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Up To Now: Looking Back On The Career Of Horror Director Alexandre Aja

Crawl swims into theaters this weekend. In honor of director Alexandre Aja’s return to pop horror, let’s take a quick look back at the bumpy road that has been the filmmaker’s career up to this point.

Born Alexandre Jouan-Arcady on August 7, 1978, French filmmaker Alexandre Aja largely works within the confines of the horror genre. He is best known for his films High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes (2006), and Piranha 3-D.

Movies have always played a major role in the life of the Paris-born artist. From a young age, Aja acted in his grandfather’s films. When he was eighteen, Aja made his directorial debut with the short film Over the Rainbow. For his effort, Aja received a Cannes Film Festival Golden Palm Award nomination for Best Short Film.

Over the years, the filmmaker continued sharpening his skills as a visual storyteller via a number of smaller projects. Aja eventually caught the attention of the horror community with his 2003 film Haute Tension. Fans of the genre praised the film for its balls-to-the-wall slasher storytelling. After some editing, the film was released in the U.S. under the name High Tension and ultimately went on to gross over $6.2 million worldwide off a production budget of just under $2 million.

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A mutant hunts an intruder in The Hills Have Eyes (2006). | Fox Searchlight Pictures

High Tension garnered Aja the biggest exposure he’d ever had up to that point. In 2004, Variety named Aja one of their Ten Directors to Watch. Total Film even made Aja a member of the “Splat Pack,” a term of endearment which magazine unofficially bestowed upon a handful of young filmmakers who were making brutally violent horror flicks. Other members of the “Splat Pack” included Eli Roth (Cabin Fever), James Wan (The Conjuring), Leigh Whannell (Upgrade), and Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects).

After catching a screening of High Tension, American filmmaker and master of horror Wes Craven (A Nightmare On Elm Street, Scream) asked Aja to come up with a pitch for a modern retelling of Craven’s 1977 hillbilly horror flick The Hills Have Eyes. After hearing Aja’s vision, Craven asked the young up-and-comer to direct the film himself.

Released March 4, 2006, The Hills Have Eyes split critics. Those who enjoyed the film praised it for its exhilarating no-holds-barred brutality and smart nuclear war subtext. With a worldwide gross of $69.6 million, Hills was successful enough to warrant a sequel in 2007; however, by then Aja was too busy with his next project to take the directing reigns.

Mirrors hit theaters on August 15, 2008 and was a Western remake of the Korean horror film Into the Mirror about a mirror that brought out the darkest aspects of those who looked into it. The end result was dismissed by critics for its lack of new ideas as well as thrills. Though it took in $77 million at the global box office, Aja’s second gig as a studio director ultimately lost money for the studio.

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Mutated piranhas look for their next meal in Piranha 3D. | Dimension Films

In 2008, Aja was chosen by the Weinstein Company to take over as director on Piranha 3D from The Blob (1988) and The Mask (1994) filmmaker Chuck Russell. It was to be a tongue-in-cheek remake of Joe Dante’s 1978 Piranha wherein genetically altered piranha fish terrorized residents and visitors of a resort town. Horror screenwriter vets Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg penned the script.

With regards to content, Piranha 3D was Aja’s lightest film yet. Though grizzly deaths were still a part of the draw, there was a greater emphasis on making moviegoers laugh. In August 2010, Piranha 3D proved to be the perfect summer escape for critics and audiences, who helped the film gross more than $83 million around the world. Much like The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D spawned a sequel in 2012 called Piranha 3DD. Again, Aja opted not to direct.

Alexandre Aja again set his sights on pushing himself as a director and for his next project decided to adapt Joe Hill’s novel Horns, a fantasy/horror tale about a man (played by Daniel Radcliffe) who is framed for a murder but decides to utilize his newly discovered paranormal abilities to track down the true killer. Horns released in select theaters and digital on-demand on October 31, 2014 to mixed reviews. Theatrically speaking, the film marked the smallest release for an Aja film since High Tension.

Aja’s last film The 9th Life of Louis Drax is a psychological thriller based on a book by Liz Jensen. The film received a limited theatrical run beginning in North America on September 2, 2016. The film did not fare well financially or critically.

Aja returns this weekend to the world of wide release horror with the Sam Raimi–produced survival thriller Crawl, about a Floridian woman and her father fighting to stay alive during a hurricane while being hunted by alligators. Though the review embargo is still in effect, social media reactions to the film have largely been glowing:

Though only time can tell for sure how Crawl will be received, it’s still nice to hear that Alexandre Aja still has that bite that originally put him on the map. The film opens wide July 12, 2019.

In addition to writing and directing his own films, Aja has written and produced other horror projects, including 2007’s parking lot-based slasher P2 as well as the fascinating first-person remake of Maniac starring Elijah Wood in 2012.

No matter what you may think of Alexandre Aja’s filmography, he’s consistently looking for new and exciting ways to scare his audience. For fans, Aja doesn’t mess around. His films offer relentless, visceral thrills and cathartic, gory exploits. Here’s to a long and bloody career!

Sources: Wikipedia— Alexandre Aja, High Tension, MirrorsPiranha 3D, Horns, The 9th Life of Louis Drax & Box Office Mojo— High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes, Mirrors, Piranha 3D &


What do you think about Alexandre Aja? Are you a fan of his filmmaking? Do you intend to see Crawl this weekend? Jump down to the comments below and let me know your thoughts!

1 comment

  1. What an interesting retrospective, thanks! I actually enjoyed the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, for a change (I normally avoid such remakes), so now I’m looking forward to seeing this Crawl!

    Liked by 1 person

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