Writer/director/producer Alexandre Aja shot to prominence in the early 2000’s as part of the New French Extremity movement, a subgenre of horror known for its brutal depictions of sex and violence, and unapologetic nihilism. High Tension, released in 2003, is considered a crown jewel of this movement. But unlike many of his peers, Aja went on to find major success in America, having since helmed films like The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Mirrors (2008), and Horns (2013). His most recent project, The Other Side of the Door (which he produced) was released on DVD on June 7th.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Aja recently, where we discussed New French Extremity, his American success, the difference between American and European horror movies, and his work on The Other Side of the Door (among other things).
Horror Freak News: Describe your role in the New French Extremity movement. Is it still an active subgenre?
Alexandre Aja: It wasn’t something I tried to do. For me, High Tension was a tribute to horror, an ode to fear. It was a success in France which helped us sell it around the world, where the film built quite a following. Its commercial success showed producers there was a way to make profitable horror movies in France. But no matter how good new horror movies were, they always got better reviews outside of France. It’s weird, because English and American horror films are always a huge success with French audiences. It was almost like the French had an aversion to anything produced in France or featuring French actors. In France, people aren’t even aware of New French Extremity. Now, changes in the movie industry have made things even more difficult. The DVD isn’t as strong as it should be so French filmmakers can’t find producers or funding.
HFN: Of all the directors associated with New French Extremity, you’ve gone on to have the most success in America. At this point, do you consider yourself a European or American filmmaker?
AA: I consider myself a European filmmaker making American films. My contributions come from the fact that I bring an outsider’s perspective, and I’m proud of this. In films like The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha 3D, I enjoyed playing with political subtext. And what really attracted me to Horns was that it’s a reflection of American society and the way people run away from conflicts. But I always find ways to bring a European touch to the American world.
HFN: In broad strokes, what would you say are the major differences between American and European horror movies?
AA: As an audience member, I like it when I completely forget I’m watching a movie, like there is no distance between myself and the screen. This immersion is a strong aspect of American horror movies in terms of directing, writing, lighting… everything. But when I watch Italian horror movies, for example, there’s always something weird that takes me away from the movie, like when something is so grotesque it becomes unrealistic. A well-made American horror movie takes its audience inside to live the nightmare. In European horror, on the other hand, there’s more distance; the audience is watching the nightmare, but not living it. I prefer American horror movies.
HFN: Your remake of The Hills Have Eyes was fantastic. Are there any another “classic” American horror movies you’d be interested in remaking?
AA: Yes a few. After The Hills Have Eyes, I tried to stay away from remakes. I was afraid of becoming the “Remake Guy”. But horror audiences today seem more open to the idea of reinvention, and that artistic freedom is really inspiring. I’ve been pushing for a TV series based on Scanners, because I think the world that [David] Cronenberg created can be expanded upon endlessly. The Brood would also be interesting to revisit in today’s society. Stephen King’s It was one of my favorites as a child and I can’t wait to see the remake. I would have loved to have done it myself.
HFN: Unlike some of your films, The Other Side of the Door has strong supernatural elements. What do you enjoy most about making paranormal horror movies?
AA: When you make horror movies, you go back to what scares you the most, and I grew up reading Stephen King. I confess I’m more scared of the supernatural than, say, home invasion—even though I don’t believe in it. There’s always that question mark and, when you make a movie, those paranormal fears become reality. Aspects of The Other Side of the Door reminded me of Pet Sematary, but the fact that it takes place in India was one of the most interesting elements. Even classic horror movie themes become new in that type of setting.
Official Synopsis: Maria (Sarah Wayne Callies) becomes consumed with guilt after losing her son Oliver (Logan Creran) in a tragic accident. She learns about a remote Hindu temple where visitors can communicate with the dead to say goodbye for the last time. The grieving mother disobeys a dire warning to never open the ancient door that serves as a mysterious portal. Her failure to follow the rules causes Oliver’s restless spirit to return home and haunt the rest of his family (Jeremy Sisto, Sofia Rosinsky).