“Me, as a moviegoer, before being a filmmaker, I try to think about what movie I would like to see.”
Having grown up in a family closely connected to the world of cinema where his father was an acclaimed Pied-Noir director and his mother a cinema critic, French film director Alexandre Jouan-Arcady or Alexandre Aja is a self-proclaimed cinephile. He has often spoken up about his sheer love for all things related to cinema. “I’m a huge fan of movies, and I watch DVDs all day, and I like to be able to watch DVDs that are different from what was in theatres,” he once explained. “Whether that’s uncut or a director’s cut. I think it’s an awesome way to rediscover the movie.”
Aja, whose pseudonym surname is a conglomeration of his initials, was born in Paris and earned his acting break in his father’s films at a young age, namely Le Grand Pardon and Le Grand Carnaval. Aja made his directorial debut with a short film by the name of Over the Rainbow at the young age of eighteen and succeeded in bagging a Cannes Film Festival nomination for the sheer excellence of the film.
Aja has now been proclaimed as the modern master of horror. He has delivered blood-curdling and chilling films such as the hills Have Eyes, P2, Mirrors, Piranha 3D and more. However, he forged his way into the horror movie genre of Hollywood, gaining acclaim in the United States, with his 2003 French film Haute Tension (released in 2005 in the US as High Tension), where he pushed the limits of the slasher genre by incorporating unthinkable amounts of thrill, tension and gore. With special effects and brilliant make-up, the film quickly amassed a huge cult following, cementing Aja’s position as the new horror master of Hollywood. His work attracted the attention of horror legend Wes Craven who wanted Aja to direct the remake of his 1977 film The Hills Have Eyes to which Aja complied.
As an associate of the New French Extremity film movement which is rooted in horror and arthouse cinema, Aja’s work is the pictorial representation of the same. The anxiety emerges from the body, the mind as well as the surroundings which are aggravated by eroticism and gore. Aja has often said that “in Europe, there is no horror movie, it’s very hard to make a slasher or gory movie. There is no audience for that”. However, it is his innate knack for directing scathingly horrifying films that helped him make a cut in Hollywood. He is usually very focused on the story of the film rather than the nitty-gritty of the production. “When I approach a story or movie, the story is the most important thing”.
On 12th May 2021, Aja’s sci-fi horror film Oxygen released on Netflix. After his film Crawl which involved a survival from the storm to get out of the house, Aja keeps up with his flair for creating “a maze that you have to escape from” by creating a claustrophobic psychological maze in his upcoming film. Set amidst a futuristic setting, a young woman wakes up to see herself trapped in an isolated medical cryo unit. Having no clue regarding herself or what her purpose is, she finds herself being in the company of a computer, voiced by Mathieu Amalric, who seems to have ulterior motives much like other AI films. It has earned good reviews as it raises a pertinent question about what it is to be human. Thrilling and unsettling, it is a deep exploration of the human consciousness as well as the struggle for survival.
In his interview with Rotten Tomatoes, Aja admitted his love for the sci-fi genre. “I love science-fiction, and grew up reading a lot,” he said, adding: “I still read a lot of science-fiction, I’m watching a lot of science fiction. I, unfortunately, didn’t have the opportunity until this movie to work on a science-fiction movie. I did develop many of them that either didn’t get made or will get made at some point – I hope.”
Aja continued: “There is a very big ‘cautionary tale’ aspect of sci-fi. I think it’s one of the things that really got me in and interested in the script when I read it the first time.” However, horror fans fret not. The master of gore has promised to gift terrifying horror films soon enough. Since hardcore slasher films are his jam, Aja said that he has lots of ideas pertaining to the same.
“With the traffic jam created by the pandemic, suddenly I have no idea which one is going to get done first.” Aja continued by saying, “I still love the more extreme survival experience as well. I have a couple [of those films] that I’m developing that I really want to make.”
While we wait eagerly for his next deviously violent and gory flick and enjoy his current disturbing flick, here are five films that this cinephile director loves and recommends.
Alexandre Aja’s 5 favourite films:
- The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
- Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
- Once Upon A Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)
- Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)
- Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)