Filmmaker Alexandre Aja has, since he made his big splash with 2003’s High Tension, been one of the most interesting and unpredictable voices on the horror scene. His work runs the gamut from independent movies heavy on the self-awareness to mainstream hits like The Hills Have Eyes and oddities like the Joe Hill adaptation Horns. This year, Aja released Crawl, a survival horror movie about a young woman (Haley, played by Kaya Scodelario) who turns to her family home during the worst part of a hurricane in order to save her father (Barry Pepper), who is trapped in the house along with a group of alligators who are hunting him.
On first glance it would be easy to intepret Crawl as another schlock horror movie like Aja’s Pirahna, but really it has more in common with The Hills Have Eyes or High Tension — movies that are really about the human connection, in spite of being surrounded by horror tropes. And Aja had the extra benefit here that there aren’t that many tropes specific to the alligator/crocodile subgenre of creature features.
Aja said that while most genre movies have a lot of signposts for you to evaluate the film by — similar movies to help you know if you are veering off-course — there weren’t as many for the kind of movie he was trying to make.
“There was Cujo and the first Alien and pretty much that’s it,” Aja told ComicBook.com. “It was more kind of reality-based, character-driven. I really dig the idea of a daughter saving a father. I thought it was very interesting. Most movies that I watch, it’s always about parents saving their kids, and it’s not very often that you see kids saving their parents, and I thought that was a really interesting way into the story. But also, doing a weird home invasion movie, where instead of a killer in the house or spirits haunting the place, it’s really the element of nature coming in from outside — and with nature comes the gators, too.”
He said that part of the idea was to avoid the knowing winks that movies like Pirahna or The Hills Have Eyes necessarily get into, playing into or playing with the tropes of a certain subgenre.
“I couldn’t remember, even if I had seen all of them, any other alligator or croc movie that was perfect,” Aja said, noting that without such a tether, it was almost easier to go his own way. “There is no Jaws of alligator or croc pictures. So it was going to the reality of them, and making them hyper-real somehow. Watching things on the internet — like hundreds of hours of footage of alligators and crocodiles, then selecting the moment where they are the most vicious, scary, predatory. Most of the hours you watch, alligators can be just lazy and sunbathing and not doing anything. I was not interested in that, so I made a selection of the best of the best. Same thing with the hurricanes. You can have a very hazy storm, and that would have been [visually] boring. I wanted detail. So everything was going in the direction of ‘let’s make the alligator/hurricane movie that’s hyper real,’ where we take the worst of both directions and just put them in that house.”
Ultimately, he said, there was really one guiding force that most shaped the film.
“This one was really following my instinct — as much my instinct as a moviegoer as a filmmaker,” Aja said. “It was really about, what was the movie I want to see? And I had a lot of creative freedom to build the world.”
Crawl is available now on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital video on demand platforms.