Crawl, the new movie in which a father and daughter duo must escape deadly alligators inside of their rapidly flooding everglades house, is not Alexandre Aja's first time dealing with vicious aquatic predators. Back in 2010, the French director tangled with flesh-eating fish in the 3D remake of Piranha, a film which features the immortal line "they took my penis."
But Aja, who spoke with SYFY WIRE at a press event at the Long Island Aquarium (shortly after a gator-feeding, naturally), says Crawl and its alligators aren't like Piranha.
"They are bigger," Aja says with a little laugh. "No, they are very, very different, and the movie itself was very different. I started the project with a desire to go back to something that was more scary and straightforward. Piranha was a comedy, a guilty pleasure. It was very fun. But during those years I wanted to find an opportunity or a subject to go back to something more like High Tension or The Hills Have Eyes."
Fans of a good ol' animal attack movie needn't worry, as there are still plenty of crazy moments in Crawl that invite viewers to laugh with the film, not at it, but Aja's right in saying that the new movie isn't another Piranha.
For one, Crawl is a lot smaller, boasting only two real characters. Kaya Scodelario (Skins) plays Haley Keller, a swimmer attending the University of Florida (go Gators) who visits home in an attempt to make sure her stubborn dad, played by Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan), evacuates before a Category 5 hurricane swamps the place. When she arrives, though, she finds her injured dad trapped in the crawl space below the house with a menacing alligator standing (or, rather, swimming) between them and the only exit — with the water level rising as the storm worsens.
"I wanted the ticking clock of the water rising from the basement to the rooftop," Aja explains, noting that initial drafts of the script kept all the action inside of the crawl space, whereas the final film gradually takes the gator fight upstairs and outside as the water rises.
"The more the water comes up, the more alligators are in their world, and able to swim faster and come after you," Aja says. "So, the hurricane was, not only this main villain, but it also makes their whole fight almost helpless. You feel that they are so tiny. They cannot do anything against the elements."
Scodelario and Pepper's father-daughter relationship provides the emotional core of the film, something that Aja says drew him to the project.
"I kind of like the idea, even if it's very light, of a tiny subtext of the new generation," he says. "Like, our female character who is going to go save her dad, that very old, white, old-school American."
While some of the dialogue is cliched and clunky, Scodelario and Pepper's characters are complex and well-rounded enough that you'll find yourself rooting for them (and especially for their pet dog) as they try to escape the gators. But, of course, the alligators are the real draw here, and Crawl boasts some gnarly gator kills. Crawl isn't an especially hard-R, but the extra blood and gore allowed by the rating give the movie some extra oomph that would've been missing had this been a PG-13 film.
"With Piranha, we were able to create something where we could go so over the top and crazy, hundreds of thousands of gallons of blood," Aja says, drawing another distinction between the two films. "Here, it was different. It was really about making a suspenseful thriller. It was more in the vein of Don't Breathe or A Quiet Place more than Piranha."
Still, though, you have to wonder: In a fight versus Crawl's gators and Piranha's piranhas, who would win?
"I think that, if you put the same number of Alligators versus Piranha, they will definitely win, on the gator side," Aja says. "One on one, I think that the gator will just snack on a Piranha."