Exclusive Interview: Alexandre Aja


Disciple of survival horror talks P2, Mirrors, Hills 2

“Survival horror” is often a term thrown around when used to describe the lifeblood flowing through Alexandre Aja’s oeuvre. It’s apropos given his brief body of genre work (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes) which usually finds ordinary people fighting for their lives in every day situations or places using whatever tools or means necessary. By and large, this is accompanied by vivacious bursts of ultra-violence, leaving – in the case of Aja’s films – the protagonist awash in blood. Sever the survival horror label from Aja’s name as you would an artery, and you attack the heart of what makes his creative instincts tick.

“It’s strange because the reason why I’m so attached to that genre is because when I’m watching that kind of film, I start wondering what I would do in that situation,” Aja explains during a phone chat with ShockTillYouDrop.com. We catch the French helmer in the midst of post-production on the Fox supernatural thriller Mirrors. “I cross the line and I’m in the movie with the lead character. That really interests me because I like a movie that puts you in a situation you’re not supposed to be in. It makes you wonder and make you think about what you would do in that situation.”

Opening on November 9th (via Summit Entertainment) is P2, Aja’s further exploration of psychotic deviancy versus willpower to live – except, this time, he’s not in the director’s chair. Eschewing the abstract elements of “Tension” and “Hills” (lunatic lesbians and inbred mutants) for a more plausible scenario, the film – starring Rachel Nichols (interview) and Wes Bentley – asks audiences to ponder what they would do if they were trapped alone in a parking garage with a stalker who has become harmfully forthcoming.

“It was really after High Tension we were thinking about finding a decent location where we could do a survival horror film and the idea came to me very quickly,” says Aja who shares co-scripting credit with Gregory Levasseur and P2 director Franck Khalfoun. “[The parking garage] was a nice set-up to do a High Tension survival or slasher kind of film. To direct it myself was a little too close to High Tension, so we teamed with Franck. In working with him we decided to go with the psychological aspect, the one-to-one angle. The idea was to explore the fear of the parking garage but in a more psychological way than the kind of maniac or slasher approach.”

“We were all old friends making a movie together,” he continues. Khalfoun previously had a working relationship with Aja during the making of High Tension when the former appeared for a brief role in the film. “I really felt Franck would bring something different because he was an actor before he was a filmmaker [for more, read our interview with Khalfoun here]. He has a great taste for dialogue and directing the actors. I’m scared about dialogue in general,” Aja admits with a laugh. “I like it when moments are more silent and visceral. He really showed me you could have intense scenes with dialogue, that was new for me.”

Aja goes on to applaud Khalfoun for the aesthetic handling of P2‘s predominantly single-location setting, a challenge Aja set out to accomplish himself in High Tension. He reveals the plot for that mind-bender was only going to be set in a house, “and we realized that the main location wasn’t the house, it was going to be one night. The same with ‘Hills,’ the single location is the hills. I like the image of time, when a movie is taking place only in a few hours it feels like it’s happening in real time. And P2 is really pushing everything further, pushing it to the maximum to give the audience the idea that it’s happening live. Writing the script we knew we had to spend a lot of time in the parking garage. It’s an interesting location to shoot – even the garage Franck found in Toronto has that New York feeling but it doesn’t always have the same look. It changes from one level to the next.”

After completing his duties on P2 , Aja set off to helm Mirrors, his second American studio picture due next year from Fox Atomic which displaces him to the multi-tiered world of consumerism: the mall. Being the story of a security guard (played by Keifer Sutherland) who discovers there’s something amiss with the mirrors of a department store, the film is loosely based South Korea’s Geoul Sokeuro (Into the Mirror) by Sung-ho Kim. “It’s a supernatural thriller, but we still have that survival approach,” Aja says. “It’s a different approach to the violence and the fear. I think we all have a special relationship to mirrors. The idea was to really find a way to make a movie that will change a way of watching yourself in the mirror and try to do something scary. I wanted to do something that falls in line with The Shining – that’s my favorite movie ever. For me when New Regency came to me with the concept of Mirrors, I felt like I could try to explore something in the vein of The Shining. Greg [Levasseur] and I decide to start from scratch and not connect with the original Korean movie. I think we have something really scary.”

At the time of this writing, Aja has completed a director’s cut that he promises is “very graphic” and “takes the shocking gore and violence of survival horror and applies that to the supernatural thriller. I’m happy with the movie we made and in our genre you have to be tough and not make compromise. A lot of times you’re asked to par back and trim down the gore, but I’m fighting to keep it in – to make the movie I want to see as a core audience member.”

Looking back on this year, we turn our chat to spring’s The Hills Have Eyes 2, a sequel devoid of Aja’s creative input. But that didn’t have to be the case, as he reveals. “We were talking about a sequel to ‘Hills’ after the first one. We came up with a completely different approach and storyline for the sequel – I can’t talk about it now but we had something strong on our hands. I didn’t reach an agreement with [producers] Wes Craven and Peter Locke, they wanted the movie ready a year after the first one, but it was too fast for us in order to make a good movie. So, we went on to P2 and Mirrors. I would have loved to have made ‘Hills 2’ and the story I was thinking about. I’m not going to comment on the sequel that exists though.”

Enough about the past. In addition to the upcoming Mirrors, Aja has a remake of Piranha coming up (read more about it here). “We also have a couple of projects we’d like to produce. It’s too early to talk about them – they’re in the genre and they’re going to be very interesting, mid-range budget films. I want to be able to be a proactive producer. It’s not about just staying away from the production, you got to be right in there.”

Source: Ryan Rotten