Interviews: Alexandre Aja & Gregory Levasseur
Recently, JoBlo.com/Arrow in the Head was invited to see part of the latest film from Alexandre Aja and his partner in crime, Grégory Levasseur. First off, I am a fan of their work, with both HAUTE TENSION and THE HILLS HAVE EYES, Alexandre has proven to be a very compelling genre director. He has the ability to use gore effects without losing character and making it simply fodder until the final battle. But recently, with all the talk about both of these gentlemen making two more “remakes” including PIRAHNA and MIRRORS, the later of which being based on a Korean film, it might lead many to wonder what exactly the filmmakers are trying to accomplish.
But previously on our site, we mentioned that the two are not necessarily remaking these films, nor are they re-imagining them to a certain extent. They are taking the original titles and offering up their own spin on it. Yes, this is not necessarily a ringing endorsement, but for some reason (PROM NIGHT anyone?), I trust these two a little more than most, especially when it comes to making a horror film that doesn’t seem like it should be a very special episode of “Gossip Girl” with a horror twist. And with MIRRORS, it all starts with the casting. Seriously, Kiefer Sutherland is probably one of the most talented actors out there, and he tends to take on more interesting roles than a lot of so-called stars. And being that he made for one of the best bad guys ever in THE LOST BOYS, I'm hoping that he can add a sense of credibility to Aja’s supernatural tale.
When visiting the edit bay for the film, over on the Paramount lot, we had the chance to watch about fifteen minutes of the film. Now, that is not a lot really, and it is oftentimes easy for a filmmaker or a studio to gather the best pieces of their film and show how “great” it is. But let me tell you this, we aren’t dealing with another crappy PG-13 J-Horror remake here. Aja and Levasseur offered up a bunch of the red stuff that looks like it could be pretty damn promising. Even more so because I already buy Jack Bauer as Ben Carson. This looks to be a bloody piece of business that might even surprise those thinking they are in for another ONE MISSED CALL.
The first sequence we saw is the opening of the film. A night watchman, in a frighteningly eerie building looks terrified as he seems followed by all the mirrors that surround him. What is interesting is how beautiful they look, while the building is covered in cob webs and dust… at least something is being cleaned here. But apparently, this guy has pissed off something because he looks to be trying to get away from the mirrors. But once he enters into what looks to be a locker room, every mirror in the place seems to take in his reflection. This is a superbly crafted shot, as there are a dozen images of this terrified mans face throughout the room. He moves towards a large mirror at the end of the room, and he begs and pleads that he had done everything “it” had asked him. But the reflection in the mirror soon begins to take on different actions than the frightened man. In fact, his image has some disturbing plans for itself as it takes a large piece of glass and begins a little self-mutilation. And once the image begins this wicked action, the living counterpart seems to suffer the consequence. All right, I'm interested.
We soon meet Ben (Sutherland). He is an ex-police officer who finds himself taking on the recent opening position of night watchman at a the same building. He notices the immaculately clean mirrors in the otherwise old and rotting conditions. And of course, he will soon see that there is something really bad going on here, much like the previous employee. Later on in the film, he begins hearing a woman screaming. He desperately looks throughout the vast area calling for her. It seems the closer he gets, the more desperate the cries grow. It all leads to him finding the woman in distress. She is burned and looks to be in terrible pain, and the most disturbing thing about her… she only appears in the reflection of a mirror.
But all that we had watched before, paled in comparison to the final image. I will tell you as much as I can without giving anything away… trust me, you’ll wanna check this out all on your own. But it involves a pretty girl, a little bit of nudity, and a whole lot of mutilation. It is amazing what her reflection does to her, and it also garnered a few ‘OH, SHITE’S’ from the three of us watching. As I said, Aja has a knack for making interesting horror films that never skimp on the gore, but neither do they skimp on looking amazing and offering up a worthy thrill. There is no PG-13 lameness from what I saw. And with Kiefer Sutherland being his badass self, I can’t wait to see the rest. So check out the fun filled conversation with Aja and Levasseur. Oh, the horror…
Alexandre Aja and Gregory
Can you talk about MIRRORS and the supernatural aspect of it?
AA: When you are doing a supernatural, you know, it’s true that the obvious choice for all the movies that we saw like THE EYE or SHUTTER or whatever…
The J-Horror films, that sort of thing…?
AA: Yeah. Okay, just to give you a little bit of the background of that movie, okay? We were finishing THE HILLS HAVE EYES. And we were always… you know, there are really two kinds of horror, like the supernatural one and the very realistic one. Slasher is survival, the other is ghost or whatever dark forces you are forced to deal with. And we wanted to find a subject, and we were sent by New Regency a script, we didn’t even know about the Korean movie, it was just a script. And the script was really, really not very interesting. The script was dealing with something so obvious. It was like the underground parking garage in P2, you know. We all have a relation to the mirrors. We all have, like on a daily basis, like… I don’t know, I was reading a study on how many times an average guy or woman watched himself in the mirror everyday. Its a lot. Because you don’t have only the mirrors, you have mirrors, you have windows, buildings, you have everything. So it’s a lot of mirrors everyday. And we're like wondering, okay, let’s say tomorrow, mirrors stop reflecting what they are supposed to reflect and show us something we are not supposed to see. And that was really the click that… the idea that started… And we were like, not happy at all with the script. And then we asked to see, because they told us about that Korean movie, we watched it and it was interesting for that opening scene and maybe for another scene in the movie, and that's it. We didn’t like the idea, the story, the cliché of the girl being killed, getting revenge through being a ghost.
