Alexandre Aja’s Crawl was perhaps the biggest surprise horror hit of the summer. The aquatic scream fest, which followed a young woman (Kaya Scodelario) navigating through a Florida hurricane to rescue her father (Barry Pepper) from ferocious alligators, was a critical and commercial success. With a $13.5 million budget, Crawl went on to earn nearly $90 million around the world, as well as a more-than-healthy 82% on Rotten Tomatoes (here’s our glowing review).
We Got This Covered recently had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Aja about the aesthetics of his latest film, which is now available on Blu-ray and Digital, as well as the mechanics behind the performances of his two lead actors.
Be sure to check out our conversation down below and enjoy!
I just wanted to start off by talking about the set pieces in this film, especially the basement. I loved how the architecture and the piping of the house provided safe quarters and how the hurricane itself acted as a sort of doom timer. Was this shot at an actual house or were you working in an enclosed set? Or was it a combination of the two because the illusion was pretty great?
Alexandre Aja: We had to build [sets] because of the water and the ticking clock of the water coming up all the way in the crawl space and then all the way in the house to the roof top. Each house level was built in a different tank. All together, I think, we had seven tanks. The biggest one was the actual intersection outside of the house with the gas station and the gas station was actually built – the inside was built on that set – and then the crawl space was the most impressive and most difficult set that we built because of the very low ceiling obviously, but also, the way you access it and all the action was actually taking place in it. But everything was following the actual blueprint of the actual house and everything is matching and I think that’s what gives this feeling of a real house that you actually understand even if it’s not in the dialogue.
Speaking of those challenges, I’m sure your work on Piranha probably made the whole process of shooting around and underneath water a lot easier this time. But what challenges, exactly, did you face working within this tiny environment? I know you just said that you had different sets but what sort of challenges were there?
Alexandre Aja: You know, I felt kind of the same that you just said; I felt that all my training on Piranha will give me a heads up on making this movie and make it easy but, in fact, it was not the case. It was a whole different set of challenges. Here, I realize that most of it was underwater/above water. Crawl was pretty much in the water, never really above or under but always in between and going back and forth exactly the same way that a gator is always going back and forth so fast; that’s what the camera is doing as the water is rising. And that came with a new set of challenges, you know, like to deal with the rain, with the wind, with the filtration of the water.
Most of Piranha was shot on actual lakes and you don’t have to change the water of the lake, you know, it’s so large a volume of water that it kind of cleans itself. Here, you were in a basement that you built. You have to paint the elements, the dust, the blood, everything, you have filtration, but even with filtration, there is so much water that it gets so muddy and murky that it’s really hard to keep shooting. So, those were all of the challenges that we had to face every day.
I’m terrified of reptiles and I really didn’t think this through watching the movie, and I’m not trying to break the suspension of disbelief here, but how exactly did those gators work? I’m sure you didn’t throw Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper into a pit of actual gators, but what were they reacting to and getting tossed around by?
Alexandre Aja: So yes, most of the alligators, except three or four shots, everything is full CGI and the reason I chose CGI is because I really wanted to make it as realistic as possible. I wanted the gators to behave the way they behave when they get really aggressive and when they move very fast, in all the scenes. So, I kind of used a selection of all the best moments of alligator action that I could find on the internet. And I gave them to the visual effects company to work on the animation. It was clear that no animatronics would provide that type of action. And I’m really happy with the results because it feels real.
Also, the reason why they feel real is because we have actors – actors reacting the right way every time. And they – I’m very impressed – by the way they do it because sometimes they are reacting to a stuntman dressed in a Spandex green suit, crawling towards them, and it’s everything but scary. Or sometimes, they are reacting to me holding a pole with a Styrofoam green head, symbolizing the actual alligator head attacking. But all this technique is key to make it believable. You know, the same way every time, when the weather’s hot, we had a diver who was actually swimming like an alligator, so fast, so we could actually see the ripple on the water and used that during the visual effects process.