Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Shocktober Director of the Day: Alexandre Aja

French director Alexandre Aja's 2003 breakout film Haute Tension (High Tension) was a rather mind-bending slasher flick about two college friends, Marie and Alexa, who visit Alexa's country home only to find themselves at the hands of a relentless killer. Marie thinks she's escaped, but soon discovers the killer has followed her and has no intention of letting her live.

While exploring familiar tropes in the slasher genre, Aja's film certainly lives up to its title. And despite the movie's inexplicably bizarre (not to mention logistically improbable) twist ending, Aja manages to create an atmosphere of tension that is often lacking in modern horror movies. If you haven't seen Haute Tension, I recommend it, though with reservations about its decidedly unlikely denouement.

After the success of Haute Tension, Aja was brought to Hollywood, where he directed the 2006 remake of Wes Craven's (I'll get there, too) classic The Hills Have Eyes. Starring Kathleen Quinlan (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden); Emilie de Raven ("Lost"); Robert Joy ("C.S.I.: NY") and Ted Levine (The Silence of the Lambs, "Monk"), The Hills Have Eyes tells the story of a family vacation gone horribly wrong when they run afoul of a family of mutant cannibals in the Arizona desert. Craven based his original film on the true story of a 16th century Scottish clan of cannibals, and while Aja's remake certainly has its moments and ramps up the explicit gore, it lacks the gritty realism (not to mention the presence of character actor Michael Berryman*) that made Craven's 1977 original so scary.

Next up for Aja would be Mirrors, a film he also wrote about an ex-cop ("24" star Keifer Sutherland) who takes a job as a night guard at an abandoned department store where evil forces are trapped in the mirrors. Personally, I expected more from this movie. Again, it has its moments, but is ultimately derivative and unsatisfying.

This year, Aja gave us another remake, the 3D** version of Roger Corman's Piranha, a film I have yet to see, but which has been reported to be an over-the-top gore-fest, starring director Eli Roth; Richard Dreyfuss ; Ving Rhames; Elizabeth Shue; Christopher Lloyd and Jerry O'Connell (all genre veterans) in story about a prehistoric species of killer fish unleashed on a resort lake in Arizona. I haven't seen this movie yet, but from all reports, it is exceptionally silly (as if we expected anything less).

Once again, I am hoping that this director will return to his Horror roots and make another interesting and tension-filled horror film, rather than the schlocky, silly movie's he's become known for.
More, anon.

*I know I mentioned meeting make-up FX guru/ actor/director Tom Savini at an NYC genre convention in the 80's. I also met Mr. Berryman there, who proved to be one of the most gracious and humble actors I have ever encountered. He may be scary to look at, but he is delightful and sweet in person.

** Please, someone let this trend die, already.

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