It’s hard to look at director Alexandre Aja’s Crawl without thinking about one of the landmark creations in natural disaster mayhem: Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. To some, this might feel like a reductive comparison, as comparing any genre effort with a sea-based creature feels unfair to a film that’s trying to strike it out as a fresh prospect.
However, when CinemaBlend got to talk to Alexandre Aja as part of the press day for Crawl at the Long Island Aquarium, even he had to admit that the comparisons are inevitable. Even better, in the following remarks, he admits that while those comparisons are fair and expected. He kept them in mind to make his film a unique monster of its own:
You can’t not think about [Jaws], because it’s the cornerstone of all creature movies. It’s one of the movies I watched the most, and I was so happy to do a big homage to Jaws. And Piranha 3D was an homage, of course, with Richard Dreyfuss playing his old part from the movie. But I don’t think if I received the script, and it was a similar story with a shark, I don’t think I would have done it.
As a fan of the 1975 sea-faring classic himself, Alexandre Aja knows the difference between paying homage and making a film that feels like a straight up remake. Though seeing as Aja has experience with remakes, in both Piranha 3D and The Last House On The Left, even when he’s hired to straight up remake a film, Alexandre doesn’t merely stick to the path that was laid down by the original.
Indeed, Crawl pays as much homage to Jaws in its tale of humans versus alligators hungry for their flesh as it does the Bible itself, something that’s hidden right in plain sight within the film. But much like how he enjoys playing with the convention of whether the dog in a disaster such as this lives or dies, Alexandre Aja is more drawn to defying rather than conforming to expectations set by his historic predecessors.
A good example of such a convention at work is the moment sees Kaya Scodelario’s Haley tries to trap her would-be attacker in a flooded shower, she taunts the gator with a shout of, “C’mon, you son of a bitch.”
While the result isn’t an explosive/killing blow to her adversary, it does recall that famous moment at the end of Jaws where Roy Scheider tells Bruce the shark to smile, using that same insult in the process. And instead of being a huge finale note of triumph, the line proceeds one of the most tense escapes that are to be had in the middle of Crawl’s landscape of terror.
Further showing just how much of a fan of classic monster movie cinema he is, Alexandre Aja had some specific reference points he didn’t want to include in Crawl, and they’re a grab bag of aspects that not only came from Jaws, but also a lot of the movies that were similarly inspired by the shark-centric thrill ride.
Rather than play Crawl as an almost supernatural thriller, much like the Jaws franchise would in using the same shark to stalk the unsuspecting Brody family throughout, Alexandre Aja aimed to bypass a lot of the sillier tropes for the following foundation of action:
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 an alligator flying in a tornado. Those are a few things. I didn’t want to have the alligators having an agenda of revenge, or any type of human projection. I wanted to try to make the movie as close as I could to the realm of possibilities, and somehow almost as if based on a true story.
While Crawl definitely owes somewhat of a debt to the Jaws series, it’s the kind of debt that a film would incur when inspired by a classic to do its own sort of spin. Alexandre Aja’s film, while having moments where you’re rooting for the human characters to survive, doesn’t allow itself time to sink into the sort of family friendly warmth that Steven Spielberg’s movie is also known for.