Alexandre Aja

Alexandre Aja was born on 07 August 1978 in Paris, France. He is the son of director Alexandre Arcady and movie critic Marie-Jo Jouan. He wrote and directed his first film, Over the Rainbow which was selected for the Cannes Festival in the short films section, in 1997. In 2000, Aja directed his first feature, Furia, a futurist movie starring Stanislas Merhar, Marion Cotillard and Wadeck Stanczak.
We caught up with Aja as his latest project, a remake of Wes Craven's classic horror movie The Hills Have Eyes, was released on DVD...

Darren Rea: Were you nervous about getting involved in remaking a classic?

Alexandre Aja: I was more than nervous. Since before being a filmmaker I was a huge fan of the genre and I knew the movie by heart [laughs].

I'm also from the generation that grew up with that movie - as well as The Last House on the Left, A Nightmare on Elmstreet, Halloween and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. So my first reaction, when Wes [Craven] asked me to redo his movie, was: "Why are we making that movie? Why are we remaking The Hills Have Eyes? It's already a cult movie."

I think that the reason that the original film was a cult movie was because of Michael Berryman [who played Pluto]; because of the look of the '70s; because of the bad acting; and because of many, many kitsch elements that make the movie a diamond of the genre.

So I started to realise that maybe it was possible to redo The Hills Have Eyes, taking the same plot and the same story and do a real scary movie - something traumatising in the vein of The Last House or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

DR: It's more difficult to shock an audience today - because horror fans have seen it all before. How did you go about attempting to bring something different to the genre?

AA: You're right. When you belong to the core audience you are immune to many of the tricks, and you want more. And so filmmakers have to push the envelope a bit more every time.

That wasn't my approach here though. I wanted to make a survival film - something a little bit like Deliverance. I wanted to do something like following a family trapped in the desert in the middle of nowhere, facing something unknown that's waiting for them. I wanted to stick close to their point of view so that the audience live that nightmare with them.

DR: Do you think that the difficult filming conditions, on location in Morocco, helped the performances for the actors as well?

AA: Yes, because that kind of movie is more about performance than acting.

It's really like being on extreme situation, and the fact that we were shooting in the middle of summer with 40 - 50 degrees outside with sandstorms... For the crew it was a nightmare, but for the actors (it was a nightmare too), but at the same time I think it maybe helped them get into a position where they could feel what the protagonist should feel in the movie.

DR: You use CGI technology to give Ruby her deformed face. Were you nervous about using that technology in the early stages, in case it looked unbelievable?

AA: Yes, and that's why we used it for only one character. At one point we were like: "Okay, so it's going to be so hot that the makeup and the prosthetics are going to melt. Maybe we should do the Ruby technique on all of the characters."

But we decided that it was too risky, too dangerous. So we decided to focus on having prosthetics for everyone and use the CGI for just her and the one scene with the small children.

DR: They say you should never work with animals and children and you do both here, in a ridiculous working environment. Was that a bit of a problem?

AA: It was pretty hard to do. But, do you know what? I may be a bit of a masochist, but [laughs] I would do it again right away.

You know, after the success of the movie we started talking about doing a sequel. I was attached to another project and the delay was too short so that I could be involved in a sequel. But going back to the desert and doing another movie... why not.

Or maybe not the desert, maybe it will be the opposite and we'll go to the arctic and it will be 50 below zero and we will be freezing. But it's interesting making a movie in extreme situations is always like something that pushes you beyond your boundaries.

DR: Are you worried that, say in 20 years time a young woman will come up to you and say: "I'm Maisie Camilleri Preziosi [who plays baby Catherine in The Hills Have Eyes] and thanks to you I have had years of nightmares and counselling".

AA: [Laughs] Yeah, I mean that baby really saved us. It was so helpful to find a baby because I'm not a father yet, but if I was I wouldn't let my baby go into the desert with people covered in blood.

She was so good and I'm very curious to see whether she'll remember, unconsciously, her time during shooting.

DR: She'll probably marry someone with facial disfigurements, or with a huge head, like Big Brain.

AA: [Laughs] Yeah! Exactly. That's exactly what I said to her mother. I said: "It's not my fault if in 20 years she's coming back to your house with a deformed guy.

DR: What scares you?

AA: I use that question as my approach when I am writing that sort of film with a co-writer. I look at what is our worst fear.

Someone was asking me why in all my movies someone is always massacred, raped or killed. And asked me if I enjoyed that! I said: "No. Exactly the opposite. This is my worst fear and is why I'm using it in the movie..."

DR: As therapy?

AA: Yes. It is a form of therapy. But If it scares me it must also scare other people.

That's what scares me in life, but what scares me in movies is more like... I don't know. There are two kind of fears. You have the real fear - like a killer in the house, or people in your house. And you have the other fear that is based on the supernatural, like ghosts. Even if you don't believe in it, the culture and the movies are so inventive in putting images together of what people are not supposed to believe sometimes, and that's really scary for me.

And that's why, right now, I would like explore a little bit more of that supernatural field.

DR: I noticed that in The Hills Have Eyes Aaron Stanford's character Doug looks incredibly like you. Was that intentional?

AA: No, [laughs]. Aaron is a very professional actor, so between movies he is not cutting his hair or shaving.

I'd seen him on many movies and we talked on the phone, but I never met him before. So he arrived on set during prep and he was exactly as he appeared in the movie.

And he said: "Okay, what do you want from me?" And he really looked like me, but that was not the reason I choose him - because he is so different to how he looked in X-Men and other movies that he's done.

I said: "You know what? When I was writing the script I was thinking about normal people like us, so, as the movie's taking place in 2006 in Mexico, why don't you stay like you are." So, that's the reason why he looks like that.

It was so funny on set, because people were going up to him when they wanted to talk to me [laughs] and vice versa.

DR: If you weren't in this industry what do you think you'd be doing?

AA: I think I would love to be a writer. But that is maybe too close to the industry.

I hope maybe one day that I have the talent to write a book, as well as script. But, if not... I don't know... maybe a cook [laughs]. I don't know.

I have the chance to have the most amazing job in the world - where I never have to feel like I'm working. It's only motivated by passion and this is just like the ultimate privilege.

DR: What are you working on at the moment?

AA: I'm working on a supernatural script right now, which is more in The Shinning direction.

DR: Thank you for your time.

With thanks to Sylvia Brendel at DSA

The Hills Have Eyes is released to own and rent on DVD from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment on the 26 June 2006

Order this DVD for £12.49 (RRP: £19.99) by clicking here

This interview was conducted on 26 June 2006

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