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Q&A: Alexandre Aja on “HORNS”, “THE PYRAMID”

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What kind of filmmaker do horror fans think of when they hear the name “Alexandre Aja?” Some think of the French master of brutality, who was able to translate the voice of the French Extreme Horror movement into English with his remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES. Some think of a versatile, if underrated, filmmaker, who can churn out films as different as HIGH TENSION, MIRRORS and PIRANHA 3D. And others still are more familiar with his producing work, adding his own unique tonal variation to the slasher genre with films like P2 and the lauded MANIAC remake.

And yet many in the horror world think that Aja will be seen in a very different light once more now that audiences can finally lay their eyes on HORNS, his adaptation of the cult Joe Hill novel. A fantastic genre hybrid that simultaneously works as a revenge film, horror film and tragic romance, Aja makes one of the most undefinable and unrelenting offerings this year. And with the film now in theaters from Radius-TWC, Aja spoke to FANGORIA about HORNS, the challenges of the tone and his upcoming production, THE PYRAMID…

FANGORIA: What began your involvement in HORNS?

ALEXANDRE AJA: I was in the middle of post-production on PIRANHA when my agent and manager sent me the script for HORNS with a galley of the book. I began reading it all without having known anything about the novel and Joe Hill, and from the first chapter, I was so surprised to go through so many different emotions with so many different styles. It had gone from very dark comedy to something very scary to something very sad and emotional, and it all gelled together to create something that was like a fable in the revenge story of Ig Parrish. It was amazing, and once I finish the galley, I knew I had to make it. It was one of the few times that I fell in love with a novel and I knew I would be very, very sad if I didn’t get to make it into a movie.

FANGORIA: HORNS is certainly a fantastic story but it’s very much so grounded by all of the different emotions that it taps into. As a director, did you find it challenging to make that dynamic feel organic and real?

AJA: For me, it was obvious when I was reading the book because the story was so unique in its prose. Joe Hill is one of the most talented new writers out there now. That dynamic felt natural when he wrote it all because that supernatural fable followed one character, so those emotions were justified along his journey. So, I didn’t have any problems with that, but it wasn’t until we were already talking about the project that I realized the challenge of making a movie that respected the DNA of the book on-screen, which included the dark comedy and the horror and the drama.

I knew that was going to be a challenge, but I knew the solution was in finding the right actor to play Ig Parrish. We needed someone to take the audience through his experience and have them believe all of those different emotions along that journey. When I met Daniel Radcliffe, he was the obvious choice. He looked so close to what I had already pictured the character looking like, and when I talked to Joe Hill, we came to the same conclusion: no one else could have played Ig Parrish. No one else could have translated that age when you’re faced with commitments and decisions with the hell that the character goes through. So I felt that the challenge of making all of those genres come together was solved by casting HORNS in the right way.

FANGORIA: As a filmmaker, what informed your decision to direct HORNS as opposed to producing an adaptation?

AJA: I never even thought of just producing HORNS because every page I read screamed out everything that I like about movies. It was like a novel that, if I was an author, I would have wished I wrote. The writing was so close to me, and the reason HORNS has become a cult novel for so many people is because it talks about a generation. Of course, HORNS would have been something I’d love to produce, but it’s the kind of thing I want to see on the big screen.

There are so many interesting challenges from the book of HORNS I wanted to tackle as a director, and it seemed like an opportunity to take a post-modern approach to the genre in general. I wanted to make something really unique and original, and I couldn’t resist the challenge.

FANGORIA: What was the experience like directing actors who are given conversational dialogue that is confessional in nature? Obviously, that must have been a challenge as well.

AJA: It was challenging, but it was also one of the most exciting parts of the project. To be honest, the script was also an insane actor magnet; everyone wanted to play these roles and become part of the adventure. This was especially true with the supporting parts because that opened the potential to play the character in their life and the character under the influence of the horns, and they actually enjoyed that so much. I remember talking to some of them and saying, “Okay, so what is the actual effect of the horns? How do you speak? How do you give out this information?”

To me, the most important thing was excitement; these people are so excited to tell Ig about their most awful compulsions and thoughts. They’re really awful things but the people needed to be happy to tell Ig that, like it’s cool. And when you play it like that, it’s more funny, and I just wanted to get that right because the book was so perfect on that matter.

Daniel Radcliffe in Alexandre Aja's "HORNS"

Daniel Radcliffe in Alexandre Aja’s “HORNS”

FANGORIA: Did you find it exciting to work with an actor like Daniel Radcliffe, who never got a chance in the past to play a role as meaty and multifaceted as this one?

AJA: My experience with Daniel is one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had with an actor; he was one of the most hardworking and talented actors I’ve ever worked with. You can see him to comedy, drama and everything with all of this emotion, from which he shifts between so immediately. Just watching him, I felt like I was looking at one of the great young actors of his generation, and HORNS feels like a great display of all of his skills and his talents. But he also trusted me, and he was very grateful because our collaboration was made of taking risks and going further than some actors would have taken it. He really delivered a performance that was unique and made the film stand alone as it’s own thing, and that’s great.

FANGORIA: Considering your work here on HORNS, would you ever consider adapting any other of Joe Hill’s novels?

AJA: It was amazing to work with Joe, and he’s a great guy; we’re from the same generation and we grew up with the same references. It was a joy to work together and I would work together with him if we could find something else. I’m a huge fan of his work, especially LOCKE AND KEY, and we’re definitely looking for something to work on together again.

FANGORIA: HORNS really does a great job at capturing Joe Hill’s voice as well as your own. What was it like balancing those voices to create a singular cinematic vision?

AJA: I’m very happy that you’re saying that because after reading the book, one of my biggest concerns was how I could translate how I was reading it to the big screen and how to make others feel that same way. I couldn’t do a straight adaptation of the book, because that would have been a 4-to-5 hour movie. So we had to make choices in terms of what we could do, what we could cut, how we would reinvent certain things, and we had a lot of freedom to do what we wanted, all with Joe’s blessing.

But it’s great to hear people say that they hear Joe’s voice through the movie, and that’s great because it means we did something very different while at the same time keeping the essence of the original book. For me, that’s everything I wanted to do as a filmmaker with HORNS.

FANGORIA: You also have another movie coming out fairly soon called THE PYRAMID. Can you tell us anything about that?

AJA: Yes! THE PYRAMID comes out December 5th, and it’s the first time that my best friend Grégory Levasseur, who is also my writing and producing partner, will direct. It’s a thriller film, and it’s a very interesting project that goes to years back, and when we read the script, we knew it was the perfect thing for him to do. I don’t want to reveal too much but it’s based on a true story and real facts,  and it’s much more like THE DESCENT where it’s people who are lost in a Pyramid and there’s something ancient in there with them. It’s adventure-horror, and it’s always great to take two genres and mash them together. THE PYRAMID is really scary, and once you get down there, it’s a pretty claustrophobic place, but it’s also a really fun ride. I think people are going to like it.

HORNS, directed by Alexandre Aja, is now in theaters and on VOD from Radius-TWC.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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