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ALEXANDRE AJA INTERVIEW

Interview conducted by Ryan Holloway

Horror fans have watched the rise of French filmmaker Alexandre Aja very closely and so far have been able to marvel in his mix of mainstream sensibilities with those of a hungry film fanatic wearing his heart on his blood soaked sleeves.

He rose to stardom with his 2003 film High Tension and was quickly embraced by the horror community, especially when he was asked personally by Wes Craven to pen an idea for a remake of Craven’s cult classic – The Hills Have Eyes.

His love of the genre is matched only by his ability to tell a story, and he has gone on to direct a diverse range of films such as Mirrors (starring Kiefer Sutherland), Horns, based on the novel by Joe Hill and starring Daniel Radcliffe and the outrageous 2010 Piranha 3D.

His latest film, Crawl, starring Kaya Scodelario, is a home invasion, disaster, creature feature that comes to UK cinemas 23rd August from Paramount Pictures UK.

We were lucky enough to chat to Alexandre about the film as well as his knowledge of alligators, Jurassic Park, raptors and modern horror audiences.

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Ryan Holloway: Hi Alexandre how are you?

Alexandre Aja: I’m very good, thank you.

RH: Well, thank you very much for talking to us today. I’ll jump right in. I loved the movie.

AA: Oh, thanks.

RH: Incredibly intense film. How do keep that kind of intensity on set, especially if you’re having to shoot multiple takes?

AA: I keep the actor in the water the whole time! [laughs]. No, no, well actually in the end that is what we did because we found that when we left the water it was taking so much time to go back in, so I am so grateful to Kaya and Barry and all the crew because we were staying, some days, like 12 hours in the water, so it was pretty intense. I think the intensity is first in the script, you know, it's all about the writing and when I got the script, first, my role as director and producer was to make the script like a running train, something that was building up suspense and acceleration and really creating this like, pace, that you need to sustain the tension for the whole ride.

RH: Which you did very expertly I have to say, I was very tense by the end of the film, but in a good way! When you have animals in a film like this, do you talk to animal experts, and is it sometimes a frustration if they say, ‘Actually, an alligator wouldn’t do that'?

AA: You know, thanks to the Internet, there is so much. I would spend thousands of hours reading about crocodiles and alligators and from the beginning I wanted the movie to feel like it's based on a true story.

RH: Which is exactly what it felt like.

AA: I’m glad you say that. I looked at all the footage [online] and kind of selected every moment that for me was scary and intense in terms of movement and behavior, and we looked at those clips with the visual effects company to create the alligators. In terms of rules, I think I also read everything you can read about alligators there are a lot of small contradictions between what you can find, but you know I think we roughly were pretty good in terms of the rules of nature. They are fascinating beasts, I mean I didn’t really need to add anything to them. They are scary as they are, and you know, they are like living dinosaurs among us and are almost perfect killing machines. My favourite feature of alligators and crocodiles is that they have such a strong grip with their jaws, but they don’t cut you clean, like a shark will just bite your leg off, an alligator doesn’t do that; an alligator just grabs you and holds you and then they go into a death roll to maybe dismember you and create a very nasty way of dying. And then they will stick you among some roots. They really are just fascinating animals.

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RH: There are many scenes that put me in mind of Spielberg’s raptors in Jurassic Park. Was there any influence there?

AA: Oh yes. Very early on when we were working on pre-production for the movie I asked Sam Raimi, ‘What is your favourite crocodile or alligator movie?’ He thought for like a few minutes and then said, ‘I think it’s Jurassic Park’, [Laughs] and it was so right because you know there is not really like an example of alligator or crocodile movies where you actually see the way they are in real nature and the closest you get is what Spielberg created in the Jurassic Park franchise, you know like the way they move, the way they behave, and they [alligators] are dinosaurs, so that was definitely something we were thinking about.

RH: And Spielberg obviously worked in water very early in his career. Is working in water a kind of rite of passage for directors and how do you personally find the experience?

AA: The first time I worked in water was for Piranha. I spent the whole shoot in the water and I thought it was the most difficult thing I ever did and one of the most difficult movies, and then I kind of forgot how difficult and crazy it was and then I went back with Crawl and it was intense as I remembered. Maybe even more difficult than it was on Piranha so, I don’t think it’s a rite of passage, more of a kind of masochist thing for a director.

