By David Dent
The French director Alexandre Aja was in town recently to promote his new film Crawl, which premiered on the first night of London’s annual FrightFest scary movie weekender.
I interviewed Alexandre on the afternoon before the movie screened and asked him first about the positive critical reception the film has attracted in those countries where it’s already opened. He was surprised at the press reaction thus far, which had been almost overwhelmingly positive for a film he called “just another gator movie…” “I had a lot of fun making Piranha 3D, Horns and The 9th Life of Louis Drax,” Aja explained, “but in those years of moving away from the (horror) genre I kept going as an audience member watching all these great movies like Don’t Breathe.” The director longed to return to his first love, the fright flick. “It’s in my DNA,” he commented, to make films that put the audience “on the edge of their seat, to create an immersive experience for them.”
Aja was attracted by the script for Crawl, and the simplicity of its story: “I received the script – it was on a Friday and I couldn’t read it right away – but I remember reading the log line that came with it, a very simple story about this young woman trying to save her dad in the middle of a category 5 storm in a flood zone infested with alligators! It was exactly what I needed – it was the perfect combination of survival and fear elements.”
Aja had three movies in his mind when he was making his latest: Alien, The Impossible and Cujo, and the claustrophobia and tension of those films is perfectly reflected in Crawl. I asked him about the filming conditions, as most of the movie is spent with the principal actors up to their necks in dirty flood water. “It was very very difficult, but you’d have to ask the actors,” he told me. Although Crawl is a survival movie Aja felt that “it was a survival movie to make the movie.”
I asked him about the process of making the film, in that the combination of practical and CGI effects, and the vast quantities of water involved, looked like a logistical nightmare. “Making a movie costs a lot of money, so you don’t have the time to redo things – you need to know exactly what you’re doing. I work a lot on the script – the script is the most important thing – and I do shot lists for every sequence, but also it’s about working with the actors, the blocking, and how they’re going to own the space.” Aja thought this was particularly important when working with such a confined setup. “The way they interact with each other is the key to whether a scene is going to be believable or not.” Commenting on his cast, he paid tribute to the resilience of his lead players. “Kaya (Scodelario, who plays Haley) and Barry (Pepper, as Haley’s father Dave) were absolute troopers.” When he asked Kaya if she was sure that she was ok with what was to come, Aja said that she wanted to make the movie to show her son how badass she could be. “And she was definitely badass,” confirmed the director.
Of the alligators, arguably the real stars of Crawl, Aja let me into a secret: “There were no real alligators on set. There were just stuntmen dressed in full green suit spandex.” While this might make the gator action sound a little, er, naff, the reality is quite different. The CGI is effectively and sparingly applied, mixed seamlessly with practical effects, and doesn’t dilute in any way from the overall verisimilitude of the piece. But Aja also gives credit to the actors, who made a great job of pretending that the threat was real.
Was Aja happy with the finished film? “I wanted it to be so intense that it puts you on the edge of your seat,” He explained “I wanted it to be the kind of movie where you feel the temperature is rising in the room, because people are really nervous. What I love most in a movie theatre is that experience where we (the audience) all live the story.” He likened the creation of Crawl to a rollercoaster ride. “You know when you have to go down, you know when you have to leave some breathing space, and when you don’t. And I don’t think this movie has a lot of breathing space – it’s pretty intense.” He’s dead right there.
Crawl is in cinemas now.