Grégory Levasseur: But the concept of the mirrors was so strong.
AA: Yeah, so basically we went to New Regency and we told them, forget about this script, forget about the Korean movie, let us try to write something.
I haven’t seen the Korean movie, what
about the opening sequence drew you to it?
AA: It was basically, the scene where, you know, the girl was…… in fact it’s very close to the opening scene in P2 where she was leaving late, last one to leave the building and she went to the restroom and when she bends down, her reflection is staying up. And that element, your reflection is getting out of sync with yourself and can make you do stuff that you do not want to do, you know. And basically your reflection can do something to you. It's kind of like the Freddy Krueger rule, you know, like what Freddy can do during your sleep, you start to do it for real. It’s the same kind of, very cool concept. And we used that to create the movie. But that was written like, the idea was to really stay away from the kind of Japanese horror movie. We thought that this movie, maybe would give the opportunity of doing something completely different but in the veins of horror like THE SHINING. Where it’s really our kind of movie, very hard R, very graphic and violent. I kind of, you know, not like a Japanese horror movie where you always remake the original where music is always there to tell you it’s going to be scary. But at the same time, we make you feel like your safe, you know. And what I love in THE SHINING, you never know what is going to happen. Although there, I don’t notice it with THE SHINING because I’ve seen it so many, many times. But I remember that feeling where its new and it’s more frightening and more frightening every new scene. And we try to do that. And bring also, like an actor back to the genre…
GL: We got into fights with the studio, but we never got into fights for the rating on this movie.
AA: It was always R-rated. During the shooting we are talking to ourselves, okay are they [the studio] going to…
GL: Change minds.
AA: …… and screw us. That is exactly what happened to THE EYE and Lionsgate. You know, the two guys who directed the movie, they thought they were making an R-rated movie and the studio came and said, ‘oh no, it’s PG-13’. And we were making THE HILLS HAVE EYES and the Weinstein Co. and Dimension asked Wes Craven to turn it into a PG-13 film as well, so we knew that situation and we were really clear. Meaning, our idea, it was an R-rated movie and I was willing to walk away as soon as they say PG-13, I was like, ‘okay, this is not my movie.’ But it didn’t happen.
What did you fight with them about?
AA: Basically we ran out… I can say , they told us we are allowed to get a mainstream actor, like a popular, big star. Kiefer [Sutherland] is a really huge star but they wanted to go more somehow on THE SIXTH SENSE… and what I show you is only like the first fourteen minutes of the movie and then we have another hour of it just getting bigger and bigger and bigger, I cannot show you the end but there is a huge finale. So with Kiefer, it was more like, lets get a more, what they call like, classy, elegant - which I think is not the right word because basically what we make is very bloody and strong, and there is a big fight at the end and they were not convinced that we should keep, and we made both cuts a few weeks ago and the difference between the two cuts is just huge. It was like a very, very big victory for us and we were so happy. To see the audience, these people that basically don’t give a shit about the movie, they just get to see a movie, you know, and they loved the movie so much. [With the other cut], they liked the movie, but [eh…] it missed something. So it was really nice.
GL: When we had a fight it was more about he budget.
AA: Yeah, at the end, it’s a huge budget. I mean it’s a big budget. It’s like twice THE HILLS HAVE EYES. For us, I mean we come from HIGH TENSION and go…
GL: But for them, it is not that big…
AA: For them yeah. For them it’s just the overage.
Do you guys have any concerns about how the public may preconceive this film just knowing that it is another remake of an Asian horror film? Because they’ve been dealt so many blows by the studio up until this point. So do you have any concerns about that?
AA: I have a lot of concerns. Before being a filmmaker, you know, we are also part of the core audience so we still have the same desire to see the other movies and stuff. And so we are reading, going on-line, we read you guys and we read the people that, you know, go to the forums. That’s also one of the reasons I wanted to have you guys here today, to say that, it’s not a remake. I know what is a remake. THE HILLS HAVE EYES is a remake. You know, we used the same characters, we used the same plot, we had all that background story, it's a remake, from the beginning to almost the end, it’s a remake. Here it is not a remake, PIRAHNA is not a remake neither. It’s like, of course it’s easy when you just read the title, to say, ‘oh, it's a remake.’ No its not. We re-invented the story, we created new characters, all of them, we changed all the scenes. You know it’s based on a concept that has been invented by a guy in Korea. That’s it.
It’s good to hear that. Coming in here has been a sigh of relief. Seeing what we just saw, that’s what I wanted to see.
