Alexandre Aja continues to explore territory beyond straight horror with The 9th Life of Louis Drax, a dramatic thriller with touches of fantasy and the supernatural that opens September 2. But that doesn’t mean the director is leaving straightforward shock behind, and during a recent interview, he discussed his desire to return to the fright field, the possibilities of revisiting one of his past successes and one of David Cronenberg’s, as well as the controversial reversal in his breakout movie High Tension.
The 9th Life of Louis Drax, based on the novel by Liz Jensen and scripted by Max Minghella (who co-starred in Aja’s previous Horns), is about a young boy (Aiden Longworth) who, after surviving eight near-death experiences, falls from a cliff on his ninth birthday and falls into a coma. As a neurologist played by Jamie Dornan attempts to find his way into Louis’ mind, there are appearances by a sea monster and other moments of freakiness, though it’s much less visceral than Tension, The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D and the other movies on which Aja has built his rep. If he has his way, he’ll be back in that territory soon.
“I’ve been looking for the right script—something that’s really scary,” he says. “I would have loved, for example, to reinvent or reboot Friday the 13th. That would have been great, but unfortunately they chose someone else [Breck Eisner of The Crazies]. But yeah, I really want to find the right piece to come back to horror, something that’s very strong and will let me push the envelope even further.”
And it wouldn’t necessarily have to be in the feature realm; Aja reveals that a TV series based on David Cronenberg’s Scanners, which he’s been attached to for five years, may yet see fruition. The head-busting classic was originally intended to revive as a theatrical film, and Aja recalls, “I spent a long time convincing people that a feature version was not the right way to do it. I believe that David Cronenberg did exceptional work, and that the world he created with Scanners was a very wide one, and needs a format that goes beyond two hours. I feel it’s a great, great starting point to create a TV show, and we’re still trying to make that happen; it’s still going.” As for how exactly he’ll expand on Cronenberg’s vision, “I cannot talk about that yet. But soon, hopefully.”
He also wouldn’t be averse to revisiting one of his own remakes: the Elijah Wood-starring Maniac that he produced for director Franck Khalfoun. “I would love to [revisit that character]; there is always a way. We had so much fun making that movie, and it was also very successful critically; people were talking about how our movie was very different from the original one.”
He goes on to reveal that while he has never viewed the sequels made by others to his Hills, Piranha and Mirrors (“I started watching Hills Have Eyes 2, but…”), he had ambitions to follow up the first two of those movies himself. “We had a take on Hills Have Eyes 2 that I think would have been very interesting, and I still hope that one day we can do it. Piranha 3D was the same; we had a great idea for a sequel. The idea was, where can we find a bigger party? We wanted to go to the Full Moon Party in Thailand, where there are hundreds of thousands of kids, and do something a little different. We actually found out about [John Gulager’s Piranha 3DD] only when it was released [laughs]; we had no idea they were doing a sequel!”
Looking further back to High Tension, which first won him international attention in the early 2000s, Aja says he’s still of two minds about its controversial revelation. SPOILER ALERT for those who may not have seen the movie: around two-thirds of the way through, it is revealed that the film’s heroine Maria (played by Cécile de France) is actually the villain, whom we have previously seen as a brutish man; he is Maria’s projection of her own murderous psyche. Some on-line have said that Luc Besson, an uncredited producer on High Tension, ordered the twist, but Aja says the truth is somewhat different.
“The way I originally wrote the script with Grégory Levasseur, that reveal was the final twist on the final page. By the end of the movie, she had saved her friend, she had killed the bad guy; then we cut to the hospital room, and they bring in a monitor to show her the security footage from the gas station. And you see that she killed that guy, and that everything she has said was a lie. It was a very clean, simple type of twist.
“When Luc Besson came on board to produce the movie,” Aja continues, “he said, ‘I really want you guys to find a way to expand the twist into the last act of the movie—into the final 25 minutes.” That was a great idea from a fairy-tale standpoint—the sort of transformation of the killer into Maria—but from a narrative standpoint, it was very hard to find a way that made sense, because then, which point of view are we using? Today, I still don’t know which one I would have preferred. I kind of think that from an emotional point of view, the version we have is stronger, but I know that from a logical point of view, the other one we were going to do was maybe more efficient and clearer.”