Conskipper may be brand new, but our journalists have been covering the world of pop culture conventions for years. The following interview was originally conducted by John Evans as a freelancer on October 15th, 2019.
Alexandre Aja quickly established himself as a household name in horror with 2003’s High Tension, and he continued to make his mark on the genre with such releases as The Hills Have Eyes remake, Piranha 3D, and Horns. His latest film, Crawl, debuted in theaters on July 12th, and this Florida hurricane, alligator attack story thrilled both fans and critics alike. To mark the debut of Crawl on home video, which is now available on Digital and Blu-Ray, Mr. Aja spoke with us to answer some of our questions about his filmmaking process and some of the unique steps required to bring a film like Crawl to the silver screen.
What were some unique opportunities or challenges that came along with shooting in so many aquatic and claustrophobic sets for Crawl?
Alexandre Aja: I think that Crawl came out of the desire to be mean to myself! Everything was a challenge. I thought that I was ready. I thought I had a heads up with the experience of shooting everything in the water with Piranha. And then I realized that both movies were so different. When you end up doing forty days of being in the water every day for sometimes more than 10 hours a day, and then you have the rain being super cold and the water in the tank that’s super dirty but it’s also warm. With the wind, with the dog, with everything. And you have your whole crew, and I was like, “What? Why didn’t I think about that? Why did I write these scenes?” But then you see it play for people watching it in a screening room, and you’re like, “That’s the reason!” And now I completely forgot all of those challenges, and I’m ready to go back!
You mentioned how shooting Crawl was so different from shooting Piranha 3D. What were the biggest differences?
Aja: I think one of the main differences was that most of Piranha was shot on Lake Havasu, so it was a real body of water. That raised a lot of other problems, but all of the things like filtration, the wind, the temperature was not as much of an issue. Here, this set was made of seven tanks, with different sizes for each part of the set with the water coming up. I think it was the water rising that was really the difference. Also, because of the way the alligators behave, the camera is always neither above or under the water. It’s always in between. And that kind of back and forth of shooting above and below the water was also very different from Piranha.
Crawl was filmed entirely in Serbia. How did you go about creating a legitimate, genuine Florida atmosphere in Serbia?
Aja: We knew we couldn’t shoot in Florida for real in real hurricane weather because of the way the trees bend, the way the wind acts, and the way the sky behaves. We knew that we had to build everything on a stage because of the necessity of controlling the elements. We had to build everything indoors. We had no reason to try to do it in Florida, so we were looking for a place that has the biggest warehouse possible. We weren’t even looking for a sound stage because we knew we would be using a wind machine all the time and the sound on set would be lost. Finally we found this gigantic warehouse on the port of Belgrade, and we discovered that the crew, the people, everything, were so amazing and worked so well. I don’t think we would have been able to make this movie anywhere else, to be honest.
This is your second movie featuring an aquatic monster. What is it about aquatic animals that makes them great monsters in horror cinema?
Aja: Maybe because we’re made of water? We have this very, very deep relationship with the water. Maybe because we come from the womb, in the water. We have this kind of relationship with the water, but at the same time we have this DNA fear of the water. Of what’s lying underneath. What’s hiding. Personally- maybe not everyone is like that, but me- I still have that kind of feeling when I swim in the ocean or go in a lake. What is underneath? And I think that kind of fear is always a great one to explore because it sends you back to that original connection to the water. But at the same time it sends you to your original fear of what’s hiding, that you don’t see.
Which aquatic animal do you fear the most, or respect the most, and why?
Aja: I think the alligator would be one of the most frightening because they’re a perfect killing machine. I will really not swim in the water if I know that there are alligators or crocodiles around! I would not be scared of piranhas. I tried to shoot some real piranhas, the red-bellied ones, but they’re really underwhelming in terms of how mean they are. I’m not saying that I will swim in a tank full of piranhas- don’t get me wrong- but they’re not the most scary. The eel is a very nasty beast as well.
One of the charms of Crawl is that is has such a small cast where the two leads, Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper, have so much screen time. As a director, how do you approach working with such a small cast as opposed to working on a horror film with a larger cast?
Aja: I think it’s really that when you’re making a big movie like Piranha, you’re the director and the producer and it’s your movie. You are connecting all of the elements. When you make a movie like Crawl or High Tension where there is just two people on screen most of time time, I think you have to know that it’s for the best that you’re making the movie with them. They’re not just actors; they are really a part of the creative process with you. It’s all about the three of you, and maybe the four of you or the five of you with the production designer and the director of photography. You’re actually in the water trying to understand how you’re going to tell the story, and how the characters are going to behave. I think it’s very exciting and it’s very inspiring, and it shows, when you can really work so closely with the actors and build a movie together.
Is Crawl something you would want to revisit? Are there any plans for a sequel?
Aja: Now that the movie is quite a success, I’m sure the question of a sequel is going to come up. We always talk about the sequel no matter what, because it’s always a sad moment when a movie is over. You don’t want to let it go, so you start thinking about what other stories we could tell. What other horrors are there in this world? There are so many of them, to be honest. So, yes, I would be excited!
Crawl is available today on Blu-Ray and DVD, courtesy of Paramount Pictures.