and smart. So is Monroe. Jay is subtly destroyed, regret and resignation etched on her face, her naïve illusions of love shattered, in scene after scene as the force keeps coming. Sometimes in the guise of people close to her, sometimes as a very tall man, sometimes naked. 

No one sees what she sees, which is a common thread in Monroe's films. No one believes her. In Chloe Okuno's 2022 "Watcher," she plays a young wife who follows her husband to Bucharest, where he has a job and she has . . . nothing. Like a horror "Lost in Translation," her character wanders around the city, watches TV in a language she is trying to learn but does not know, and begins to suspect that a neighbor in the apartment building across the street is watching her. Is doing more than watching.

The film is a slow burn, and Monroe is a subtle blaze of anxiety as everyone around her — all the men, anyway — distrust her and chip at the cracks of her foundation, causing her to waver in her own sense of self.

WatcherMaika Monroe as 'Julia' in Chloe Okuno's "Watcher" (Courtesy of IFC Midnight)

She will not go quietly into this gaslit night.

"Rosemary's Baby" mined this territory and so have many films before and since: the woman whose observations cannot be trusted, whose reality is not her own. But Monroe brings something new to the genre: persistence that is as subtle as it is undeniable. At a time when real life has become a horror show for women, girls and so many others in America, her characters cut through. She will not go quietly into this gaslit night.

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At the start of any career, you do what you can to get by. You take what is offered, but Monroe — who told The Hollywood Reporter she "wasn't really sure if acting was what I wanted to do" anymore a few years ago — continues to choose scary roles, now that she has a choice. A few times, it's an accident. More than that, it's a pattern, which thriller fans will be delighted to see twice this Halloween season, as Monroe stars in Paramount+'s woods horror "Significant Other." 

With Monroe, horror comes quietly. Gone is the hysterical screaming which first defined the queens of the genre. In performance after performance, she is thinking. She is plotting. She is moving forward, albeit on the strength of her personal belief alone. And we, existing in our own homes lit by flickering gas lamps, need to listen. 

"Significant Other" is now streaming on Paramount+. Watch a trailer via YouTube below:

By Alison Stine

Alison Stine is a former staff writer at Salon. She is the author of the novels "Trashlands" and "Road Out of Winter," winner of the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Commentary Horror It Follows Jamie Lee Curtis Maika Monroe Movies Scream Queen Significant Other Watcher