RH: Let’s speak a little about Kaya. What an amazing actress; she brought a very physical and visceral quality to the role of Hayley. Tell us a bit about how it was to work with her.

AA: I wouldn’t have made the movie without her. Firstly, her character is really carrying the movie. It’s really her story and the story of how she is going to save her dad, so if you don’t believe in her you have no movie, you lose the immersion right away. I wanted someone who had that physicality but also had a kind of strength and look. If you look at her eyes in the movie you always see what is going on with her, how smart she can be, and how strong she is going to be to stay and fight the alligators. It really is a tough experience that she will go through and most of us, ten minutes into the movie, would die right away and she becomes like an apex predator at the end.

RH: After seeing the film I can’t imagine anyone else playing the role of Hayley. In terms of horror films or films of this nature, do you think audiences have changed at all and perhaps are harder to scare?

AA: You know, its interesting because when you work on that kind of movie and when you try to create emotion and fear you are always dealing with an audience who brings something with them. When they come to see your movie they bring everything with them from their past. So usually they will come and they know that at the end of the corridor something scary is going to happen if the music comes up, so every now and then you have to reinvent the language and when it comes to this kind of home invasion, disaster, creature movie, usually they come with the idea of less is more. The same rule as with Jaws, where people thought they’re not going to show any of the creature until the end, and I wanted Crawl to be very different. I wanted straight away for the alligators to come right at you very early in the movie so people will think that anything is possible.

RH: I really appreciated that, I thought it was great when we got our first glimpse of the alligators. One of my favourite shots was of Hayley trapped in the shower and there is a shot from above as an alligator comes in and kind of circles in that space, is that the type of shot that you have in your head quite early on?

AA: Oh yes, when I’m reading the script I try to come up with some strong images that for me will be the cornerstone of what I’m going to build and that sequence was one of them.

RH: It was very much like ‘raptors on the kitchen’ for me. One image that stuck out was when we get a shot of the outside of the house there was a fence partly submerged and it looked like an alligator’s tale and I wondered if that was intentional?

AA: Oh, I don’t know I’ll have to look at it, but it was not intentional. [Laughs] I will not lie…

RH: The alligators look amazing, I’m guessing they were entirely computer generated?

AA: Yes, completely. The fact that I wanted them to be very photo-real there was nothing you could do that looks like that in animatronics or puppetry, you have to go with CG. We were talking about Jurassic Park and Jurassic World and in a time and age of movies that are so perfect in terms of creature animation we had to do something similar and very early on we took the decision to go full CGI for the alligators.

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RH: How do you find working with animators? It’s such a slow process.

AA: It was a fast and a slow process. The movie was done completely within a year; we were shooting and it was a hot, tough shoot, but at the end we were cutting the movie and we thought if the visual effects are not perfect, everything would be pointless. I remember in December wrapping principal photography when I received the first finished visual effect and it was spectacular, I was so happy and to work on something for so long and to see a result that was a real looking living breathing animal is just the most rewarding thing for a filmmaker.

RH: As an artist, do you know when you’ve achieved what you wanted? Is it at the end of shooting when you think, ‘I’ve done it’, or do you kind of never feel that way?

AA: You never feel that way [laughs], you always want to keep working on it, keep going and keep going. You watch the movie so many times, sometimes you have a really good screening and you think, 'this works really well' and sometimes you think, 'oh no, why did we do this? Or do this?' and the beauty of making this kind of movie is then you share it with an audience and if it’s scary you know it right away, you see people on the edge of their seats. You see the intensity in the room and that was the case with Crawl, so that’s the moment when you say, 'Well we did something right'.

RH: I loved the film and I look forward to watching it again very soon. I really appreciate you talking to me today.

AA: Thank you so much.

CRAWL, from Paramount Pictures UK will play onopening night of Frightfest 22nd August before opening across the UK 23rd August.

About The Author
Ryan Holloway
Staff Reviewer
As far back as he can remember Ryan has always had an obsession with films, and horror in particular. 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' and ‘Alien’ were the first films that really stuck in the psyche and rather than scarring his tiny mind and running up a huge therapy bill, those films created a fascination with the dark side of life and art. Brought up by Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers (not literally), horror will always fascinate him no matter how absurd, dark, twisted, barmy or just plain wrong. Horror DNA gives him the opportunity, and excuse, to legitimise his macabre tastes and watch whatever strangeness comes his way.
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