Horror fans have come to learn that it’s not truly summer time unless there is some type of aquatic horror film to traumatize viewers from ever getting close to a body of water again. Luckily for us, this summer has provided us with Alexandre Aja‘s (The Hills Have Eyes) return to his horror roots in the “home invasion by alligators” film, CRAWL.
For those not familiar with the movie, it centers around Haley (Kaya Scodelario) and her father (Barry Pepper) during a massive hurricane that hits her Florida hometown. Ignoring evacuation orders, Kayla returns to her childhood home to find her missing father who has been gravely injured in a crawl space. However, the two become trapped by quickly encroaching floodwaters and as time runs out to escape the strengthening storm, Haley and her father discover that the rising water level is the least of their fears.
For the release of CRAWL, I had the immense pleasure of speaking to Alexandre Aja about his return to aquatic horror, the terrifying (and not so terrifying) behavior of alligators, and the difficulty that ensues when you film a movie in water.
Thank you so much for taking the time out to speak with me today Alex. To start things off, can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved with CRAWL?
Alexandre Aja: I kept going to see all those really good movies with a new generation of directors [that made] very scary [movies]. I knew I wanted to make a scary [movie] again. I really wanted to go back to my roots and go back to the High Tension. I was reading scripts and looking for projects and I received CRAWL. I really fell in love with the logline first. I received the script and fell in love with it and that short synopsis about this female, a young woman, that has to save her dad during a hurricane category 5 in Flordia in a home that’s infested with alligators. It was so simple, so straight forward, it was exactly what I was looking for. That’s how everything started. I couldn’t read that weekend the script, but I kept imagining and projecting myself and thinking about home invasion/disaster/alligators in the house and all that stuff. When I read the script, [I learned] that it was pretty much only taking place in the crawl space without really the same type of relationship between the dad and his daughter. So with the writers, we started working on the script to open it. I wanted it to be contained, contained within the storm and not just within the crawl space.
CRAWL is not your first foray into aquatic horror as you also did PIRANHA 3D, which I adore. What do you think it is about this subgenre that you enjoy?
Alexandre Aja: You know, I think there is something maybe in our DNA, like a very old memory of us vs. nature. You know, like fighting wild beasts, that’s still there. There’s always like a possibility of nature coming back and biting you in the butt and I think it’s more and more likely it’s going to happen.
When it came to the alligators, did you do a lot of research into their behavior?
Alexandre Aja: Oh yes. Thanks to the internet there is access to hundreds or thousands of hours of footage. If you look at all of them, some of the footage is really kind of underwhelming. [The alligators] are just in the sun and not moving and being lazy. And some of the footage is some of the scariest things you ever have seen. My role was to select kind of the best of all of those crazy gator or crocodile action and feed the visual effects team and the animation team with that. Since we knew that no animatronics would be able to reproduce that type of movement, we absolutely needed to go CG and CG is phenomenal when you have the right people because you can really reproduce all type of movements. In the beginning, we kind of like did some [filming] of real alligators in a tank but because of what Rodeo FX did, which was so good, we actually didn’t need it.
Lastly, I can’t even imagine how difficult it must have been to film in the water. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
Alexandre Aja: Yeah, it was definitely a very challenging movie. I thought I was prepared with Piranha because I learned a lot. You read about how impossible it is to work on the water and I thought I was really prepared (laughs). There is [always] a new problem and a new challenge. We had to build, like, seven tanks and because everything was taking place in the storm, we couldn’t shoot in a real location. We had to build all those set of tanks on stage on the blue screen so we could add all the trees, the storm, the clouds, and the sky. The water was real and the rain was real and the wind was real so 40 days with a crew in wet suits – I was blessed to have had amazing actors. I knew it was difficult – you can’t read the script and say “I thought we were doing all that in CG.” Nope (laughs). You’re in the water, for sure. It was really a tough one but at the end when you see the results – I’m almost at the point after watching the movie 200 times that I forgot that we were not on location and that it was on the blue screen and there were no alligators.