'Crawl' director Alexandre Aja: It's worse to kill a movie dog than a human

Chris Tilly
Alexandre Aja attends the screening of Crawl at Frightfest 2019. (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

French director Alexandre Aja burst onto the horror scene with the thrilling High Tension - known in the UK as Switchblade Romance - in 2003. Since then, he’s dabbled in remakes through The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha 3D, and turned Daniel Radcliffe into a devil via Horns.

His new film is Crawl, a creature feature that stars Kaya Scodelario as skilled swimmer Haley, who does battle with a giant alligator in the midst of a deadly storm.

Read more: Crawl looks like Jaws with alligators

Scodelario’s co-star is a cuddly, shaggy terrier dog named Sugar, and Aja says audiences are often more scared about the animal’s fate than Haley’s.

“I love dogs, but it’s strange how people will accept for a character to die in a horrible way, but will not accept a dog,” says Aja.

“There’s something about the innocence of our best friend, or the animal who lives with us.

“I had a few movies where dogs died and I remember audiences being very, very upset about it, even if it was justified in the story as a very dramatic element.”

Hold on to your pooches when Aja’s around.

In this full interview, Aja talks about Haley potentially becoming the John McClane of monster movies and spills the beans regarding his forthcoming choose-your-own-adventure horror.

Kaya Scodelario deals with rising flood water in 'Crawl'. (Credit: Paramount)

Yahoo Movies UK: Is Crawl a monster movie or a home invasion flick?

Alexandre Aja: I think it’s home invasion. That’s my favourite angle. It could be all of them, but home invasion is the element that really got me in. When you do a shark movie, if you stay on the beach, then you are safe. Here the idea of replacing some killers or spirits or an entity with nature itself, coming inside your house, is very timely. It’s happening more and more wherever you live on the planet. Flooding is something that’s just happening. And the idea that the water is not coming alone, they are bringing your very old neighbours back in, and they are getting more and more comfortable and dangerous as the water is rising, is what really attracted me in the script.

Why are home invasion movies so popular?

AA: I think the obvious answer is it’s our space, and I believe that there is some weird DNA memory inside us about our thousands of years facing wild beasts, and I feel that somehow home invasion, meeting some kind of creature or monster coming in, is reaching in a deeper level for us.

Haley is like a superhero in Crawl, so is this your first superhero movie?

AA: Could be, because I would definitely not make it through the day. And I don’t know anyone that would make it through that day. It was what was interesting in the writing because she was not written as such an athlete in the first script, but I couldn’t believe she could do what she was doing.

Kaya Scodelario defends her father and dog from rampaging alligators in horror movie 'Crawl'. (Credit: Paramount)

So the idea of her being a trained athlete and her dad being her ex-coach and linking everything together, I think it was a way to make the story more interesting, and more original, because now she has the training to fight big alligators, and maybe out-race, and maybe manage to make it and save her dad. She’s not any one of us, but she’s a character you can look up to. She’s really strong, and she has the training for it.

Could you see Haley battling another beast in a future film?

AA: Yeah, why not? I could imagine her fighting some other creatures. It’s weird because a lot of my movies got a sequel, and I was not really involved with any of them. It’s something I don’t really think about when I’m making a movie. When we started writing Crawl we were loosely basing it on a few true stories, then since Queensland and Rio and a lot of places have flooded and this kind of crocodile story happened.

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So there are other Crawl stories and survival stories that could be told. Is there another story with her character fighting other kinds of creatures? Could she become like the John McClane of creatures? I don’t know, maybe?

Do you have a specific monster in mind?

AA: There are so many of them that are interesting. We’re living in a very weird time where things are going strange. I was reading about tics – super-tics – but I don’t want to make a tic movie. And spiders are one of the most insane and fascinating creatures.

Kaya Scodelario battles the elements, and alligators, in Alexandre Aja's 'Crawl'. (Credit: Paramount)

You have a dog that plays a pretty prominent role in the film – why do you think audiences find it acceptable for movies to kill humans, but not canines?

AA: It’s a mystery. Actually it’s not a mystery because I love dogs, but it’s strange how people will accept for a character to die in a horrible way, but will not accept a dog.

One of the most upsetting true facts that I ever read was that during the Shackleton expedition, those men were living with their dogs, and loved their dogs more than anything, but had to come to the conclusion that they must eat them. I always picture that scene where they are crying as they are eating their dogs. I know that if anyone would make a movie of that they would struggle, because people would not accept it. They would prefer to live in a world where they would die of hunger rather than eating the dogs. Which is not the realistic choice. Everyone would come to that conclusion.

It’s a weird thing – there’s something about the innocence of our best friend, or the animal who lives with us. I understand – I had a few movies where dogs died and I remember audiences being very, very upset about it. Even if it was justified in the story as a very dramatic element, it’s something that people – especially Americans – have an issue with.

Read more: What happens to your brain during a horror film

Thank you for making such a short movie – was it important to you that Crawl not outstay its welcome?

AA: I always thought it was a quick one, in the same way that High Tension was very quick. Not because I was lazy and wanted to make it fast, but because I feel that when the goal is to sustain suspense and tension for the whole of the movie, and to keep people on the edge of their seat, it’s like drawing the blueprint of a rollercoaster. If the rollercoaster is great and scary, it’s great but, if it goes forever, at some point the thrill is gone and you start feeling it becomes like torture. And I didn’t want to get there. I think that you can really make something very effective and tense, but not feel rushed, because I think rushed is the enemy of suspense.

Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper star in Alexandre Aja creature feature 'Crawl'. (Credit: Paramount)

You next movie is due to be an interactive ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ style horror. How will that work?

AA: I cannot reveal too much about the plot because we are not supposed to talk about it. But it’s a very, very scary haunted house movie to start with. It’s the technology that really excited me. We’ve been so many times in movies where people yell at the screen “why don’t you switch on the light?” or “run away” or “why did you split up? Why didn’t you stay together?” All these rules that you project on the screen and make you question the choices of the characters. This technology is giving you the opportunity of choosing. If you are going to switch on the lights, or not. If you are going to stay with the group or not. If you are going to help or not help someone, and the impact that has later in the story.

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Even if that already exists with [Black Mirror movie] Bandersnatch on streaming, it’s never been done properly in this very complex way during a theatrical experience. The control technology is allowing you to do it. It’s a great, very efficient thing, where the movie never stops. It’s all hidden in the editing – people choose and it’s the majority. So every time you go see them movie, it will be a different experience. We’re going to shoot three-to-five times the length of a normal movie, so it’s going to be a different story every time.

Daniel Radcliffe and director Alexandre Aja attend the 'Horns' premiere on September 16, 2014. (Photo by Stephane Cardinale/Corbis via Getty Images)

Will it require people to have their phones on in the cinema?

AA: It will require people to have their phone linked to an app that’s in the wi-fi of the cinema. It doesn’t mean that you have to be using your phone. It’s a black screen so it’s very non-invasive.

Do you get paid extra as it’s effectively several movies for the price of one?

AA: No, but it’s a very interesting process. It’s a very challenging project, and even the writing of it is one of the most challenging things I’ve faced. And it’s also the first time. I feel that somehow for some types of movie – especially a haunted house movie – it’s something you want to experience in the theatre. You want to go in a group and have fun choosing, then you want to come back and have a different experience. So once you are tired of the democratic process, and want to be your own dictator with your own choices, you will be able to do that at home.

Crawl is in UK cinemas now.