- Nov 15, 2001
- Real Name
- Neil Middlemiss
Alexandre Aja is a French director who hit the international stage with the well-received horror-thriller Haute Tension (High Tension) in 2003, and he’s been exploring various forms of dark stories and horror ideas since. With the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, the Kiefer Sutherland-led Mirrors, and the adaptation of Joe Hills novel, Horns, the most notable.
Aja has terrific grasp of what can frighten and audience, and how to build tension slowly to capture attention and imagination. Even when he’s skirting on the dramatic side of horror, as he does with Horns (starring Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple), he successfully carves out enough dark layers and scary ideas to find the right level of horror. He’s certainly a fine director with continued promise. With Crawl, he’s crafted a lean, tight creature feature with Florida alligators at the heart of the terror. What sounds like it should be disposable B-movie fodder surprises with intelligence and characters acting smartly and still fighting a deadly uphill battle to survive. It’s a welcome relief from thrills manufactured by characters acting foolish and is recommended for horror and fun thriller fans.
Crawl is available now to rent and purchase at all major retailers in DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital.
HTF: I had a blast watching Crawl. I loved it because it was well done, and you built tension from, not people doing stupid things, but from smart people doing smart things and still having trouble. That really set it apart from a lot of horror movies. There's a confined and cramped quality to the house and the tension you built, but it also feel like a much larger film in the way you showcase the hurricane and the outside. And it's mostly set during the daytime. Was that a conscious choice? Was that in the script or a choice made during pre-production, like, "Let's not have this be too dark. Let's have this be a daylight horror film." How did that come about?
“The original script when I got it pretty much only [took] place in the crawl space. And it was way smaller and I wanted to make the suspense build with the rising of the water.”
Alexandre Aja: It was really a very conscious choice, and was something I really wanted from the beginning in the rewrite of the script. The original script when I got it pretty much only [took] place in the crawl space. And it was way smaller and I wanted to make the suspense build with the rising of the water. What struck me is you need to fall in love, I mean it's a weird thing to say, [but] you need to stir up the desire of shooting a location and give the location something that gives you that feel of almost day-for-night, where the sky is so dark that the light is so low, but at the same time, you see all the details. You see all that kind of motif in the clouds. There is something that's really graphic, and I really wanted to preserve that. It would have been way simpler for everyone and from a production standpoint, cheaper too, to make it by night. I really wanted to make it by day and really wanted to see this kind of bluish dawn light when you still need your car headlights and the city lights on. Is it night? Is it day? I just love that, and it keeps something kind of gloomy and quite magic.
HTF: That definitely permeates the aesthetic of your film, and aesthetically speaking, it's a beautiful looking film. Let me ask about the way that you open the film, the journey of your protagonist, Haley (Kaya Scodelario) trying to track down what could be her missing father. We follow her from the swim meet to the drive through the road blocks to go looking for her father. I love the way that unfolds because it gets us intimately familiar with the person whose life we're going to be rooting for and also gives you a lay of the land: this is what the house looks like; this is where the kitchen is; this is where the front door is; this is what it looks like outside. How did that choice come about?
Alexandre Aja: That was all part of the direction I wanted for the rewrite of the script. As I said, it was taking place in the crawl space. It was also taking place in the crawl space off a random house the dad was working [and] not the family home. Haley was not this kind of swim champion, and she was not [originally] into inter-team competition swim races. So it was very different. But for me, I wanted to narrow around her. I wanted to make a character that's not cliché or sexualized, or it's about her boyfriend. We wanted to have [the character] be in a dark place for many reasons that are also linked to the house, that are also linked to her dad that's she's not talking to, and to the guilt. All those elements were very important. I was lucky enough to have a producer that helped me convince everyone to keep that film. Because one of the things [you] usually see is making a character light up, more likeable at first. You don't want someone that has issues or too much inner darkness. So, I think that was part of the joy. The whole story is about her saving her dad and also finding a way to break that kind of plateau she reached in her life.
HTF: In filmmaking you have to deal with things that are out of your control. Whether you're writing or directing, there are factors you just don't have control over, like studio interference or projects that you're passionate about that don't or can't get made, or your budget gets cut or the visual effects don't work out. How do you deal with that uncertainty when you're making films or trying to get something you're passionate about made, when things are getting in the way. How do you deal with that uncertainty, and what keeps you going?
“I was blessed because I was dealing with that new regime at Paramount that was absolutely filmmaker-friendly and also really, really passionate about that script.”Alexandre Aja: I think it's important to give your vision, to try to not compromise on the essentials, and then try to remember what made you fall in love with the project at first. And then share that love with the people around you. It's also very important to have the right people to talk to. And very early on, to know who has the final cut at the studio and if that person really liked the script. And for Crawl, I was blessed because I was dealing with that new regime at Paramount that was absolutely filmmaker-friendly and also really, really passionate about that script. And I knew that [we were all] making the same movie.
HTF: It makes a difference to have people in your corner, it sounds like.
Alexandre Aja: Yes. Completely. It's a huge, huge difference.
HTF: Your filmography is horror-related, but it isn't always straight horror. Crawl is more of a suspense thriller that has a horror element to it. Horns, which I adored by the way, was sort of a gothic, romantic drama couched in horror trappings. Is horror the draw for you? Is it the horror element, or does it not really matter you just happen to be having fun with the story, the root story at the core of it?
“…when there is a horror element, there is fear. And when there is fear, there is usually a way to build a very immersive experience. And that's really what I'm looking for.”
Alexandre Aja: I end up being attracted by that type of story because when there is a horror element, there is fear. And when there is fear, there is usually a way to build a very immersive experience. And that's really what I'm looking for. I'm looking for movies that you live, that you not [just] watch. For me, a movie is an experience. It's something that you have to remember as a feeling more than a collection of images or concept or ideas. And somehow, the stories very often have this kind of element. But I generally love to be scared. I am a really good audience for that genre. Even in a movie like The 9th Life of Louis Drax, which is not a normal movie at all, the fear is always there. And in fact, all elements are always in every type of story. It's just up to how much you feature. I think we're living in a very scary time, and somehow, we're dealing with fear on a daily basis. And when we go see a movie, we need to have that experience of seeing what the characters are feeling, with a similar feeling, and how sometimes they overcome that fear to become heroes.
HTF: Thank you very much for talking with us today, and Congratulations on Crawl.
Alexandre Aja: Thank you very much, Neil.