Do you remember the last time you went to a horror film and truly had a great audience experience? You know, when nearly everyone in the theatre is screaming and fully embracing the terror on-screen? Well frankly, that was pretty much my experience as I sat back for the latest from Alexandre Aja. CRAWL is a massively entertaining take on the man vs. nature sub genre. This killer alligator creature feature stars Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper as a young girl and her father who are desperately trying to survive during a Category 5 hurricane. If the massive storm wasn’t enough, the two must also contend with alligators that have a little bit of an edge with the rising flood waters. While I personally was hoping this film would at least be entertaining, it far exceeded my original expectations.
This past week, alligators were on the minds of both Eric Walkuski and I. For Eric – on the East Coast – he had the opportunity to check out a few of these magnificent animals at the Gator Invasion at the Long Island Aquarium. As well, he sat down with Alexandre Aja, Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper to discuss their latest. Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, I made my way over to the LA Zoo and had my own chance to chill with these gorgeous creatures – yeah, I’m a big gator fan. We first watched Reggie and Tina – the alligator residence at the zoo – get their weekly meal. And then, we sat down with the film’s producers, Sam Raimi and Craig Flores. The two discussed the grounded approach that the film took to scaring the audience. As well, the two opened up about how involved they were in casting both Barry and Kaya. And finally, I asked Sam when he planned to direct again, plus, I figured it would be interesting to get his thoughts on the new SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME – hopefully he’ll let us know when he sees it.
Meanwhile, back in Long Island, Eric took the time to sit down with the fine folks behind CRAWL and talk about everything from the shooting conditions, the weather, and the many challenges that came with it. As well, Aja opened up about forgetting his own difficult experiences during PIRANHA, and the pain of dealing with massive amounts of water on a film set. The director also discussed avoiding horror cliches, working with Sam Raimi as a producer, and bringing these frights to the big screen. CRAWL is currently playing a theatre near you, and frankly, this one is worth seeing opening night with a massive audience.
Kaya on the shooting conditions:
This was insane. It truly, truly was. Everything you see in the movie, we were going through that. I remember coming home one day and I had bruises all down my arm, and I’d left my fake blood and my mud on because I wanted an extra hour’s sleep so I didn’t want to have to take it off. And my mom looked at me and started crying. She was like, “Are you okay?” And I said, “It’s fine, it’s fine. Just need some rest and I’m going to go to bed.” It was absolutely grueling. But you know, we were all in it together, Alex was in the water with us everyday which was quite impressive. I know a few directors who wouldn’t have done that. It was tough as hell, it was insane, but that’s what I was excited for, that’s what I wanted to do.
Kaya on the claustrophobia of the set:
We built it really quite practical. To get in there even if you were the camera guy or the cable guy, you had to crawl to get to where we were shooting. And that helped us a lot as actors, I think that would’ve been ridiculous if we could just stand up in between takes and go back to normal life. It was very much once you go down into the hole you feel like you’re there all day. And you could smell it on the clothes you wear, you’d be like, “Oh shit, it’s the smell of the crawl space. Here we go again.” You’d put your head in, and that’s where you’d live for the entire day. But I think that’s what made it so much better for us.
Alex on the shooting conditions:
When I did “Piranha”, I got firsthand experience on, like filming on my checklist that everything that was told about the making of “Jaws” was true and how like, a nightmare it was to shoot with water on the water. And I guess I forgot in between. And I went back, you know, and then as soon as I went back in the water, I was like, oh, what was I thinking about?
It was so difficult. It was so hard, spending 12 hours in the water all day long for 40 days, wetsuit, 50 people in the water around you and rain and rain. The rain and the wind were like maybe the most difficult part, more than just the water and but that was a difficult one for sure.
Barry on the process of making the film:
The film itself was challenging and innovative each day, because there hadn’t really been anything done like it. We had these massive football-field-sized sound stages that we built entire Everglades towns in, with gas stations and houses and floating cars, and five million liters of water flooding when the levees break. And they really didn’t have a reference point: Are these houses going to be able to sustain this kind of punishment over two months of filming? Are they going to fall apart? How are we going to hold the water in these sets? We had a few catastrophic failures on our cistern tanks; some mornings we’d come in and all our water had flooded out into the Danube River, and we had to bring in more water trucks. So it was challenging and innovative in that sense, and still highly entertaining, that part of it, so the grueling, sort of punishing fight camp underwater for two months in a swamp was balanced by the entertainment of working with the gator effects and the dog training and the hurricane weather. That all kept it, that keeps you in the game, you know, because otherwise you’d just be soaking went for two months and miserable, you know?
Barry on training for the film:
We realized early on that if you were in green swamp water, and you were being hunted by gators, that you would have to be able to swim, hold your breath for long periods of time, but also always have your eyes open underwater, no matter what the conditions were. So there was a lot of pool work for that, the stunts, the underwater stunts, the fight sequences with gators, so it’s mostly about being comfortable being upside down in sort of a washing machine of water and chaos and not choking. And then there were scenes where, when Dave takes in water and is trying to get out, so we had to rehearse that type of thing just so we were comfortable. They always had the dive team there with an extra regulator and oxygen tank for us, in case things went wrong, but you know, you really want to plan that stuff out, because I think it looks as visceral and real in the film as it did because we took it as far as we could, without taking it too far
Alex on avoiding horror cliches:
I didn’t want to do a monster movie. I didn’t want to do a giant radioactive alligator. I didn’t want to do alligator flying in a tornado… didn’t want to have the alligators having an agenda of revenge or any type of human projection thing. I wanted to try to make the movie as close as I can from the realm of possibilities, and somehow almost like as if based on a true story.
Alex on Sam Raimi‘s input:
Sam was a blessing for the movie. Sam is the producer that every director will dream to have. He’s someone who really listened to your vision, and then helped you defend your vision with the studio, with all the other partners. And you know, it’s a blessing to have someone like him to just be there. He’s not that kind of producer that tried to hone the movie, tried to impose his view. He’s very, very respectful.
Alex on the possibility of a CRAWL sequel:
There is a lot of potential for other stories. I like the idea of a home invasion type of movie where the home invasion starts with disaster coming inside your own house, and then the creature coming as well. So yes, a sequel, why not? Different characters, different story. We had an opening scene that we never shot that was part of the story, because there were obviously other victims during these events. But I would love to go back to explore maybe other creatures.