Tag Archives: Alexandre Aja



by George Wolf

Just when you thought it was safe to explore your Florida crawlspaces during a Category 5, here comes Crawl to remind us that while Sharknadoes put tongues in cheeks, Gatorcanes are looking to remove the whole head.

Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) is a University of Florida swimmer (a Gator!), which comes in pretty handy when she ignores evacuation orders to look for the father that always challenged her to do better in the pool.

Dave Keller (Barry Pepper) is lying injured in a soggy basement, and even before Haley finds him, she finds that they are not alone.

Director Alexandre Aja (High Tension, Piranha 3D, The Hills Have Eyes remake) utilizes the confines of the flooding house to fine effect. Walls, pipes and tight corners create natural barriers between gator and bait, but as the water level keeps rising, Aja finds plenty of room for simmering tension and effective jump scares.

Plus plenty of bloodletting. Oh, yes, people do get eaten.

This survival tale doesn’t worry too much about suspending disbelief. It just keeps the water rising, the obstacles mounting (Haley’s “You gotta be fucking kidding me” speaks for all of us) and the visual effects nimble and nifty.

Writers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen get a bit too enamored with the father/daughter estrangements and swim team parlance (“You’re faster than they are! Swim!”), but Scodelario provides a capable anchor, giving Haley authentic layers of toughness and grit.

Aja and the effects team do the rest, enough to make Crawl an often entertaining creature and bloody fun summer feature.

Sympathy for the Devil


by Hope Madden

“Who’s the new girl at church?”

It’s a line brimming with innocence and temptation, filled with the possibilities of good versus evil, predator v prey. It’s a nice start to a crime drama steeped in surreal, Miltonesque imagery.

Along with a good line, Horns boasts quite a fantasy/horror pedigree. Helmed by French horror director Alexandre Aja (High Tension), written by Stephen King’s son Joe Hill, and starring Harry F. Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), it’s sure to draw the attention of – let’s be honest – nerds. Like me. The beguiling if flawed effort can’t quite become greater than the sum of its parts, though. But it is a wild ride while it lasts.

Ig Perrish (Radcliffe) is commonly believed by his community to have murdered his much-beloved girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple). It’s a bit like Gone Girl, except that Ig’s crisis is compounded by the fact that he’s begun sprouting bony horns from his forehead. More than that, in the presence of the be-horned Ig, people compulsively confess their dark secrets.

Overripe imagery and symbolism inform a film that is comfortably over-the-top. It’s a glorious mess riddled with stiff dialog, and so tonally discordant – leaping from thriller to comedy to horror to mystery and back – that the effect is dizzying. Yet somehow Horns is utterly watchable.

Much credit for the film’s successes sits with Radcliffe, who seems utterly at home in a supernatural environment full of demons, tragedy, angst and earnestness. Temple also strikes the right innocent nymphette cord, and the young cast of the childhood flashback is especially strong.

The storyline itself carries the unmistakable odor of Stephen King, with the small town crime and flashback to the innocence of youth and the many untold dangers therein (Stand By Me, It, etc.) But King Senior never dove headlong into such blasphemous territory, while his son toys with recasting Satan, if not as hero, then as anti-hero.

Aja struggles gleefully to strike the right tone, and though his cast seems game, no one can quite overcome the symbolism gimmicks or stilted dialog.

Dense with color and texture, Horns invites you into a wild, often poorly acted and weakly written yet sumptuously filmed world of dark magic. It’s a fascinating mess.




Elijah Wood in Leg Warmers?


by Hope Madden

Just a steel town girl on a Saturday night lookin’ for the fight of her life. Back in 1983, that song backed the legwarmers, sweat, quick feet, and water buckets of Flashdance, but originally, Michael Sembello wrote it about a different hot mess.

Sembello first penned the tune in tribute to 1980’s cult slasher Maniac. Mouth-breathing schlub Joe Spinell made waves with the low budget flick featuring a sympathetic(ish) protagonist whose mommy issues drive him to extreme behavior. Despite its obvious plot, poor acting and over-the-top misogynistic butchering (or perhaps because of these), the film maintains a lingering popularity.

French horror maestro Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension) – who produces and co-writes – leads the reboot that ups the budget, talent, and blood.

Elijah Wood fills in for Spinell as Frank, mannequin aficionado. Frank’s mom showed her maternal devotion in unseemly ways, and those mixed messages took their toll on the boy. As a result, migraines, anxiety attacks, lacking social skills and a tendency toward dismemberment mark Frank’s adulthood. (What is Frodo Baggins doing to that lady?!)

The basic plot remains intact, but Aja and his crew of writers update Frank’s tale in a number of ways, most of them for the better – and yet, there was a seedy charm to Spinell’s setting, the workaday world of New York, the retread doesn’t capture.

The acting is certainly superior, though.

Wood, in particular, crafts a genuinely sympathetic character. This feat is more impressive than it sounds, and Frank’s way with a hunting knife is not the only obstacle facing the actor. Director Franck Khalfoun chooses to adopt the killer’s-point-of-view, shooting the entire film as though through Frank’s eyes. We see only what he sees, meaning that we rarely even glimpse Wood except by way of reflective surfaces.

The decision works here and there. You are aligned with the killer, seeing events as he sees them. Given what it is that he sees (largely his own actions), Khalfoun simultaneously indulges and punishes our voyeuristic behavior.

The act of seeing through Frank’s eyes should make the character feel more real for us, as it ostensibly establishes a connection between viewer and character. It doesn’t, though. It articulates Frank’s disconnect from humanity by disconnecting us from Frank.

This could be a blessing, though. He is, after all, a maniac.

And he’s dancin’ like he’s never danced before! (Go ahead – try and get that song out of your head.)