AA: That’s the reason we are making the movie, because we are making only what we’d like to see. Believe us, the biggest studio in the world could make us the biggest offer and we’ve passed from, really a lot of studio projects because we are not excited by it, as a moviegoer, to see them. And that’s why we choose this one and we spent a year writing the script, it’s because… I read so many people that we are talking about, ‘yeah it's not a remake, its a re-imagined movie. It’s not going to be the same kind of [thing] with horror and blood and stuff…’ whatever. And also, you know, it’s true when you think about it. You have, like the videotape, you have the camera, you have the cell phone. You have all that…… you have the eye, all that stuff and okay, now you have the mirrors and then, what will be next? The toothbrush.
AA: But basically, when you think about living long distance, mirrors make much more sense. Mirrors are part of our culture, part of our history since the beginning of time. It’s really universal, it’s not like, you know, it's not as far-fetched. We are really using something which, you know, with a simple goal, the idea of that movie is, when you go back home you will watch yourself in a different way. Being a little bit like, not that comfortable in front of your own image because you think that something can happen. And that was the idea. I think that’s what makes a great horror movie is when you leave the theatre and the fear is following you. When you watched the first Elm Street, you know, and you’re a teenager, just so scared about falling asleep. You know, when you watch JAWS, you are so scared about going to any kind of water, the ocean, lake or whatever.
Even a pool.
AA: Even a pool, yes. Exactly. And when you explain there is no shark in the pool, it doesn’t change. That’s exactly it. The reason is we are dealing with something that is already inside our subconscious. And that’s why they are so powerful and that’s why, for us, the idea of making a movie about mirrors was so obvious. It has something to reveal, we all have some kind of strange relation with mirrors. But yes, I share that concern about people putting the movie into the wrong category.
It’s up to us to get the word out there.
AA: And also, like two years ago when we took the writing of the script, we couldn't expect so many, like every month, delivery of ONE MISSED CALL… that kind of… it’s a movie and we are really happy with it and the studio let us… we won’t have a directors cut on that movie because that will be the directors cut. We won all the fights. And the fights were minor, they were very happy with the movie.
How did Kiefer end up being an executive producer?
AA: I think the movie couldn’t exist without Kiefer, because basically, it’s not very high budget. So you need a name, someone… and Kiefer has a long history with genre, before being Jack Bauer. You know, FLATLINERS and LOST BOYS, FREEWAY and DARK CITY. He loves the genre, he loves it. And we are looking for a big name and we were told by all the agencies, like don’t even think about it. Basically, remember Renee Zellweger asking for the fifteen million for THE EYE and it never happened. And we were looking for someone who’d be more between, not price wise, but more like someone who understands the genre. Kiefer read about the project and he is not taking a lot of movies. You know, maybe a movie every two years because he’s so overwhelmed with his show. It’s like he is shooting twelve feature films a year. And I think he just fell in love with the subject, the idea of the movie. And working with him was just such a pleasant cruise you know… you know, it was tough for the studio but like with us, he was really protecting us. He was really like the Godfather of the movie. It was a way to be sure we were delivering exactly the movie we wanted to see and not anything else.
So he was hands on and involved?
AA: He was here to protect us.
GL: Yeah. If the studio was pushing too much…
AA: Yeah, if the studio came in and said, ‘do we really need that scene, that part in the third act?’ Even if he wasn’t in the scene, he was like, ‘yeah this is really important.’ And of course the star that he is, has such a power over the studio because of all the publicity and I’’m sure you will meet the guy at one point when we start the regular junket, he will tell you himself. He was really happy to work with us and he was great, he was a trooper.
Did you ever had differing opinions?
AA: Never. We always find a… we were most of the time on the same page. And even if we were different, like at some point we just worked together to find the best way to please each other. It was really a great, great experience.
Can you tell us a little about your relationship with [Greg] Nicotero and [Howard] Berger from KNB, because you tend to work with them a lot. You seem to have a very strong working relationship, how do you work with them? Do you sort of call them up and rely on them, or do you say, ‘hey, we need six people killed in this movie, can you think of some really cool ways to do it?’…?
AA: Everything is on script. Like, what was the script I was reading about when I we were making P2? We were reading something, it was so forced… the line was… and that guy is traveling to the worst Jigsaw trap ever. [Pause] Okay. [Laughing]
GL: It was like, f*ck Freddy Kreuger, f*ck I don’t know what else, this is the best horror monster you’ve ever seen.
AA: That was the description. [Laughing] No, we are really very detailed in the script and basically, you can read the script and look at the movie and it’s pretty much the same on paper. And we met, through Wes Craven, Greg Nicotero. Howard is like always there in name because they own the company, but we never worked with Howard, never. I mean, we met him a couple of times but our relationship is really with Greg. And [Greg] did such an amazing job in Morocco, and we had such a fun time working together.
GL: We share this thing about as much practical…
AA: The power of practical.
GL: As much practical as we can. What is cool, he knows the limits of his work and he knows where the CG can help, and the guy working the CG is really good so…
AA: We share the same taste in movies
and we are going to make, of course, PIRAHNA with them. So we are already
talking about it, it’s a great relation. He's an amazing guy.
Let me know what you think. Send questions and comments to JimmyO@joblo.com.